CPAC's morning was a somnolent affair, the main ballroom filling up slowly for speeches that didn't generate much spontaneous applause. At one point, emcee Katie Pavlich apologizes that work would keep Utah Sen. Mike Lee away from the conference. Moments later, Lee arrived, with no shortness of breath, but his jokey speech went over like warmed-up buttercream. It reached an emotional climax with a story about Lee's visit to a salad bar, where he sampled rancid chocolate pudding.
"I approached one young lady who worked there, and I said -- excuse me, I just want you to know. The pudding is rancid," said Lee. "You might want to replace it. She proceeded to roll her eyes and deliver that deep, soul-crushing sigh that America's teenagers have perfected, and simply said 'I'm not on salad.' And then she walked away."
Lee paused for effect.
"I'm not on salad. Instead of that type of shoulder-shrugging, what we need in Washington is some serious shoulder-squaring, in the spirit of civil society. In that sense, we are all on salad!"
This did not cut it as an applause line. Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk with a sharp legal mind, is not discussed as a possible president. He was followed by two senators who are -- Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. The ballroom finally filled as Rubio's time came. He started with a joke about the water that had been placed on the podium (de riguer now for a Rubio speech) and continued with a no-teleprompter paean to the common.
"They paid their mortgages on time, and now they have to pay the bill for bailing out the banks that caused [the crisis]," said Rubio." Every week Washington is creating some sort of manmade crisis for them to worry about. They think one side is fighting for the people who have made it, and all the other side does is fight for government policies to pay for the people who are struggling."
Rubio's speech was sweeping and philosophical, getting granular only to quote from the new leadership of China, and how confident they were that they could overtake the United States. Rubio finished with a flourish, and the room filled to standing room only for Rand Paul. Dozens of libertarians held "Stand With Rand" songs as the senator, wearing a blazer and jeans, took the stage. Most of them stayed standing for the entire speech, a condemnation of the "stale and moss-covered" current GOP. Where Rubio was sweeping, Paul was full of dollar values of government boondoggles.
"The President says he can’t find anything to cut except for White House tours," he said. "Well what about the $3 million spent studying Monkeys on Meth. Does it really take $3 million to discover that monkeys, like humans, act crazy on Meth? What about the $300,000 for a Robotic squirrel? They wanted to study whether a squirrel that doesn’t wag its tail will be bitten by a rattlesnake. Only problem, they couldn’t find a real squirrel to volunteer not to wag its tail."
Paul described a GOP that could win the "Facebook generation," the kids who instinctively know what's ridiculous and who have every reason to fear the state. "Ask them whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug use and you’ll hear a resounding no," he said. "Ask them if they want to bail out Too-Big-To-Fail banks with their tax dollars and you’ll hear a hell no!"
Ever since Ron Paul's movement took off, six years ago, libertarian students have been able to dominate rooms at CPAC. Rand Paul wrapped, got a standing ovation, and sparked an exodus out of the room. The next panel, which most people would miss, was about Benghazi.
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