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The Values Voters Gather

A brief update from a basically irrelevant conference

Note: Head on over to FRCAction to view streaming video of this weekend’s conference.

You want proof about how successful the Sarah Palin pick has been in coalescing and motivating the socially conservative base of the GOP? Look no further than the subdued schedule today at the FRCAction Values Voter conference in Washington, DC.

A year ago, the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit propelled Gov. Mike Huckabee to unforeseen heights among grassroots evangelicals. This year, both Barack Obama and John McCain were invited to speak – the word is that organizers expected a video from Obama, and a speech from McCain or his running mate – but neither is expected to appear now. It’s instead a schedule with the odd (Lou Dobbs), the apolitical (Joe Gibbs), the political (Michael Steele), the aging (Phyllis Schlafly – surprisingly chipper), and the hilariously ironic (Newt Gingrich – sorry, smart as he is, his presence at Value Voters events brings on laughter for me).

The funny thing about social conservative conferences is how completely unnecessary they’ve become in the post-Palin universe. These rooms are populated by the grassroots heads of a hundred different organizations whose role has been significant when the Republican Party needed to sell a lackluster ticket or a less than appealing policy to a depressed evangelical base – many of these folks had to sell Harriet Miers against people who swore they were vile tools of Satan, and Lord knows that wasn’t that fun. But that’s all unnecessary in the aftermath of the Palin choice. Her stickers and buttons are everywhere – I don’t see a McCain sign in the whole place, but everyone’s wearing “Palin Power” or “I heart Palin” buttons; young and old, they’re smiling, they’re eager, they’re exuberant.

(Gratuitous plug: I still haven’t seen any PalinFacts.com gear, but I did hear people quoting them when I was on the escalator. If you want some yourself, head over to the Little Known Sarah Palin Facts store.).

Whether McCain wins in the fall or not, these people have found their new inspiration for the next generation of political activists. Barack Obama could’ve come here himself today, with a light shining down from heaven, and he wouldn’t make a dent in this crowd.

Give these people a champion, and reap the immediate political benefit. Had McCain chosen, say, Joe Lieberman, today’s conference would’ve been a huge event – you’d have had to convince all the folks in this room to be on board with a pro-choice Democrat on the national ticket, that the possibility of an Obama presidency would be just too much for them to bear. Had Palin fallen on her face on the national stage, they might have needed it, too.

But not any more – especially not in the wake of attacks from the media horde that makes these folks circle the wagons faster than you can say Clarence Thomas. These aren’t people who need selling – they’re full bore for the woman. No wonder McCain wants to travel with her, as the hardworking Anne Kornblut reported today: he’s smart enough to realize a good thing.

Well, time to tour the place to find some fun Christian swag. The celebrities here are random and confusing, unless Robbie George counts. I’ll let Leon tell you his Stephen Baldwin story, I just can’t match it. Too bad I’m busy tomorrow – missing out on Shohreh Aghdashloo. I hear if you pronounce her name correctly, she won’t destroy your soul with one look of her cavernous eyes.

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