Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column

(Writer’s note: By arrangement with the syndicators, these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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Sarah Palin is such a big star on the right that when a look-alike actress appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference shindig in Washington, she caused a huge commotion. Palin had decided not to show up, but even her parody can cause true believers to swoon. Then again, some of the real deals who did drop by looked like they, too, were parodies of politicians.

For a change, it wasn’t Rep. Michele Bachmann who stole the spotlight, which she usually does when Palin is sucking all the air. Her convention-starting speech was just her usual perky gruel, in which she charged that Barack Obama had “ushered in socialism.” Same bit, different day.

There was Donald Trump, who served up another of his repeated presidential-candidate apprenticeships, trying to comb over his lack of political know-how with a tea-party-market-tested complaint that the United States has lost respect in the world during Obama’s time in the White House. “And I can tell you this,” he declared, “if I run and if I win, this country will be respected again.” Although he got booed by his audience when he insisted that the guy who garnered the most votes in the conference’s candidate straw poll, far-out libertarian Ron Paul, could never win, it didn’t matter. This is great PR.

Newt Gingrich is no stranger to self-promotion, and he definitely is planning a run. So he was there raising his finger to the wind (you can decide which finger), issuing a clarion cry to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and decrying administration proposals to create a “cap and trade” carbon-emission policy as a “war on American energy.”

But wait. Isn’t this the same Newt Gingrich who, in 2007, said about cap and trade: “Frankly, it’s something I would strongly support”? Hey, people can change. That was then, in Gingrich’s pre-tea phase. The man has had more makeovers than, say, Mitt Romney.

Romney was at the same conference trying to prove that beneath the totally coiffed appearance of an automaton anchorman (pardon the redundancy), there lives a hardscrabble fire breather, someone who didn’t really mean it when he created the Massachusetts health coverage plan as governor that was the model for “Obamacare,” which causes such apoplexy in his party these days.

It’s hard to tell what raises blood pressure the highest in this crowd. Is it the “socialist” economic policies of the current administration, which threaten “government control of our lives,” or it is gay rights? In case you were thinking that came out of left field, it really came out of right field. It was a huge preoccupation for those who organized this year’s CPAC: Should GOProud be allowed to attend.

GOProud is the gay organization that’s proud of being both Republican and gay. It supports conservative economic policies but predictably created such an uproar that some of the self-appointed “family values” organizations withdrew, proving that they don’t necessarily value tolerance.

Those who did not pull out had a grand old time listening to the speeches from those who would lead the Grand Old Party into the next election. Given the lack of any favorite this time around, there’s a lot of open-field running going on. If names like Barbour, Daniels, Pawlenty and Santorum are unfamiliar to you, you are not alone, but they’re in the hunt despite their general “who’s that?” reaction. It’s more like “you gotta be kidding” for Trump, and maybe Bachmann.

Not Sarah Palin. While she finished way down in the straw poll, she still, uh, trumps the others without even showing up. Leaving all of us simply to dream about her heading a ticket with either the Donald or the Newt or the Michele or the What’s His Name as vice president. I didn’t say what kind of dream.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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