Each winter since 1973, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has been held in Washington D.C., and for the past four years, Hobart and William Smith students have been there.
CPAC brings together the leading conservative organizations, activists and speakers who impact conservative thought in the nation. This year, Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman and two HWS seniors, Shane Simon and Julie Boardman-Brann, spent four days among the most prominent people in contemporary conservative American politics, including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Scott Brown and Ron Paul.
“This year was the largest CPAC ever,” Deutchman says. “Almost 10,000 people were there. It was just amazing.”
“It truly was one of the best experiences of my college career,” says Boardman-Brann. “I have never been so close to so many people who have the power to shape an entire national movement; this experience was beyond words.”
Boardman-Brann, a political science major and economics and Russian studies minor who has been studying the American conservative movement for much of her academic career at HWS, will incorporate the experience into her Honors paper on libertarianism. “I wanted to be able to put my research into a real life context and to add some firsthand experience to my Honors paper on libertarianism which, obviously, requires a good deal of understanding of the conservative movement.”
Working toward a double-major in political science and history and a double-minor in international relations and the Writing Colleagues program, Simon says he also wanted to attend CPAC to aid his Honors research on the effects of political realignment theory on contemporary politics.
At CPAC, Simon, Boardman-Brann and Deutchman listened to conservative heavyweights tout their views and saw panelists battle on topics ranging from foreign policy and job creation to fascism and Civil Rights. At a panel discussion held by GOProud, an NGO representing gay conservatives and their allies, a group of young panelists spoke about political activism and gay rights to much applause, which was in stark contrast to the audience reaction to anti-gay activists.
“The most surprising thing I saw at CPAC was when the audience booed an anti-gay activist off the stage,” says Simon. “To me, this demonstrated that the Conservative movement is becoming more inclusive and representative of America. This is a welcoming prospect.”
“What happened at this year’s CPAC, it seems to me, is that there were more young people,” says Deutchman. “And young people who are conservative are often not in favor of government control or regulation of peoples’ sexuality, unlike their conservative elders.”
For Boardman-Brann, the best part of the conference was an evening speech from Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
“The room was filled with tons of young libertarians and other Ron Paul supporters, and the crowd went crazy when he was introduced, which was encouraging for me, especially since I am a self-described libertarian,” Boardman-Brann says. “Libertarians seemed almost nonexistent at most of the other events of the conference, and all of the sudden we were bombarded with an entire overflowing audience of them. That experience proved that not only is this faction of the conservative movement still alive, but that they aren’t looking at extinction anytime soon, as others have prophesized.”
Simon says that a panel on Latinos in the Conservative movement was for him the most illuminating part of the conference.
“Grover Norquist, who lived in the same house as President Gearan at Harvard, was on the panel and made several excellent points,” says Simon, citing the way the panel, “demonstrated how Conservatives are willing to break from their past in order to embrace a new future.”
Both Simon and Boardman-Brann are planning to attend law school following graduation this spring.
“I plan to work toward becoming an attorney with a strong focus on transnational issues,” says Simon. “CPAC enhanced my understanding of how international issues, like immigration, foreign policy and trade, can influence domestic politics. Armed with this knowledge, I believe I will be better able to deal with some of the challenges of working in the realm of global law.”
“I hope to eventually be able to use the law to improve people’s lives, preferably through interaction between government and law,” says Boardman-Brann. “CPAC has definitely prepared me for not only law school, but for the rest of life because it gave me a firsthand understanding of the real issues we are facing as a country and that I hope to face and fix in my career. I truly believe in participatory democracy and in the agency of the individual within society, and my experience at CPAC not only confirmed these beliefs for me, giving me faith that these beliefs are alive with the rest of the country, but it also gave me some of the tools to influence the change I wish to see.”