CPAC

A car is speeding down our quiet, child filled street in Boulder. I motion for the driver to slow down. He flips me off. As he races off I see the Trump sticker on his bumper. Later that night I land at Dulles Airpot, head buried in my phone watching the Republican debates as I wait at baggage claim in disbelief. It is the perfect intro to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Convention) heading into an UBER without looking up. The driver thinks I'm lost in my own world and cranks up the music of Afghanistan he loves. I am headed into the bunkers at the heart of battle for conservatives. I have earned a respected outsider status with years of work inside Glenn Beck’s trust. They issue a media pass for CPAC which relegates me to the penned dungeon at the very back of the huge conference hall. I go trade it out for a general audience pass which lets me roam freely. Watching Ted Cruz up close but can’t find my shot. Walk under the huge video screen by the side of the stage and look up — Cruz looks just like David Byrne in “Stop Making Sense” — his head small sitting on top of a huge torso. I am not there to make fun of anyone — so I shoot but don’t know where these shots will land. I was backstage at a Cruz rally in Oklahoma a couple of days before as Glenn Beck was introducing him. Glenn was totally over the top — which was the perfect rallying cry for the crowd, but to Cruz backstage it was all too much and he was reacting by jokingly punching himself in the head. At the same time, his campaign manager was kicking his foot in the air — and I got one of the most amazing pictures. The Cruz people asked if I would wait to share it. I am that kind of journalist, I trade my access for some patience. I have traveled with Glenn Beck for several years as the “communist” on the bus. It is a joke that acknowledges the fact that we approach politics from completely different ends of the spectrum, yet have found common threads in a friendship that bridges those political gaps. Glenn has opened doors into worlds I never imagined roaming — NRA rallies, FreedomWorks events and now CPAC. Who are all these people? My first reaction is always, “Wow — the right is so much better organized than the left.” Where are the events of this size for the liberals? These are political gatherings all based around “values and honor and principals” all wrapped in sense of right. It is a lonely world in our cars and at work — always tethered to our phones and screens. These events offer people a safe place to talk with like minded friends, eye to eye. What happens on the stage is always baffling to me. Being so adverse to nostalgia, the whole looking back at how great our country WAS is not appealing at all. The embrace of Reagan as a god, the process of using big issues (health care, abortion, defense, religion, Obama (“if he was for it, we had to be against it), the devil in Hilary….) all as litmus tests for membership feels like a close minded way of understanding how we are going to discover our common good as humans. When I roam with my camera as an outsider in a big room of vocal conservatives, I feel like any entitlement from our political beliefs is a strange way to way to navigate the world. The whole idea of a “convention” in a big hotel is so 70’s. Where have you gone Mrs. Robinson? I don’t know where to put the ties and coats and high heels and buttons and banners and red, white and blue in the mix. Is this the future of the past? I appreciate the passion — and also the fact the bookstore sells out. This is a group that reads history and is highly invested in what they believe. I also appreciate that they respect me and my work — and trust that I will be fair. When I talk to Glenn he reminds me about how little I know about the founding fathers (having seen “Hamilton” twice doesn’t count). If you were to be a fly on the wall you might be surprised at how we get along, how much fun we have, how open we are — and how deeply we are listening. The pictures I take in what might be perceived as enemy camp are even more powerful because we so different.

I always have music in my head when I am photographing. For much of the weekend, I was hearing my father’s voice singing a song Sammy Davis made famous in Alice in Wonderland: What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? I got a hunch you won’t like it here, The potato chips are soggy and they water the beer What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? You could be in pictures with that cute little face, So how come you’re hangin’ ‘round this funky place! What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? Doing in a place like this? …