PPPS (Washington) Conservatives gathered in Washington, DC for CPAC 2012, the "super bowl" of right-wing politics, were astonished to find a last-minute substitution on the morning speaker schedule. After the announcement had circulated throughout the Marriott conference center, the conference ballroom was packed to the rafters when President Obama strode onto the stage.
The President's well-known wit and charm were on full display as he quickly won over what arguably could be described as a skeptical, if not hostile, crowd with his opening line.
"Ya know, I always wanted to give a speech from the same podium Rush Limbaugh once used."
The President then proceeded with what many are saying is a new-found conservatism, perhaps mirroring his most recent "Catholic conversion". The President peppered his speech with many new, and some not-so-new, proposals to return fiscal sanity to government.
Chief among them was a bold statement that he would "cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term." A few thought this sounded vaguely similar to a claim that had once appeared on the White House web site back in 2009, but must have long ago been purged in the face of over $4 trillion in new debt during the subsequent three years. A few others were made more uncomfortable by the reference to a "first term", as if there were a possibility for a second.
The President added other bold initiatives like which might have been lifted directly from the speeches given the previous day by presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, or Newt Gingrich. For example he said he would "review the budget line by line for waste."
One promise, to "return to honest budgeting" and not use war funding gimmicks, must have warmed the heart of Representative Paul Ryan, sitting between Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the front row.
Still, there were some in the audience who remained skeptical. Even they lost all resistance to applauding when, in the middle of his speech, the President appeared confused and at a loss for words.
Then, after a long pause, he delivered up this one liner with a smile, "Do ya think maybe you could get the teleprompter to work properly? It seems to have developed a glitch or two, including a few words I’m pretty sure I didn’t write.”
The President then went on to document a long list of cost-cutting measures and accomplishments, which when totaled up at the end of 2015 (at a similar point in his second term) will have resulted in over $5 billion in savings.
When the President concluded his speech with a promise to remove all obstacles to his relentless pursuit of deficit cutting measures, such as a do-nothing Congress and the Constitution, the crowd was buzzing with energy. We interviewed several attendees as they filed out of the main ballroom.
Some, including several in the Santorum camp, and the one Gingrich supporter we were able to find, expressed considerable doubt about the sincerity of the President's new conservative credentials.
Citizen Pete, an attendee from Colorado sporting a fresh Santorum sticker, put it this way. "Look, I'll bet this new conservative thing will have worn off by the time he passes through the Occupy protesters outside the hotel, on the way to his next fundraising event."
Many of the Romney supporters we interviewed, however, seemed willing to take the President at his word, and were at least hopeful that the President's shift to the right would hold.
The President's surprise appearance has added a little excitement and some controversy to what would otherwise have been described as a pretty dull event, as most conservative gatherings are presumed to be.
Everyone is now looking forward to what the closing speaker, former Governor Sarah Palin, will have to say.