Salon’s Michelle Goldberg attended the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend:
To attend CPAC is to crash through the looking glass into a world where passionate worship of the president is part of a brave rebellion against government, where Sweden is a hellish dystopia and Tom Daschle a die-hard Marxist. It’s to realize that, despite the conservative hold on the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court and the utter dejection among Democrats, right-wingers still fancy themselves an embattled minority facing an army of wily, ruthless leftists, who they hate with the righteous fury of the downtrodden.
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That may be why there were so many college students in attendance, since university campuses are perhaps the only places left in America where conservatives might legitimately feel marginalized. Many students spoke of being radicalized by the hostility they face as Republicans at liberal schools, much as David Brock did in his book “Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative.” Given the p.c. hysteria that has choked the intellectual life of so many institutions, it’s likely they really have been mistreated. Still, some of the examples they proffered suggested something rather less than an epidemic of college Stalinism. At the panel on campus liberal bias, for example, Roger Custer of Ithaca College’s Young America’s Foundation spoke of the oppression he suffered when his group advertised a speech by Pat Buchanan’s sister Bay with signs saying, “Feminazis beware: Your Nuremberg has come.”
“We received a barrage of criticism,” Custer said indignantly. “Leftists said they felt physically threatened.”
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Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition and sworn enemy of homosexuality, put it best. Asked if Bush was in sync with his agenda, he replied, “George Bush is our agenda!”
But Sheldon, a plump, pink man with pale blue eyes, wasn’t out celebrating the Bush presidency. Instead, the man who has pledged “open warfare” against all things gay, stood in the exhibitors hall before a makeshift carnival game called “Tip a Troll,” in which players were invited to throw gray beanbags at toy trolls with the heads of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Hillary Clinton and Tom Daschle, or trolls holding signs saying, “The Homosexual Agenda,” “Roe V. Wade” and “The Liberal Media.”
Sheldon, like the rest of the right, isn’t letting success distract from a monomaniacal focus on its foes. Indeed, the overwhelming message at CPAC was that it’s time to toughen up.