Thursday night I attended the New York GOP Annual Dinner with speakers Newt Gingrich and Bobby Jindal. I live-blogged the event with status updates on Facebook. From those posts I've expanded into a full narrative of my experiences at the event.
In the run-up to the event, my friend who invited me (and got me an affordable entry price making this night possible) advised me to dress as if I were attending an orthodox funeral.
The dress code was less somber, but still very business-like. Men in blue suits with ties, women in skirts, blouses. Some wore sensible shoes, most wore heels.
The demographics of the crowd were about 55/45 men-women. Also the crowd is about 10% Asian and, this must come as a shock to liberals, 30% black.
The night started out with an open bar in the cocktail room. The high price tag to get in naturally meant free drinks. I did my best to get my money's worth during the cocktail hour, seems everyone else was too.
At 7 we were all ushered into the dining room. They put young guys with no money like me towards the back, but I'm OK with that. The people at my table looked like the ones who will be having the most fun.
Being near the back puts me near the media. I immediately go interviewed by some news channel. They asked me about my views on Mitt and Newt, on moderates vs conservative. I gave some thoughtful (I think) answers.
At each seat is a copy of Jindal's new book as a party favor. I might even read it one day.
A guy who had been in the VIP cocktail area was sitting at our table. He says Newt looks ready to keel over. According to the hotel event list, the "Gingritch Delegation" has been drinking since 4.
After introductions and usual banquet stuff, Newt was introduced as the first speaker while we all dined on tomatoes and mozzarella and cheap red wine that is still delicious. Newt was introduced by a bagpipe player... seems a little ridiculous.
Newt began speaking. He was as surprised about the bagpipes as we were, but uses it as an excuse to talk about his Irish heritage. Heritage and family always score points with the GOP. He begins by lavishing praise on Jindal. You know we're in a new political era when the great Newt Gingrich is the hype-guy for someone else.
Newt spent a little time talking about the Second Amendment, diving into his vast knowledge of history. He shares the same view of guns as I do, that they are necessary to protect all the other unalienable rights we supposedly have. He quotes Madison from the Federalist Papers as well.
Newt then launched into energy policy. This topic then takes up the rest of his speech. He is solid. Predictably he supports more domestically-produced oil in the speech. He makes a very good point. The fuel dug up in Canada is getting dug up anyway, and the fuel is getting burned in China anyway. The environmental damage is happening no matter what, the Keystone XL Pipeline only takes jobs, money, and fuel away from Americans.
The bulk of his point is to get us off foreign dependence through all means necessary. He criticized Obama lobbying the Saudi's to drill more to ease the fuel costs in America. He said that if we are going to drill more, we should drill more here in the U.S., and not give those drilling jobs to guys in Saudi Arabia. It's a good point, but it isn't a question of "should people drill?", but just where they do it.
Gingrich quote of the night: "If we develop total energy independence, the Straight of Hormuz won't matter and we'll never have to bow to a Saudi king ever again" (might have paraphrased slightly).
Gingrich's one mistake is in criticizing Algae oil, currently being promoted as an alternate fuel source by Obama. He's wrong, Algae is actually promising. However, environuts should consider that burning Algae oil is just as bad for the environment, since it is also a hydrocarbon. We really solve nothing by using it, environmentally speaking.
Gingrich ends the speech stating that he is running to keep his pet issues (it seems he's adopted the Second Amendement and energy specifically as two of his main ones) alive. He promised to support the GOP candidate no matter who it is, and that all of the other candidates are perfectly respectable and capable. It's unfortunate Santorum refuses to be a consensus builder as well.
Overall, the Gingrich speech was a slam dunk. If he spoke this intelligently all the time he'd be our nominee. It's a shame he shoots himself in the foot so often. In many ways he's like our party's equivalent of Ted Kennedy, minus the murder.
Crowd gave Gingrich two standing ovations, one when he started and one at the end. No doubt about it, no one wants him to be president, but otherwise he is definitely one of the GOP's all-time favorites. I certainly like him, when he's lecturing and not holding office.
Then Jindal got introduced.
Jindal opens with attack on Obama policies and then quickly turns those into attacks on Obama's energy policies, which he uses to segue into his own discussion of energy policy. Louisiana is definitely an energy producing state, so he has some expertise in this area. On fracking, he said that new technologies have made fracking completely safe, and it currently employs 600,000 people, though he doesn't say if that figure is for Louisiana alone, or for the nation as a whole. Jindal talked about the pipeline, noting Obama has approved it from Louisiana up through ... Nebraska or Ohio, some state around there. Jindal quipped Obama should retake a geography class so he learns how many states there are between Louisiana and Canada.
He then shifted into economics and the American dream. Jindal tells a long-winded story about his parent's American dream story, being Indian immigrants and all. Though, despite his parents being immigrants, his father was surprisingly familiar with American colloquialisms. I question, perhaps in error, Jindal's family's need for the American dream... afterall, they came here to study nuclear physics... His main point is the American dream is waning. Jindal quote of the night (paraphrasing in part): "Obama's policies aren't growing America, but managing its decline."
He used this to segue into the importance of beating Obama and the significance of this election. Jindal expressed confidence that the GOP can take New York. Currently, New York is the only totally blue state with a GOP-controlled state congress, so there may be something to that.
A bunch of us left the room at this point to wait outside for Jindal to come out to get a picture. I do much handshaking and talking during this time and make lots of great friends among the various Young Republican clubs in New York. This was my primary reason for attending.
Jindal still hasn't come out, turns out he's still talking. People seemed to be slowly draining from the room. His speeches really need intermissions.
Jindal finally wrapped up after what seems like an hour. We didn't get a chance to grab a picture because security rushed him out like it was a Navy SEAL extraction. But at least I got to meet Congressman Bob Turner (R-NY) who took Anthony Weiner's seat. He doesn't seem too interested in knowing me, but he's a busy man, and I have no money to give him.
The last hour or so of the dinner was the actual dinner, chicken, rice, vegetables, chocolate cake. Good food. We were entertained by a string of speakers from the New York State government and GOP organizations. We considered developing a drinking game every time someone talked about the troops. We love them too, we're all Republicans, remember?
One guy, I forget his name, represented Staten Island (I think) in the state Senate. He was a former Marine ... and mentions being a former Marine a total of nine times during the 15 minute speech. Drink nine times.
By the end of it, the room was half empty, and the other half was slowly trickling out. Everyone was going to the bar across the street, but I still had more hands to shake. I think I met, and forgotten almost 50 people.
The table conversations were one of the best parts about tonight. NY GOPers are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. They are largely pro-choice, agnostic on gay marriage, pro-second amendment. They care deeply about the family unit, and feel it is being dismantled, but not because of gay adoption. They feel too much power of choice is being taken from families and given to government agencies.
On energy, all support alternate fuel, but also support domestic oil production. For them, they feel that alternate energy is an inevitability, but not until it actually works, or until we actually run out of oil. Oil production, one at the table pointed out, isn't just cars, its also plastics, medicine, and more. Everyone is confident that as soon as alternative fuel sources become good enough, people will switch and be happy to do it. Until then, getting America off oil is much like getting them on metric.
Where NY GOPers earn their Republican credentials is on economics. Everyone at the event supported minimal government intervention, though that isn't to say they necessarily opposed measured and moderate regulation. Their main opposition is to policies that complicate doing business and make it harder to compete with businesses in other countries. They correctly realize that it isn't enough to be competitive among businesses in just America anymore, and that in order to be competitive globally, the rules governing business in America have to be weighted against those of foreign countries, otherwise basing a business in America comes with an inherent disadvantage.
All in all, the night was informative and for me, very practical. I expanded my network of political connections by ten-fold in just a few short hours and got to discuss policy and leave an impression on many who will hopefully be future office holders themselves. I've been invited to attend a few GOP events in the Summer, and all of us are getting ready to attend the convention in Tampa come August. Hopefully I'll have more to write about in the coming months.