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Reflections on CPAC

by John Stephenson / /

Today is the third and final day of the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC),the largest annual gathering of conservatives and libertarians in the nation.After three days of staffing a well-visited booth, meeting with dedicatedactivists, and listening to dynamic speakers, I’m looking forward to some restand relaxation, but also to what the future holds for the conservativemovement.

This year’s CPAC had the highest number of attendees(11,000) in the history of the conference. CPAC speakers ranged from Rep. PaulRyan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee Chair, to Governor Mitch Danielsof Indiana, a potential presidential candidate who gave, in my view, anoutstanding keynote address, which you can read here.Also, CPAC 2011 featured a number of new participating organizations that focuson both activism and policy related to social, economic, and political issuesat the federal, state, and local levels.

While attending CPAC, I had the opportunity to participate ina number of discussions about important tax and fiscal policy issues facing theUnited States. NTUF hosted a discussion about entitlement reform that featuredexperts such as Rep. Devin Nunes, Maya MacGuineas, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, StevenMoore, and Dan Mitchell. The bottom line of their presentation was that we needto start tackling the problem of runaway entitlement spending before it’s toolate.

But budget reform should not be restricted to social programs.CPAC also featured a panel on how the nation can reduce defense spending to amore manageable level without jeopardizing readiness. As a former military aideto a fiscally conservative Member of Congress, I was pleased to hear all of theviews presented and the many ideas for maintaining an affordable defenseposture. The passion the attendees displayed at the panels, and inconversations with me at the NTU table, was striking.  It bodes well forconservatives if these activists carry their views home and remain outspokenand active in the political process.

For the last several weeks, there has been a lot of talk inthe media about differences in the conservative movement over certain policiesand suggestions that these differences spell certain doom the conservativemovement.  After three days ofobserving conservatives of all stripes from across the country, I canunequivocally say that reports of destructive differences among conservativesare greatly exaggerated. In fact, I would argue that the conservative movementhas never been stronger and ready to bring real solutions to the many seriousproblems facing the nation.