Desultory notes on the West Coast Retreat

We returned from the Horowitz Freedom Center’s West Coast Retreat at the Terrranea Resort in Palos Verdes last night. I want to record a few notes in the hope they may be of interest to readers. I use the word desultory to describe them as a sort of homage to William F. Buckley. I know what the word means, but how do you pronounce it? The emphasis is on the first syllable.

My daughter attended David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach this past November and loved it. She told me I had to go next year. When Peter Collier wrote to invite me to the West Coast Retreat featuring some of the same speakers, I remembered what she had said. I also thought attending the conference might help me recharge my batteries while I reconnected with many of the writers who have inspired me over the years, writers including Peter and David, Victor Davis Hanson, Ronald Radosh, Andy McCarthy, and Bill Voegeli. In the event, the conference was exhilarating.

I met up with Andy McCarthy for a drink before dinner on Friday night, just after he had turned in his weekly NRO column. Andy’s new book is &tag=amazon0156-20Spring Fever. His first book was Willful Blindness; it remains one of my favorite books, period. And The Grand Jihad, with a couple of chapters devoted to Minnesota, is not to be missed.

Andy could not have been more welcoming. New York Post columnist and Hollywood screenwriter Michael Walsh joined us in short order. Michael went out of his way to make me feel at home. Like our old friend Andrew Breitbart, Michael is a lovable bear of a guy.

Walking in to dinner Friday night, at which Senator Ron Johnson and Rep. Michele Bachmann provided the keynote speeches, Freedom Center board member Phyllis Gorby stopped me to say she is a faithful Power Line and tell me how much she enjoyed the site. Phyllis was only the first of many Power Line readers I heard from over the weekend. Reader Paul Leach came down from northern California for the conference. Norm Hopka (I think I’m remembering the last name correctly) introduced himself to say something along the same lines. Mr. Hopka attended the conference along with his father and brother. They could not have been nicer. University of San Diego Law School Professor Gail Heriot joined me for breakfast on Sunday morning and showed me the Power Line application on her iPad. And I heard from several more readers at the conference.

Actor and voiceover artist Dwight Schultz introduced the keynote speakers at two events during the conference. I believe that is Dwight standing with his hand on Mr. T’s shoulder in the A Team photo on the left. After his striking and impassioned introduction of the speakers on Friday night, I went around on Saturday morning saying I wanted Dwight Schultz to teach me how to speak. He is a magnificent speaker. The official Dwight Schultz fansite is here and I am now an official fan.

When I caught up with Dwight on Saturday afternoon, I told him in person that I wanted him to teach me how to speak. He told me he that Power Line was his favorite site. He said he was a long-time reader. Mentioning the Power Line contributors by name, he emphasized that he had read us long enough that he could tell who had written a particular post from the style without having to look at the byline.

Senator Johnson’s presentation Friday night was absolutely fantastic. I was blown away by his presentation. He seems to me to be a great speaker who naturally follows the principles of compelling public speaking. Why he is not asked to stand out front for the GOP on the issues of the moment mystifies me. There can’t be a good answer to the question. In addition to Senator Johnson and Rep. Bachmann, Senator Jeff Sessions and Rep. Louie Gohmert also gave keynote speeches. All four of the officeholders gave excellent speeches. My overriding impression is that all of them are frustrated by the failure of Republican leadership to convey an effective message in opposition to the Obama administration’s parade of lies. They seem to be about as frustrated as we are.

When I caught up with Senator Johnson on Sunday morning, I told him how much I had admired his presentation on Friday night. He had spoken without looking at a note, but he was frustrated to have forgotten a few items he had intended to include. He cares to get it right and he speaks with great credibility. He’s not a lawyer; he and his brother-in-law actually did build that business. He is the genuine article. Someone in a position of leadership needs to recognize the gifts Senator Johnson could bring to the table.

Victor Davis Hanson also gave a keynote speech on California and illegal immigration. I have heard Dr. Hanson speak many times, and he was never better than during his presentation Saturday afternoon. He was incredibly hard hitting.

The panel presentations covered a lot of ground, from the conservative revival (my panel with David Horowitz and Ralph Reed) to the assault on the Constitution (with John Eastman, Manny Klausner, John Yoo and Gail Heriot), to the assault on the culture (with Ron Radosh, Andrew Klavan and Ben Shapiro) to Obama and the jihad (Andy McCarthy, Robert Spencer and John Solomon) and to Obama’s second term (with Steve Moore, John Lott, Bill Voegeli and Michael Walsh). Putting my own panel to one side, the panels were uniformly outstanding. On a scale of 1 to 10, these folks came through with concise presentations that I would score at something like 10+.

The retreat began on Friday night and ended early Sunday afternoon, yet it packed in an incredible amount of substance and brainpower. One recurring theme was our experience of the stages of grief in the aftermath of the election. Steve Moore confessed that he had just arrived at the anger stage. Nevertheless, his presentation was nothing short of ebullient. He was great, as were the others on his panel. Moore’s new book is The Fairest of Them All. Lott’s new book is At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?

One other recurring theme permeated the panels. Steve Moore made the point. Michael Walsh made the point. The officeholders made the point each in his or her own way. The point is this. We understand that Republicans are not going to win many battles in the next few years. Michael Walsh finished the thought this way: “We don’t mind losing. We do mind not fighting.” Will somebody say amen?