Conservatives Rising: Reflections on the Unite IE Conference
A bittersweet quip that I have often used in self-deprecation as I consider the pain of my
loneliness as a constitutional patriot living in a dark blue city in a dark blue state is this: “As a conservative in California, I’m as rare as a lifeboat on the Titanic.”
On Saturday 2/21/2015, at the Unite Inland Empire conference, I found that elusive lifeboat.
If California is the Titanic (and it would be hard to argue that it’s not after hearing the
admonitions of two conference presenters, Americans for Prosperity California President David Spady and San Diego Union Tribune capitol reporter Stephen Greenhut, who brought to light the egregious fiscal responsibility and destructive anti-rural policies of Sacramento), the Unite IE Conference was a raft that accommodated roughly 1000 concerned Americans who gathered together at the historic Fox Theatre in the Mission District of Riverside to be refreshed by a host of speakers from the domains of elective politics, entertainment, punditry, ministry, and citizen activism.
I found out about the conference quite by chance on a social media outlet managed by a friend of mine, Don Dix, who also happens to be an AM590 host and one of the emcees for the event.
Given that I live in Los Angeles, I initially overlooked the event given that the sponsoring organization had the “Inland Empire” moniker in its name. However, when I took a closer look at the impressive roster of presenters and the theme of the event, “Bringing the Conservative Wave to California,” I decided that it would be well worth it to get up early on a Saturday morning and take the 75 mile drive to the IE to see what would happen (I even managed to find a like-minded pal at my church to go along with me).
After checking in, my buddy and I found the auditorium buzzing with energy of a crowd of attendees from all walks of life, demographics, and backgrounds. Suddenly, my aloneness didn’t feel so lonely any more. Proceeding one by one through the speakers—from Carly Fiorina (with her money line regarding Hillary Clinton that the former Secretary of State’s world travels are an activity not an accomplishment), to the inimitable “Sage from South Central” Larry Elder blowing up the divisive racial narrative which so afflicts our current political discourse, to the riotous left-skewering comedy of Evan Sayet—I could barely contain the broad smile on my face and the excitement in my heart at the opportunity to feast of a full menu of intelligent, articulate, and passionate conservatives expressing their utmost and their highest for both the Golden State and our nation at large.
At lunch, I had the opportunity to sit at a table with several people whom I had never met before yet our conversation flowed as easily as if we had been lifelong friends. It occurred to me at that moment that we conservatives have been working hard, taking care of our families, building our businesses, worshiping in our synagogues and churches, and minding our own business for the better part of the last half century. Meanwhile, the statists on the left have been absorbed with the process of ensconcing themselves in the seats of power in government, media, and academia, such that we find ourselves in 2015 in an America that our parents and grandparents back in the 50s and 60s would not recognize. Sitting there at lunch sharing stories with perfect strangers about their frustrations with the nanny state, the decline in the education system, the irresponsibility of big government, and the moral decay of the American culture, I realized that there is a simmering undercurrent of conservative energy that has not yet been released into the political sphere. When this electricity is harnessed, there indeed will be a great and necessary shock to the American system.
Easily since the time of President Kennedy’s assassination in late 1963, conservatism has been under a virtually unfettered assault. Barry Goldwater was the first victim of the left’s smear campaign, being lampooned as a warmongering maniac. A decade and a half later, Ronald Reagan came under a similar attack, with the twist of being labeled an “amiable dunce” (how one could lodge that assault after taking a listen to any of his speeches, particularly his 1964 “Time for Choosing,” is beyond me). In the last three decades, every prominent conservative—Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Allen West, Ted Cruz, and the list goes on—has enjoyed the media barbecue not as an invited guest but as the meat turned on the spit. And yet the grassroots conservatives, in our forgiving politeness, have essentially put up and shut up, while a conga line of establishmentarians, RINOs, big government Democrats, and hard left activists have driven our nation into an abyss of massive out-of-control government, hyper debt, weakened national security, and cultural decadence.
To paraphrase host Don Dix: The Unite IE conference was the opportunity for besieged conservatives to begin to fight back.
Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana energized the crowd with clear-eyed rhetoric about the serious crises of national security that we face. In a time when our borders are porous, relations with our allies are strained at best, and the dangers of Islamic jihadism are evidencing themselves almost on a daily basis, it was a welcome relief to hear these two men speak candidly and without apology about the need for our nation to get a grip on its economic and foreign policy. But in my estimation, the highlight of the event was the brief but extraordinarily powerful speech by Father Josiah Trenham, a Greek Orthodox minister, who spoke of the necessity of Christian influence in the sphere of politics for the effectuation of a true national revival. Recalling the heroes of the Christian faith who spoke truth to power, from Christ himself to St. John Chrysostom to the nameless priests who were murdered by the communist pogroms in the Soviet Union, Father Trenham exposed the false understanding of the separation of church and state, reminding us that Christians as light and salt of the world need to be influential in the domain of public policy while the state must rightly restrain itself from interfering in matters of religious conscience.
It is my hope that the Unite IE conference will grow beyond the auditorium of the Fox Theatre, perhaps one day finding itself being given at Dodger Stadium (which would make it a much closer drive for me). Wherever it goes, it seems to me that with Unite IE the conservative wave in California has truly begun.
John Steinreich is the author of “The Words of God: The Bible, the Qur’an and How They Are Lived in the Post-9/11 World,” an analytical comparison of the Bible and the Quran, which can be found on Lulu Press or in a Kindle version on Amazon.