National Press Club

Conservative Leader Sees Hope for Movement in Obama Era

February 25, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr.

In the two most recent elections, voters rejected the way that Republicans conducted themselves in office not the values they espoused to get there, a conservative leader said at a Feb. 24 Newsmaker.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is confident that the political atmosphere still favors the right side of the political spectrum. Despite strong approval ratings for President Obama, he sees hope for the conservative movement.

“We are a nation that is slightly right of center in our values and our attitude,” Keene said. “The route to victory is to stand with your values; to get your act together and then come back.”

The resiliency and unity of the right can be gauged later this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Keene said. The annual gathering, co-sponsored by more than 90 groups and slated to open on Feb. 26, will draw 9,000 participants.

“The most exciting and successful conferences have taken place after defeats,” Keene said. “I view this as a time of challenge, not a time of trouble. We’re on our way back already and we’re getting help from the administration.”

Keene criticized the $787 billion stimulus legislation that Congress approved with only three Republican votes and Obama signed last week. He said the package contained wasteful spending, a message that he believes is resonating with the public.

Republican opposition to the stimulus bill was a principled stand against a misguided effort by Obama and other Democrats, according to Keene. Bipartisanship will only prevail if Obama embraces conservative ideals.

“I don’t hope that (the Obama administration) will fail,” Keene said. “But I know that the policies that it is pursuing will fail. The road down which this president is taking us is a perilous road indeed.”

So far, the public doesn’t agree, polls show. And Obama’s traveling companions include millions of people under 30 who were inspired by him to participate in politics for the first time.

Keene acknowledges that Obama has a knack for communicating with youth but that conservatives can appeal to that group, too. He said that half of CPAC attendees will be under 30.

“What the Obama campaign did was understand the culture of the young and the way the young communicate with one another,” Keene said. “From a technological standpoint, they had a huge edge in doing that.”

But youth also are fickle, according to Keene. “They are the first group that will be disappointed, and they they’re up for grabs again.”