For three days, Jarrid Blades ’12, Will Wetzel ’11 and Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman heard speeches from some of the most influential figures in America, attended numerous panels on issues facing our country, and befriended the movers and shakers of the Conservative movement at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C.
CPAC is an opportunity for elected officials and activists from across the country to meet and speak with others in the movement. Since 1973, the American Conservative Union Foundation has hosted the event which welcomes thousands of attendees annually. This year, prominent speakers included Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
Each year, Deutchman accompanies two students who have taken her course on American Conservatism to the conference. “I’ve been taking students to CPAC for five years,” says Deutchman of the rare opportunity. “In a short time, an amazing tradition has been started.”
Attending such an important national conference is incredibly advantageous for political science students such as Blades and Wetzel. “This event is watching living history,” remarks Deutchman. “It is seeing the people you read about speak and inspire.”
The conference also presents the opportunity for students to speak with many of the nation’s behind-the-scenes players, as well as meet other young activists within the movement. In fact, half of the more than 11,000 in attendance were under the age of 30, and a popular panel featured young activists from colleges across the country speaking on their efforts within the Conservative movement.
Blades, who is conducting Honors research on the Tea Party movement, was not only able to learn more about the subject of his Honors work, but he was able to experience the passion of the Conservative movement firsthand.
“There was just so much happening all the time,” says Blades. “There was the “wow factor” of seeing famous Conservatives – like Ann Coulter – speak, and there were hundreds of organizations handing out literature, eager to engage in conversation. Even when I disagreed, I realized that you really have to respect everyone at the conference. They are all trying to advance what they believe in.”
The wide range of beliefs present at the conference also helped to reinforce what the students have learned about conservatism in America. “I think this conference proves a lot of what I have said in class,” explains Deutchman. “It demonstrates that this movement is so disparate; you can really see just how many factions there are. Everyone disagrees on some point.”
Wetzel found that the most popular figures were able to speak to the broad desires of many of the factions, often receiving standing ovations when emphasizing such principles as family values. “Rep. Allen West from Florida was incredibly powerful,” says Wetzel. “The second West came out, the applause was deafening, and his speech really touched a lot of people.”
Although speakers such as West proved both fascinating and moving, it was the interaction between officials, activists and specialists that most interested Wetzel. “I found that I most enjoyed the panels – they were much more passionate.” Wetzel attended panels on subjects such as Internet regulation and column writing – a panel hosted by Fred Barnes, executive editor of the conservative opinion magazine The Weekly Standard.
Following the conference, Blades and Wetzel presented their thoughts and observations on their experience with Deutchman’s current American Conservatism class, answering questions and engaging in a dialogue with classmates.
Above all, the conference served to spark an enthusiasm for political activism in the already politically minded students. “We saw everything from very moderate Conservatives to those on the extreme Right,” comments Blades. “The spectrum of people you can meet is evident just by walking through the lobby. There were people there wearing anything from a suit to a cowboy hat and boots.”