The 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, which took place this past weekend, showed the nation two things: the right-wing fringe, while still small, has become more activist and, secondly, it has become even more extreme. It was more than tinged with fascist ideology. The conference embraced it.
The increased activism was indicated by the number of participants: in 2005, the straw poll conducted at their yearly event garnered only 641 votes; the number this year was 2,395. This is not surprising; we've seen the same trend with the tea party movement.
The fact that they are even more extreme was shown by the fact that the fascist John Birch Society - previously considered even too extreme for CPAC - was one of the co-sponsors.
The racism, coded or out-in-the-open lynch mob-like rhetoric, especially employed when talking about President Obama, was hair-raising and sobering. Even Republicans seem not to be safe from it. Michael Steele, the African American chair of the Republican National Committee, was the only member of that party to receive more unfavorable than favorable votes in the straw poll.
The meeting's content - immigrants are enemies; tax breaks for the rich will help working people; the agencies that ensure the safety of our food, workplaces and environment somehow harm us; abortion is murder - combined with a new fringe narrative: Obama is transforming America into some kind of dictatorship.
Aside from their class positions that defend the banks, corporations and billionaires by saying African Americans, or immigrants or women or unions or liberals are the problem, they got something else wrong. They are misreading the American people.
According to Florida's Tea Party candidate in the Republican Senate primary, Marco Rubio, the election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts signaled a turning point: Americans are fed up with the "extreme liberal agenda" of Obama.
The reality, though, is the opposite. Many voters are frustrated by the slowness of change, by the jobs crisis, and opted to stay home. Or they opted to send complacent liberals a message: don't take Main Street for granted! Speeding up the reform process, curbing corporate power and creating jobs are strongly desired by the American people. That's why Barack Obama was elected and the Democratic majority in Congress too! It was a repudiation of the Bush extreme-right agenda.
Rubio was right about one thing: the 2010 elections will be a referendum. If the Republicans gain seats, a huge blow to progress will have been dealt. Therefore, it is up to all of us who care about peace, equality and democracy to push forward, to continue to build a multi-racial, unity-based the movement at the grassroots, neighborhood by neighborhood, workplace by workplace, school by school, to fight for jobs, health care, end to war and violence and terrorism, equality and democracy for all, and connect it to what's at stake in the mid-term elections.
If there is one truism in politics and life, it is, the only thing constant is change. It begins with each of us.
Photo: Newt Gingrich speaks at the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference. Kevin Wolf/AP