If you’re a conservative, and haven’t been living in a dank cave far from a WiFi signal, you know that the Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as CPAC, is the biggest and baddest gathering of political conservatives in the country. CPAC is a mix of Woodstock, Mardi Gras, and ComicCon and features an All-Star roster of speakers, panels, and personalities. I attended my first CPAC last year and, let me tell you right now, nothing I had read adequately prepared me for the three days I was there. I tried to find some kind of rough guide for CPAC rookies before Iwent last year and I couldn’t find one. I hope to remedy that with this post.
My experience last year (detailed in a number of blog posts here) and some of the tidbits of knowledge I gleaned from talking to others taught me a few things about how to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of being at CPAC. I figured that knowledge hoarded does no real good, so I’m going to share what I learned with you.
Most of what follow is just common sense. Oddly enough, though, it’s easy to forget the simple things when you’re trying to get ready for the convention. Lots of things will consume your time and your thoughts and your common sense might be overcome by preparation. So consider this a handy reminder. Print it out, tuck it into your pocket, and take it out again the Wednesday before CPAC starts.
Okay. Hereafter follows The Rookie’s Rough Guide to CPAC.
1) Dress for Success…and a Lot of Walking.
CPAC is spread across a pretty big hotel. There’s a lot of ground to cover and oftentimes the place you want to go is at opposite ends of the venue from where you happen to be. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet, so dress accordingly. Women, I know those stiletto heels make you look incredible, but after a few hours in them, you will be willing to kill a bus full of elderly nuns with cute puppies on their laps for a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Guys, wear a suit you don’t mind living in or the whole day. I, personally, will be opting for dress casual: khakis, a button-down Oxford shirt, and comfortable shoes. Some folks have been known to rock the “jeans with a sport coat look”. I can’t pull that off but if you can, God bless you.
Just remember, you’re going to be putting some mileage on your feet. Treat them right.
CPAC is a lot like Disney World. There are all sort of wonderful places to go and things to see and people walking around in costumes (I am not kidding about this) and you will be sorely tempted to try to see everything. Let me tell you right now, you can’t see everything and if you try, you’re going to end up tired and cranky, just like at Disney World. The nice folks at CPAC has provided an agenda, though, and therein lies your first key to sailing through like a professional. Print it out, grab a highlighter, and pick the events you most want to attend. Pick about three of them each day, four if you’re ambitious, but no more than that.
Here’s the important thing when you’re making that list. If you want to see one of the big speeches like, say, Glenn Beck’s keynote of Ann Coulter’s Saturday speech, plan on standing on line for at least 45 minutes. The line may move faster than that, but you don’t want to be running to the end of the line ten minutes before the speech only to find yourself at the back end of the longest line you’ve ever seen in your life. Give yourself the pad.
Remember also to leave plenty of room to socialize and for the occasional random encounter with conservative fame (more on that later).
Oh, and don’t forget to attend the panel called “Blogging, Tweeting and Other Funny Words That Grow the Movement”, moderated by my friend Melissa Clouthier, Thursday at 3:00 PM. I’m not part of it, but I am responsible for the name. You can tell because it’s funny and sounds interesting!
3) Grabbing Grub:
There isn’t exactly a wealth of food available at CPAC, but you won’t go hungry. There will be food you can buy when lunch time comes (mostly in the boxed sandwich and bag of chips genre) and lots of groups will have hospitality suites where you can grab a snack and a water or a soda to help you get through. Don’t expect haute cuisine, though. It’s not a bad idea to carry a snack or two with you and a bottle of water. The hotel will have a bar. Don’t visit it on a completely empty stomach or, if you do, go easy on the adult beverages. You’ll need to save your brain cells for the after-parties.
4) Prepare for Brushes with Conservative Fame:
Perhaps the most exciting moments of CPAC 2009 for me were the chance encounters with famous people I admire. On the very first day I met Michael Barone and Jerry Doyle. Not bad, huh? Later I met Michelle Muccio, Newt Gingrich, Saul Anuzis, Mark Levin, and Rick Santorum as well as a small horde of bloggers with whom I had only communicated in e-mails and via blog comments. I’m not name-dropping here, although I’m sure it seems like I am. Here’s the thing. I wasn’t trying to meet anyone. I ran into Jerry Doyle as I was going into the hotel and he was leaving. I rounded a corner heading to another appointment and came almost face to face with Barone. These random encounters just happen and you’ll have your share of them as well if you keep your eyes open and have prioritized your day so that you’re not rushing around like a crazy person.
What do you do when the meetings happen? That one’s easy. Say hello, be polite, remember that they’re just as busy as you are, and keep your camera handy so you can ask them to take a picture with you. Most of them – the overwhelming majority – will say yes. Some of them will even hang out and chat with you for a few minutes (thank you, Jerry Doyle!).
This, by the way, is the very best part of CPAC, as far as I’m concerned.
5) Love the Nightlife, But Not Too Much:
Many of the stories you have heard about the CPAC after-parties are true. The get-togethers will range from impromptu gatherings in the hotel bar to pre-planned affairs either on or off-site to the rowdy bacchanalias of legend. If you’re reasonably alert, you can find at least one of them each night. The new friends you will make once you get there will help you find others.
And, hey, being social, making friends and contacts is one of the most important reasons to go to CPAC. By all means, hit the parties and have a great time.
You know there’s a “but” coming, right? Here is is. Remember that CPAC runs for three days and plan your after-hours partying accordingly. You don’t want to be one of those spent dishrags of partied-out woe slouching around the convention on Saturday afternoon, now do you? No, you want to be bright and alert so you can be in the front of the line for Allen West’s speech that afternoon!
You know what your limits are. Don’t exceed them.
6) Remember Why You Came:
The point of CPAC, really, is to enjoy yourself and to come out with a little more knowledge in your head about being a savvy conservative than you had when you went in. If you accomplish that and are smiling on your way out the door, then you’ve had a good three days. Relax, enjoy, and don’t forget to say Hi when you see me. I’ll be the guy with the comfortable shoes and the laptop.
UPDATE: I want to welcome those of you who have never visited my site before. While you are here, feel free to browse the celebrity-filled cafeteria, cheer the President for a not half bad decision (really!), or pick up a few pointers on how to be a solid blogger. I also have a podcast you might enjoy. It’s completely free as in free beer (but if you want to make it free as in free speech, you can always drop some coin in the tip jar. I won’t mind!)