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Monday, March 13, 2006

Southern Republican Leadership Conference

As mentioned at the end of last week, Layla and I attended the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this past weekend in Memphis. It was a really great time. My rather pointless observations are these:

Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas, is just about the coolest politician I can think of. He gave an absolutely fantastic speech, is dedicated, conservative, an excellent administrator, a good wit, and puts his money where his mouth is. Several years ago he was severly overweight and his doctor told him he was in danger of getting diabetes. Huckabee went out, and just using diet and exercise lost 160 pounds. Now, obviously, losing weight doesn't make you an important person, much less credible (cf, those horrible Subway commercials). But when you combine personal dedication and self-control with an administration that has slashed budgets, improved roads, cut wasteful spending and improved schools in one of the country's poorest states, it starts to say something. Now, all that's pretty sweet, but Huckabee has something else going for him: he has a band called Capitol Offense, made up of him and several of his staff/cabinet members. When have you heard "director of state finance" and "lead vocals" used to describe the same person? And I'm sorry, but bass guitar is way, way better than the saxaphone favored by another Arkansas governor from Hope.

Sen. Sam Brownback needs a really good speech coach. I say this because Brownback is phenomonal on paper. He gave a very good speech that stressed the GOP's dedication to the culture of life and urged us to continue to support that goal faithfully. But he has very poor stage presence. He squints, he looks down too much, and his delivery lacks the ring, flow, and timbre of many men far more mediocre in character. He walks the walk well, he just needs to do the talking better. Brownback is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism, and holds the seat that Bob Dole vacated in 1996. But until he can get more photogenic, he's going to have to do the Lord's work from the Senate rather than the White House.

Sen. George Allen, from Virginia, is the opposite. Flair, charisma, presentation, he has all of these. But good ideas? If he has them, he didn't mention them. He did very well in the conference straw poll, and seemed (from the conversations I had) to have impressed a lot of people. He has good credentials, and he seems to have done a lot of good things. But he put a lot of emphasis on giving the president a line-item veto, which is a) stupid and b) not necessary if Congress does its job. The president already wields too much authority and has too much prestige, let's not go giving him more power. As for Allen, my impression from the SRLC is that he's all hat and no cattle.

John McCain, of course, did not disappoint on presentation. The man is an excellent speaker, he loves his country, and he firmly holds onto what he believes -- he has principle. The only problem is that he and I do not have the same principles. The man is simply not a conservative. He could beat anyone the Democrats bring out if the GOP can generate enough support for him among the base. But I won't be supporting him except as a purely last ditch matter of efficacy.

There's an uneasy and implicit realization among conservatives, it seems, that the current administration, while it has provided invaluable leadership on many issues, has not fully lived up to basic conservative principles. There was a lot of support given to Bush -- but there was a lot of back to basics talk about the bedrock principles of American conservatism and the Reagan legacy, and even a couple of apologies for the poor job that Congress has been doing on spending (Lindsey Graham from SC was big on that). It wasn't couched, for the most part, in "change course" language, but the implicit message was that the GOP needs to trim sail and straighten up. And I agree. American conservatism has the best vision for this country, the most proven principles, and the best understanding of what self-government means. American conservatism is the heart and soul of the GOP. And it's time the GOP sucked it up and started acting like it.

Haley Barbor (MS governor), Asa Hutchinson (next governor of AR), Rick Perry (gov. TX), J.C. Watts (former OK Congressman), and Dennis Hastert were also very good. I missed, sadly, Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander (TN Senator), but heard good things. Bill Frist hasn't any personality, and he flipped flopped on stem cells -- I wish I could have more enthusiasm for my own Senator, but I can't. Immigration reform discussions need to include more emphasis on the fact that we want people, especially hard working, family-loving, God-fearing Catholic Hispanics to come here -- but that we have to demand that they do it legally, and they have to know that we'll give them opportunities to come here and have a life legally. We're already talking lots about the penalties for being here illegally, which is important as well.

Some memorable quotes from the SRLC:

"We need to ask ourselves what we as a country want to be when we grow up."
- J.C. Watts, OK

"If ten percent is good enough for God, it's for damn sure good enough for the government."
- Marsha Blackburn, TN

"You really want to hear 'Freebird'? Do we have that many Southerners in the house tonight?"
- Gov. Mike Huckabee (in his capacity as a bassist)

"I would like to apologize to the American people . . . we've been growing the government at a rate that makes the Democrats look thrifty."
- Sen. Lindsey Graham, SC

"No more bridges to nowhere!"
- actually, half a dozen people said this

I'm sure there were more, but it's hard to keep track when you didn't write them down. If I or Layla think of or come across in the paper any more, we'll share.

Our Lady of Guadalope, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, Patron of statesmen, pray for us.

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Blogger Dennis said...

That is soooo cool! I was doing something cool, too, catechizing parents of soon-to-be first-communicants in a Hispanic parish about what it was their children would be doing in a few weeks... but still, it would have been fun to have been in Memphis this weekend.

8:24 AM  

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