Wherein conservatives descended upon Camp Hill, Pa., for a GOP love fest.
Conservatives from near and far showed up at the Radisson in Camp Hill, Pa., this past weekend for the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. It was essentially two days of conservative and Republican speakers/panels on how to be more conservative and/or a better Republican. More than 800 attendees were on hand for the festivities, and all of them had terrible things to say about liberalism, health care, the Environmental Protection Agency, solar panels and Chicago. (The city.) Noted speakers included presidential candidates Rick Santorum (see Nos. 4 and 5) and Newt Gingrich (No. 9), former candidate Herman Cain (No. 7), U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (No. 1), all GOP candidates for U.S. Senate, state reps, advocates and grassroots Tea Party organizers. Now in its 23rd year, the PLC is the largest conservative meet-up in the state. It’s been credited in the past for introducing new ideas into the Pennsylvania Republican Party. This year was a bit different. Presidential candidates were in attendance, which means there was infinitely more hype surrounding, well, everything. It was with all that in mind I attended the PLC, and it was a blast.
1. Capitalism: A Love Story
Toomey was the first featured speaker of the weekend. The former president of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax political action committee, didn’t so much talk policy as he read aloud his love letter to the idea of capitalism. In that open letter—perhaps sealed with a kiss (or more) backstage—Toomey claimed that when people say, ‘Well, capitalism isn’t perfect, but it’s the best system out there,’ those people are 100 percent wrong. Because, according to Toomey, capitalism is perfect. It’s the greatest moral system mankind has ever created. In explaining this, he made a series of questionable statements about the president, including one about how Obama thinks capitalism has—“and I quote”—never worked. Then he rhetorically responded: “I believe that capitalism isn’t good because it works, it works because it’s good. And the big government alternatives are not wrong because they fail, they fail because they’re wrong.” Toomey made a teleprompter joke, too—while readng his speech from paper, which is totally different!
2. The Tax Rat
Anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist—who’s dictated a lot of Pennsylvania policy by having Gov. Corbett sign onto his anti-tax pledge during the 2010 election—gave a metaphor-driven speech in which he compared Democrats to bank robbers; claimed the “dependency movement” (i.e. people on welfare) is held down by liberal bureaucrats “who make 90 thousand a year managing the dependency of others, making sure none of them get jobs and become Republicans”; and said Republicans who break his ‘no new taxes’ pledge tarnish the entire party brand, similar to the way a severed rat head in soda would: “[Coca-Cola] put a lot of effort into quality control and branding, so you go into the store pick up a Coke, put it in the basket, go home. You don’t have to look at it, read the ingredients, ask your friends what’s inside. But if you get home and you’re two-thirds the way into the Coke bottle and you look inside and there’s a rat head in your Coke bottle … you begin to wonder if you’re going to buy Coke in the future. And you go on TV, you show them the rat head and Coke has a big problem,” he said. “Republican officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle.”
3. The Imperfect Union
A panel called “Right-Sizing State Government,” led by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Matthew Brouillette, could have been called: “Why We Need to Drown Union Bosses (and Anyone Who’s Ever Been in a Union or Knows Someone in a Union) in Toilets.” One member of the panel, Pennsbury Township School Board Vice President Simon Campbell, was visibly angry during his speech. A Brit who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009, Campbell invoked the Founding Fathers on several occasions in explaining his hatred of teachers’ unions and his argument that fighting unionization requires quick, sound-bite-sized arguments, not statistics. “Our side has to stop being so nice about [unions],” he said. “I mean, what we need to be doing is remembering [that we have a] God-given right to liberty. When George Washington was going across the Delaware, he wasn’t saying, ‘You know, King, freedom’s a good idea and I’ve got a bunch of statistics to prove it.’ No. He was like, ‘Freedom’s a good idea and I’ve got a gun to prove it.’”
4. You’re Welcome?
Presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum thanked the audience for voting him out of office on Election Day 2006. “The only thing I feel toward the people of Pennsylvania is overwhelming and profound gratitude,” he said. “The people of Pennsylvania didn’t always give me what I wanted, but they always gave me what I needed.”
5. Slick Rick
Santorum also claimed that the 2012 election is the most important of our lifetimes. Later, he changed his mind. The 2012 election, he said, is actually the most important in the history of the country. And that Mitt Romney is “a decent man but uniquely unqualified to take on this race.” He mocked Romney’s claim that Santorum needed an act of God to win: “I don’t know about you, but I believe in acts of God.”
Then he stepped off the podium to shake hands and sign autographs.
6. Pearls Before Swine
Speaking of God’s work, a very old man at the Creation Science table exhibit, who did not speak, came up to me with a phony $1,000,000 “Obama bill,” a book and a DVD, the latter of which read “Jesus was involved in politics” in black marker. “What is this stuff?” I asked. He just pointed to the Sharpied text on the silver disc and said nothing. The book, God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, by Ray Comfort, is meant to convert people from likely fake to real Christianity. (I think?) Page 86 reads, “The false convert has never ‘crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:24). He, like the pig, must go back to wallowing in the mire. Pigs need to wallow in mire because they crave the slime to cool their flesh. So it is with the false convert. He never repented, so his flesh is not dead with Christ. It is instead burning with awful desire. The heat of lust is too much for his sinful heart; he must go back to the filth.”
7. Yes We Cain
Herman Cain can say anything he wants, now that he’s not running for president and the media isn’t watching his every move for the inevitable gaffe. And boy is he saying some crazy stuff with basically no repercussions—in other words, he’s living the fucking dream. On Saturday, his speech’s thesis was that we are a “nation of crises.” All of which were Obama’s fault (debatable) and could be solved by Cain’s solutions—if they existed. Regarding illegal immigration, Cain said we need to secure the border—somehow. Regarding national security: “Our military is still the greatest in the world but it is now weaker because of this administration”—in some way. Regarding himself: “My wife says sometimes when I’m speaking, I sound like I’m mad. I’m not mad at y’all. I’m just passionate.” We’ll give him that.
8. Grandma Got Run Over By Affordable (Health) Care (Act)
On Friday night, there was a huge dinner in the ballroom featuring the music of Lehigh Valley acoustic band Angry Mob, led by Nick Sabatine III. The music, he’s told media in the past, is meant to be “humorous and serious at the same time,” and to show “we’re heading down the socialist path.” All the songs were about Obama’s apparent socialistic fascism and/or how he blames George W. Bush for all his problems and/or how the media calls the Tea Party racist and/or Obama’s overregulation of the financial sector—or something. Hilarious! One of the songs played at dinner for the attendees was called “They’re Pullin’ the Plug on Grandma,” and was a rebuke to the Affordable Care Act, which this week celebrated its two-year anniversary. The lyrics are, uh … let’s say it’s the sort of song only a mother could love: “Grandpa died of cancer/It didn’t take too long/The end of life counselor said to drag it out would be wrong/The government gave him pain pills and skipped the chemotherapy/Because they were saving the money for me. [Chorus:] That’s why they’re pulling the plug on Grandma/You know they’re doing it for you and for me/Because health care’s a right/That’s why they’re pulling the plug tonight/So everyone has health care for free.”
9. Muslim Brotherhood