Jason Mattera was seven minutes into his speech yesterday to the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference when he raised his rallying cry: "We must be that generation that stands athwart history yelling, 'Hey, jackass, get your government off my freedom!' " Sure, it was just a lowbrow reworking of William F. Buckley's famous phrase. But the crowd loved it, just as they had loved his mockery of President Obama's one-time cocaine use, his ridicule of feminists, his gay joke about Rep. Barney Frank, and his description of the "Obama girl" as "slutty."
Still, Mattera's bombast would have melted into the bombast of the dozens of other speakers at CPAC had not the New York Times published a blog post about his talk: "CPAC Speaker Bashes Obama, in Racial Tones." For a young conservative firebrand, there can be no luckier break. So a few hours after his speech, Mattera was live on a HotAir.com Webcast criticizing the Times reporter. "It's completely absurd," Mattera said. "That's just par the course for the leftist New York Times." In precise partisan formation, thousands of blog posts on the "controversy" were issued.
All in all, not a bad day's work. In his real day job, Mattera is the spokesman for Young America's Foundation, a conservative-youth-outreach group that bought Ronald Reagan's California house and turned it into "a living monument to President Reagan's character, leadership, and extraordinary accomplishments." Mattera also moonlights as contributor to HotAir.com, founded by Michelle Malkin. In his videos for the site, he ambushes prominent liberal icons like John Kerry and Charlie Rangel. He gets up in their faces, calls them names, and smiles smugly when they book it in the opposite direction. He ends up looking like a low-budget version of Bill O'Reilly's young producer Jesse Waters, who's perfected the art of the ambush in prime time.
But Mattera's no cheap imitation. He has a history of right-wing rabblerousing. As a college student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, he founded a Whites Only Scholarship to protest affirmative action. He blew off an invitation to join the multicultural students union—he's Puerto Rican—because he thought it smelled of identity politics. Like many young conservatives at CPAC, Mattera takes issue with campus politics in this country.
"Students are subjected to a bombardment of liberal talking points throughout their collegiate careers," he said at CPAC. As he made his way out of the ballroom after his speech, Mattera bumped into some Roger Williams students. He told them he looks forward to catching up.
Later, he told me how too many college students and young people are misinformed about their constitutional rights and liberties. "I'm not calling them dumb," he clarified. No, he's calling them naive: "Conservatives are always going to have an uphill battle in the sense that young people, just by the very nature of their age, are less mature and haven't experienced life as much as an older person. … I think that's why they buy into a lot of the left's rhetoric."
Mattera says he hopes his forthcoming book, Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation, can help change some minds. But judging from the reaction to his speech—both in the room and on the Web—it seems more likely that it will only harden the divisions that already exist.