With the government open and Obamacare still sputtering along, many conservatives are feeling defeated right now. But the scene was very different at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, where more than 2,000 guests gathered to promote conservatism—confident and unflinching.
Attendees mingled in the luxurious halls of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. A bevy of guests were clad in traditional colonial American garb; one tipped his hat to everyone who passed by. The crowds were representative of numerous generations, as there were numerous youngsters (the many Duggars weighed heavily in this demographic), but also a large selection of seniors.
After the singing of the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins strode to the stage and theatrically ripped up a sign that declared the stage had been closed to First Amendment activity due to the government shutdown. He referred to the monuments around the country that had been cordoned off by “the president’s barricades.”
Senator Ted Cruz appeared on stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. He looked as though he was at the height of election season. He was pacing around as he spoke when a heckler stood up and shouted out a question about immigration reform. Not long after she had been escorted out of the crowded room, another heckler stood up. And another…and another. All in all Cruz was interrupted five times before the entire cadre stood up and exposed itself—about 20 people scattered throughout the audience.
Cruz met the hecklers with humor and without losing a beat: “I’m curious. Is anybody left at the Organizing for America headquarters? Well, you know what? The greatest trick the left has ever played is to convince conservatives we cannot win.” Cruz’s dramatic performance did him a world of good with the attendees, who overwhelmingly supported him in their straw poll for the 2016 presidential nominee.
Fellow filibusterer Rand Paul spoke next, presenting a balanced view of Islam which praised the peaceful accomplishments of the religion’s historical adherents while condemning modern-day radical jihadists. Paul said he believes that the U.S. can do little to stem the growth of Islamic radicalism: “Radical Islam will end only when Islam begins to police itself.”
Senators Marco Rubio and Tim Scott gave remarks, as did Liberty Amendments author Mark Levin, but it was Dr. Ben Carson who garnered the most passionate reaction from the audience. Carson spoke about the dangers of political correctness, the importance of family, state intervention in medicine, and his experience with poverty. He called Obamacare the worst thing to happen in America since slavery. “Everything else pales into insignificance compared to your health. And that’s the reason that your health should be controlled by you and not by the government.” Carson did quite well in the straw poll, coming in third for president and first for vice president.
Representative Michele Bachmann, nearing the end of her term in Congress, brandished some of the police tape that she cut after an incident at the memorial barricades. “We said, come on; let’s go up; let’s take this hill. Six-hundred Americans took the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.” “I’m not ashamed,” she said, that the current political battle is about Obamacare. The Tea Party is consequential, she explained, because it was they who took the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand in 2010. “This is the eighteenth government shutdown since Jimmy Carter, though some people say the four years of Jimmy Carter was a government shutdown.” She refers to Obamacare as “deathcare."
Martin Luther King, Jr’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, spoke about family values, and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer condemned birth-control activist Sandra Fluke. “I still remember when presidents used to call astronauts…[and] policemen heroic…now we live in era where the president praises a promiscuous coed because she wants you to buy her birth control pills.” He contrasted the Wendy Davis filibuster with Ted Cruz’s, and attacked the principles behind Davis’s stand: “You ask the American people if they should be able to have an abortion in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy—they will look at you in horror.”
Another former presidential candidate/speaker was Rick Santorum, who gave a blustery speech in which he said the thought of running for president come to his mind every now and then, “even today.”
Running concurrently with the speakers was a selection of booths from various conservative organizations. Among them was Live Action, whose representatives spoke of the organization’s efforts to expose “racism, sexual abuse cover-up, medical misinformation, manipulative counseling, aiding and abetting child sex trafficking” at Planned Parenthood. Right Wing Jewelry, designer Karyn Williams’ business, sold necklaces with wing motifs—singular wings. “There are no left wings," Williams pointed out.
There were plenty of reporters at the summit and many of them got what they were looking for. A number of stories emerged, many of them consisting of the seizing of a sound-bite. Some reporters seemed shocked to find that speakers at a conservative summit were decrying abortion, supporting a conception of marriage as between a man and a woman, and lionizing the family unit. One wonders what they expected.
The general impression that stood out most was that the conservatives assembled at the Summit were prepared to stand by their beliefs, even in light of the changing trends in the country. Social conservatism is becoming increasingly unpopular, but the crowd burst into applause (and the people in colonial attire swung their hats like Paul Revere) whenever a speaker expressed support for pro-life, pro-family values. FRC President Tony Perkins said that his coalition is determined to fight for things like DOMA, which may not be politically expedient in light of changing demographics and trends.
So while conservatives might be feeling down this week, it's a safe bet that this determination will be back, and soon.
Glenn Beck, who gave a lengthy presentation at the Summit, summarized the mentality best: “I’m tired of people saying ‘oh, we might lose.’ Yes, and we just might win!’” That line was met with the loudest applause of all.