Reinventing Conservatism
This Year's CPAC Gathering May Matter More than Most

The Conservative Political Action Conference has become a major historic event. Every year, thousands of conservative activists come from across America to rally, talk, listen, network and plan.

At home several million tune in to C-SPAN and other live TV- and Web-based coverage including hundreds of live bloggers. It is truly a gathering of the conservative activists of America.

This year's CPAC may matter more than most. The timing is perfect. This week, CPAC. Next week, President Obama has invited Republican leaders to a "bipartisan" health summit that will be televised.

CPAC has a history of having made an impact out of all proportion to its attendance or its frequency. It is simply the most important single gathering of conservatives each year.

There is no better time for the conservative movement to remind elected officials of the key values and principles that have made America great.

There is no better time for conservative activists to contact their elected officials and remind them why a limited-government, low-tax, decentralized American system is superior to the secular socialism of Mr. Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

CPAC has a history of having made an impact out of all proportion to its attendance or its frequency. It is simply the most important single gathering of conservatives each year.

Under David Keene's leadership, CPAC has grown from a tiny gathering (some say as few as 125 people came to the first CPAC in 1973 where the key speaker was Gov. Ronald Reagan of California) to potentially more than 10,000 participants this year.

Mr. Reagan made one of his most important prepresidential speeches at CPAC in 1975 when he called on conservatives to tie their future to bold colors with no "pale pastels." This would be good advice for the Republican leaders at Mr. Obama's health summit to remember.

We do not need a compromise with big government, big bureaucracy, high tax, Washington centered health care as designed by the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team. We need a vivid alternative of better ideas with lower taxes centered on the patient and doctor working together as a team with no bureaucrat getting between them. If Republican leaders walk into the "bipartisan" summit with the Reaganesque courage to stand firm for real change and to insist on dropping the 4,500 pages of left-wing legislation sitting at the White House, then they will reflect both the America peoples desires and the objective requirements of history.

Mr. Reagan understood the importance of CPAC to a grass-roots movement. As Mr. Keene remembers it, "When Mr. Reagan became president, his first major speech in 1981 was to CPAC. In that speech, he said his aides wondered 'why CPAC?' and he said, 'because I believe you dance with who brung ya.'"

"At that dinner, he asked me to promise never to make CPAC an event that wasn't open to the people who really matter (the activists and true believers) by making it either too exclusive or too expensive for them to attend. That's why we run it at break-even and keep registrant prices low," Mr. Keene told me.

This year's 10,000 attendees, most of them young, will certainly fill Mr. Reagan's vision of a grass-roots activist gathering open to everyone. Furthermore, the size and energy of this year's CPAC should encourage those who have been told Obamaism would attract the young and spell the decline of conservatism.

Of course, Mr. Obama's radicalism has led to exactly the opposite result from the one hoped for by the elite media. Over the last year, more people have identified as conservative and fewer as liberal. Conservative is clearly the most popular self-identity for Americans, according to Gallup data. Over the past year, support for government solutions in health care have continued to decline in popularity. In fact, Gallup reports that 22 percent--one out of every five Americans--has switched from favoring government as the responsible party in health care to non-government. This year, for the first time, more people said health was not a government responsibility.

Another few years of Obama oratory and Pelosi-Reid legislative bullying and secrecy, and liberalism may become a vanishing ideology and conservatism may grow to overwhelming strength. CPAC will play a major role in that transition.

One of the keys to CPAC, as to the "tea party" movement, is its decentralized, self-organized nature. It is a gathering of activists not an organization of activists (the latter may be impossible). Many different people come together spontaneously to swap ideas, develop programs and plan strategies.

I know when I speak Saturday that there will be many old friends in the audience. There will be many significant leaders. There will be many activists. There will also be a lot of new people who have been drawn to CPAC by their concern for Americas future and their belief that here is a place where they can join with thousands of like-minded citizens to oppose secular socialism and spread the word about conservatism.

I will ask every one of them to join the "American Peoples Summit on Health Policy" being hosted by the Center for Health Transformation. We are taking the core principle of activist citizen participation and moving it into health policy with a direct challenge to the Obama left-wing secret, centralized approach.

I know that CPAC is the right place to suggest bold new colors in health policy and the right place to extend the opportunity to every activist. This is going to be a historic meeting.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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