I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. at the “Defending the American Dream” summit, hosted by the national chapter of Americans for Prosperity. (I also went to the Wisconsin event in February, and wrote about it here.) As I routinely say, my American Dream consists of some combination of Megan Fox, chocolate chip cookies, and Packer games – preferably all at once. But I suppose their American Dream vision is worth defending, too.
The conference began on Friday, and the first big event was a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol to promote free markets. Strangely, it looked exactly like the scene from Forrest Gump where Forrest addresses the anti-Vietnam crowd and they pull the plug on his speech – just without the hippies, drugs, and reckless sex. (Wait – why did I go to this thing, again?)
Before the rally actually began, the crowd milled around for a good two hours in the hot sun. Hand made signs were issued that said things like “No Commies in Congress” and “Drill Our Soil for More Oil.” A stereo system played a mix of working-guy anthems (I believe the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tough Enough” was in the mix) and country favorites, none of which I had heard. The music only partially drowned out a female Vietnamese folk band that was playing directly behind us on the Capitol lawn, next to a giant wooden white cross. They appeared to have one two-hour song that likely turned listeners against whatever cause they were championing.
The day was odd, in that the stock markets were still crashing down – yet we were there at a rally defending the free market. Obviously, smart people recognize that much of the economic downturn was caused by government intervention in the market, not by big business avarice. Laws that incentivized lenders to give high-risk individuals loans (and in some cases penalized them when they didn’t) certainly played a major part in the economic downturn of last week. But I am absolutely certain that the lay person watching their retirement fund disappear like a honey ham at a weight watchers clinic blames the whole debacle on a lack of government regulation.
The rally featured Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, who hammered home the (I believe, correct) theory that government intervention caused the market crash. You can listen to Phillips’ comments here:[audio:http://www.wpri.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/multimedia/audio/afp.mp3]
After the rally, all the sweaty participants piled back into the buses and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening program, which included drinks, dinner, and speeches from list of conservative heavy hitters. The dinner was held in an immense conference room, which purportedly held 1,700 hungry free market enthusiasts. There was barely a seat to be had, but I found one against the wall in a corner, approximately 16 miles from the stage. The dinner was, well… it was conference chicken. And I mean no disrespect to Ed Meese or his family, but I did sneak out during his speech for an extra drink. Or two.
The highlight of my night came later, when George Will spoke to the conference attendees. (And yes, I recognize that saying that previous sentence out loud would prevent me from ever seeing a live naked woman again.) Will was a little more combative than he usually appears on TV, pacing maniacally around the stage.
A couple of weeks ago, I appeared on a Milwaukee Public TV show (4th Street Forum), where the panel members were supposed to discuss how terrible gridlock in the state legislature is, and how we can get more bills passed. I was the resident contrarian on the panel, arguing that gridlock and partisanship aren’t really all that terrible. In fact, the only thing worse than a government that works too slow is a government that works too fast, as we get stuck with new laws with wide-ranging unintended consequences.
In any event, George Will closed his speech on Friday night with this exact point. He argued that gridlock isn’t an American failing, it is an American achievement. For people like us that tend to believe government does more “to” us than “for” us, a “do-nothing” Congress isn’t all that horrible of a thing. Anyway, it was just nice to have my ideas validated by someone who I’ve considered since my teenage years to be the foremost conservative writer in the U.S.
The next day included another slate of big hitters, and some break out sessions dealing with health care, entitlements, blogging, and campus activism. Throughout the two days, I really enjoyed meeting the good folks who had traveled from all over the country to be there. I know it’s often easy for the media to describe “the right” as some monolithic group of Bible thumpers bent on taking over the country, but in actuality, they’re just regular folks tired of seeing their basic freedoms recede in the name of government greed.
Here’s some coverage of the aforementioned rally on Capitol Hill: