CPAC time capsule, 1985-2007

By Melanie Harmon (

    "With conservative thought accepted as mainstream thought and with the people of our country leading the fight to freedom, now we must move." - Ronald Reagan, CPAC 1985

What else does a movement do, after all? It moves! That seems so obvious, yet at CPAC 2007 earlier this month, I had to wonder if our conservative movement has somehow lost the inspiration and the urgency of President Reagan's rallying cry to us back in the day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. CPAC, if you didn't know, is the Conservative Political Action Conference. Over the last 34 years, the event has become a conservative tradition for members of the movement to come to Washington DC, share ideas, and forge relationships. The weekend of March 1-3 was no exception to that tradition -- another productive and exciting weekend at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Four years ago, I first attended CPAC when I was a student at the University of Denver. Along with many other young conservatives around the nation, I went to further my education of conservative principles and to network with all those who shared my values.

CPAC is heavily targeted toward students, though many other attendees are those who have been dedicated to the conservative movement since the beginning. The event is one of the few opportunities for conservatives of all generations to come together in the same setting and share their mutual values.

Every year, the conference organizes several training seminars, hosts a job fair and a trade show of every conservative organization from the Leadership Institute to Students for Saving Social Security. The environment fosters teamwork and relationships and lays the groundwork for young conservatives to become involved in the movement and perhaps stay interested for their years after college.

The largest part of CPAC is the vast array of fabulous speakers. During the 1970s and 80s, the most notable speaker was Ronald Reagan. His presence at the conference in those early years no doubt raised the bar for all of the years that followed him.

The education and training of young conservatives (and those who are not necessarily young but hope to make a difference in the movement) is especially important in these heady times. Democrats are in control of Congress and progressive ideas seem to flood our culture like a tidal wave wiping out an entire island. Conservative young people do exist, and it's vital that we as their peers do all we can to teach them how to win and stay principled.

That brings us to my time capsule. In 1985, President Reagan's speech at CPAC highlighted the fact that conservatives won brilliantly in the 1980s because they stayed true to their staunch principles.

"I believe we conservatives have captured the moment, captured the imagination of the American people," said Reagan. "What are we to do with our success? With conservative thought accepted as mainstream thought and with the people of our country leading the fight to freedom, now we must move."

The fact that conservative thought was mainstream still remains, more than 20 years later, but the difference is that conservatives have lost sight of their original vision and have stopped moving altogether.

Speakers at this year's CPAC included campaign messages from most of the Republican presidential nominations, legal insights from lawyers and commentary from journalists like Amanda Carpenter and a banquet with Vice President Dick Cheney. The entire event was inspiring and motivating.

But if Reagan were to speak at this event today, he would note that the movement has seriously lost the interest of the American people, and he would strongly be encouraging us to do get things moving once again.

Reagan warned in the 1985 speech that the movement would be a passing phase. If we are to keep sight of our traditional values and remain the party of mainstream America, we mustn't let the movement slip out of our hands.

That is the sole purpose of CPAC. Six thousand conservatives came together this past weekend to show that they are not alone in their views and that the movement is far from a trend. We must continue to educate our young people and show them as much support as possible. That is the only way to regain the attention of the American people.

CPAC is about a lot more than just students. Any true conservative can attend and I would strongly encourage those who have never been to go next year. You will come back motivated, energized and ready to take on the liberals who want to crush everything you stand for. The only way we can keep America's attention is to first give attention to the future of our own ideas.