CPAC: A Star Trek Convention for Political Geeks?

Is CPAC an important event, or just a con for cons?

Recognizing that the headline may annoy some folks, let me start off by pointing out I like scifi cons and geeks.  I will confess to having attended a huge Star Trek convention in Los Angeles many years ago and have been in to other sci cons.  Further, I consider myself a bona fide geek as well as a political geek.

All disclaimers aside, let’s get to the topic at hand:  CPAC.  The inspiration for this post is paying some attention to the ongoing debates over who is attending CPAC and who isn’t (and why, or speculations as to why) as well as the whole GOPROUD bit (for example, see here).   The whole thing just seems rather juvenile.

The Star Trek Convention comparison, disclaimers about my affections aside, is to underscore that I am not so convinced that CPAC should be treated as some sort of Serious Event that will set the course for the conservative moment.  To be clear, I feel the same way about meetings like Netroot Nation or whatever other ideologically-based gathering of this sort one can think of.  Ultimately these types of meetings allow like minded people to gather for an event that is as much social as it is anything else.  One gets to see friends and acquaintances that one might otherwise not get to see as well as to encounter celebrities (at least as defined by the specific group), peruse merchandise of especial enticement to the group, and to hear talks on issues of interest.  Yes, it is possible that attendees will learn something new, but on balance these types of things tend to be more pep rally than education events.

All of this is just fine, but the fact that so many people are taking an event like CPAC so seriously strikes me as yet another example of the problem of the conservative movement at the moment.  Just as it treats talk radio and cable new hosts as if they are intellectual guides of the movement (rather than entertainers) many are treating CPAC as a serious gathering of thinkers (rather than a combo social gathering and pep rally).

Nothing wrong with pep rallies or social gatherings, but let’s treat things for what they are.  The seemingly yearly treatment of CPAC as if it is profoundly important is a bit farcical.  I just wonder if it isn’t s symptom of a broader set of problems for conservatives.

Really, do most conservatives even know what CPAC is or even care what happens at the event?

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Star Trek convention attendees are cooler and dress better.

  2. sam says:

    Besides, anyone at CPAC in an official position is a Ferengi.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    But who has the Con at the Con-Con?

  4. I think the media generates a lot of that speculation. I will watch the speeches at the event that I am interested in and skip others, but the characterization of it as a “pep rally” could not be more spot on. Its largely a worthless social event. For proof see how big of a “bump” Ron Paul gets in his (non)presidential bid when he wins the straw poll.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Do people dress up like their favorite conservatives?

    (I bet the answer is yes… maybe not plastic Reagan masks, but I’ll bet they do everything they can)

  6. Matt B says:

    Steve wrote:
    ——————————-
    The Star Trek Convention comparison, disclaimers about my affections aside, is to underscore that I am not so convinced that CPAC should be treated as some sort of Serious Event that will set the course for the conservative moment.
    ——————————-
    On a national level, in terms of presidential politics, this is definitely the case. On a local/statewide level, I’m less convinced. And I can’t help but wonder how timing might fit in, in particular how a given CPAC lines up against the electoral cycle.

    In terms of presidential elections, 2008 is proof that you don’t have to take CPAC to get the nomination (so 2000 if I remember correctly).

    But, looking at the recent off-presidential election, I think the argument could be made that, because of the swing of conservatives in local *primaries*, CPAC – or at least the media darlings from C-PAC – had an effect upon the national conservative/republican movement. Rubio spoke in 2010 (though he probably would have bumped Crist regardless). And while she didn’t speak I found a number of interviews with Christine O’Donnell from that year – raising her profile. I didn’t get enough time to look up Joe Miller or Sharron Angle, but taking these as some of the “extreme” conservative candidates, I have to wonder how much a presence, if there was one at CPAC helped their ascendence.

  7. Matt B says:

    Sorry about that, that should have been “Steven” wrote… 🙁

  8. @Matt:

    No worries, I have been called much worse!

  9. anjin-san says:

    > Star Trek convention attendees are cooler and dress better.

    They can all count to twenty too…