On Saturday, I attended the \”Defending the American Dream\” Summit at the Country Springs Hotel in Waukesha. The event was put on by the Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin chapter, and featured speakers such as Dinesh D\’Souza, Steve Moore, David Clarke, Paul Ryan, Jim Sensenbrenner, and others.

The event started at 10:00, so I rolled in at 9:30 to get registered. I actually got a press pass – the only benefit for which apparently was that it meant I didn\’t have to pay the $29 enrollment fee. I was the only one I saw at the whole conference that had a press pass that said \”Media\” on it. When I saw Patrick McIlheran from the Journal-Sentinel, I showed him my pass and said \”so who\’s the big shot now, Mr. Journal Sentinel?\”

I realized the event was being televised by my arch-nemesis WisconsinEye, and wondered how many people would be sitting at home watching it on TV. Then again, if I showed up on any of the coverage, WisconsinEye would just edit me out.

The program started with a couple montages of Ronald Reagan, to get the crowd fired up. I\’m actually of two minds about exhuming the Reagan legacy. Naturally, he stands for the principles conservatives care about the most, and he enjoyed one of the greatest presidencies of the 20th century. All of that is worth honoring, and it makes sense for today\’s candidates to try to get a little slice of the Reagan pie. But as a famous basketball coach once said, \”Ronald Reagan ain\’t walking through that door.\” It\’s just too hard of a standard to live up to, which is going to make virtually any Republican candidate look like he or she falls short. It would be like the Bucks telling the fans they want to add a player to the team with all the qualities of Michael Jordan, then signing Bobby Simmons to an $80 million contract. Wait, that actually happened?

After introductions by Tim Phillips and Mark Block, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen got things started with a good speech with some red meat for the crowd. I thought he did a good job deflecting some of the criticism conservatives have had about his tenure – that he hasn\’t been active enough in promoting a conservative agenda. Basically, he said he ran as someone who wasn\’t going to inject his own personal beliefs into the law, and that he\’s carrying through on his word. If someone wants to change the law, they will have to do so by actually changing the law, not through activism on the part of the Attorney General, as Democrats have done for decades. I think that was a message that the crowd appreciated.

Other speakers came and went, all with good messages for the true believers in the crowd. Steve Moore from the Wall Street Journal gave a hand-waving, manic speech reminiscent of a Richard Lewis stand-up routine. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke gave a pretty low-key speech. I\’ve seen him give talks to smaller crowds where he\’s shown a lot more fire. It was a good speech, but seemed pretty reserved. An excellent accounting of all the morning speakers can be found at Steve Eggleston\’s blog, and at WisconsinEye when they get the archived video up.

Before lunch, Dinesh D\’Souza gave what could be considered the keynote speech, primarily about Ronald Reagan. I admire D\’Souza a great deal, and have read a few of his books – including his book about Reagan. (Although I have to admit, it was a long time ago, and I don\’t remember much about it.) His speech was really good, replete with catchy Reagan one-liners, although it kind of had the feel of a speech that he\’s delivered 100 times. That\’s not a criticism at all – there\’s no speech I could deliver in my sleep, other than maybe a dissertation on how to work my remote control. And his speech was smooth as a gravy sandwich.

Another blogger pointed out this juicy tidbit from D\’Souza\’s Wikipedia entry:

Prior to his marriage in 1992, D\’Souza had relationships with two well-known female conservatives, Laura Ingraham, a nationally-syndicated radio commentator to whom he was engaged but never married, and best-selling conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter.

Wow – in the nerdy conservative world, D\’Souza\’s toting some some pretty heavy lumber. Ingraham and Coulter are the gold standard of right-wing pinup girls, and he had both of them. If he had completed the triumvirate and dated Margaret Thatcher, there\’d be a foundation set up to name bridges after him.

I have to sheepishly admit that during the awards ceremony (awards were given to Congressman Paul Ryan, State Representative Leah Vukmir, and talk show host Vicki McKenna), I snuck out and got a cheeseburger from the Brookfield Kopp\’s. I don\’t get back to Milwaukee very often, and that\’s one thing I have to do on every trip. So I ate my burger in my car, then got out to throw my trash in one of the cans, and missed – which meant I had to trudge through three feet-high snow to retrieve my trash and put it in the trash can. When I turned around, I saw that everyone inside Kopp\’s was watching me and laughing. I bowed, accordingly.

I attended the first afternoon breakout session entitled \”The New Media vs. The Old Media,\” sponsored by the Lucy Burns Institute. Panelists included Leslie Graves of the Lucy Burns Institute, Patrick McIlheran, Jo Egelhoff from Foxpolitics.net, and Kyle Duerstein from PantherTalkLive. They went through a basic explanation of blogs before Patrick got about ten straight questions from people wanting to know why their local newspaper won\’t print their letters to the editor. But it gave some of the older folks in the crowd a little more insight as to what this whole \”interweb\” is all about, so it was a constructive session.

Before the afternoon session, I chatted with Owen Robinson, Fred Dooley, Tom McMahon, and Pete Fanning for a little bit. All really nice guys – but it proved my \”20% theory\” with regard to blogs. That is, any time a blogger posts a picture of themselves on their profile, they are always 20% thinner in the photo than they are in real life. Myself included. Sadly,Tom is having difficulty finding a hat like the one he\’s wearing in his photo – if anyone can help him find one, it would be much appreciated.

I then caught Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance President Todd Berry\’s talk about Wisconsin\’s budgeting woes. I could listen to Todd talk all day, as he falls into the category of \”people who know a lot about a lot\” (as opposed to people like me, who know very little about a lot of different topics.) He discussed topics near and dear to my heart, like the state\’s growing debt load and the lack of a rainy day fund, and how those phenomena are harming our budgetary standing.

Dinner was accompanied by a speech from Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, now entering his 83rd year in the House of Representatives. Conservatives pretty much know Sensenbrenner\’s deal by now – he\’s crusty and irascible, but he\’s our guy, so we listen intently. I actually find Sensenbrenner\’s crankiness somewhat endearing. He doesn\’t care what you think, and he\’s going to tell it to you like it is, not like how you want it. When politicians bend over backwards to kiss up to their constituents, you end up with abominations like universal health care. Granted, being in Congress so long allows him some leeway to be blunt with his supporters, but it is refreshing.

Congressman Sensenbrenner actually made some pretty pointed criticisms of John McCain in his speech, which surprised me. During the question-and-answer period, someone asked him what he thought of John McCain as a legislator. \”I JUST TOLD YOU!\” he boomed. He also discussed the Cap and Trade Global Warming plan that is being pushed in Congress (not to be confused with the Cap\’n Crunch plan, which does nothing for global warming, but does contain 18 essential vitamins and minerals.) He actually took questions for quite a while – I thought he was going to go all night, which was pretty nice of him.

After that, I had to rush out and drive around in the snow. A really good conference all-around. I\’m not sure what the plans are for subsequent years, but it should be a must-attend for those interested in furthering the cause of lower taxes and individual freedoms.

During the slow periods, I actually was able to show off my cool new microphone and interview a few of the speakers. Here are the official WPRI exclusive interviews:

Dinesh D\’Souza

State Representative Leah Vukmir

State Senator Ted Kanavas

WTA\’s Todd Berry

(D\’Souza doesn\’t really answer my third question, which is fair enough, since I wasn\’t exactly sure what I was asking.)