WASHINGTON - Except for the low-heeled pumps, this could almost be a Netroots convention. Well, that and guys handing out Brownback bumper stickers.
Still, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that began this morning is a three-day extravaganza of activism in which purists, not pragmatists, are on parade -- and they are busy bashing the president.
"We cannot afford to be 'Bush Republicans,'" Phyllis Schlafly said, to great applause, in the vast Omni Hotel's largest ballroom. "This has got to be a grassroots party," and works best as such, as when "the whole conservative movement rose up to tell George Bush that we could not have Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court."
Not unlike opponents of, say, the war in Iraq, the crowd here is fed up with non-binding blah-blah on their core issues: "We don't just want words" of support on abortion and gay marriage, said Schlafly -- who, as Helen Mirren recently said of the queen, has been carrying on with the same devotion and hairstyle for the last half-century. Today, again, she was dressed in red and wearing her trademark eagle pin.
Her biggest applause line, though, was not on abortion but on the issue of what she called "sovereignty."
"We've got to stop this nonsense of teaching our schoolchildren in foreign languages," she told the crowd. "We cannot afford to let Mexico turn us into a two-language nation."
She was incensed, she said, that that George Bush had made such a big deal of signing the bill into law that would provide for a fence along part of the border between the countries: "Was that dishonest? I've been looking at TV every night and haven't seen that fence being built yet. We want that fence!"
OK, so on the issues, this crowd has nothing in common with progressives, right? Almost, though Schlafly did suggest she might share an inch or so of common ground with the unions she has always disdained. She named globalization as second only to the war among concern to American voters in '08. "And we don't want this phony guest worker plan,'' she said near the end of her remarks. "We don't want them taking jobs away from our own high school drop-outs."
The music, though, could have been piped in from a John Edwards rally, circa 2004; when Ohio's Ken Blackwell was introduced, the speakers blasted an instrumental version John Mellencamp's "Small Town."
And the impatience was not unfamiliar: "We can re-charge our batteries, root out the corruption, the complacency within our natural home," Blackwell said of the Republican Party. "We can evict the pretenders." Another speaker on the panel, Richard Viguerie, of ConservativesBetrayed.com, lamented, "I wish the Republicans paid as much attention to the conservative philosophy as Democrats do to Left."
Nor was everyone in the crowd on the same page, as it turns out. "They ripped into the Republicans more than I thought they would," said Travis Moore, a 20-year-old College Republican from Wayne State College in Nebraska. "I came in thinking I was a conservative, but I guess I'm not. I think it's important for our kids to learn other languages and work with people from other countries -- and I've always been against that stupid wall."