Playing Hooky

Fresh off the fun that was Smart Girl Summit, I didn’t expect I’d be tweeting up with friends again quite so soon.  However, I learned last week that some of my favorite tweeps (@mamswati, @DinaFraoili, @OHCONSERVATISM & @alwaysonoffense) would be in town this afternoon for lunch and such with fellow St. Louisan @NKCamp. I checked my calendar and verified I could spare some free time today, so happily agreed to join in on the adventure.

After some back and forth over dining locales, @NKCamp came up with the splendid suggestion of The Boathouse at Forest Park. This is a lovely little restaurant set on a small lake in St. Louis’ version of Central Park. There are boats one can rent, and ducks and such quack-quacking around outside.  Nothing fancy, but the food is decent and not unreasonably priced. With the meeting place set, I once again found myself giddily looking forward to seeing my new friends.

I did my best to be productive at work this morning, so I wouldn’t feel overly guilty for taking off this afternoon.  Once I got the word that the gang was en route to the Boathouse, I packed up my stuff and headed out.  I arrived a few minutes before the others, but soon saw them rounding the corner to the entrance. The nice thing about this crew was that they were each recognizable from their Twitter avi’s.  Those who’ve met me know I’m a hugger, so quick huggie greetings were issued and we made our way inside to dine.

I know @alwaysonoffense was happy to see that nachos were a featured menu item — olives notwithstanding.  A fairly nice-sized serving of them, too — I was almost jealous I’d not opted for them myself.  Lunch breezed by with light chatter — some Twitter talk, some political patter.  The crew had plans to return to @NKCamp’s house for the remainder of the afternoon for some video gaming and the like.  I hesitated at this — I really could have gone back to work; perhaps should have.  And, as the granny of the group, wondered if it wasn’t a bit on the silly side to opt for playtime with the kids, but I was enjoying their company.  And work is…work!

So, I agreed to follow @mamaswati, with @OHCONSERVATISM as my co-pilot.  Have a mentioned how much of a kick I get out of GQ?! (That’s my nickname for him — I’m not referring to that *ahem* racy publication.)  We chitter-chattered the whole way back to @NKCamp’s cozy little cottage, like old friends.  Frankly, that’s how I’d have to characterize most of my interactions with my tweeps, thus far.  Though we may share political philosophies, we’re a fairly diverse group geographically, chronologically, religiously, ethnically.  And yet all seem like pals I’ve known for years.  And, no, I don’t think I’m a particularly difficult person to talk to our get along with, but still…it’s a bit of an odd, but welcome, phenomenon.

Back at Camp Camp, we made our way into @NKCamp’s amazing man cave. The perfect video game set-up (massage chair included), pool table, ping pong table, Foosball table, air hockey table and PacMan/Galaga table game.  Also a wet bar (which we won’t worry about much until our adorable host is of age), a nice bathroom, (and a special room under the stairs for Dina!)  While @alwaysonoffense kicked my butt at billiards, @mamaswati showed us why she’s the PacMan Queen of Baltimore.  Then, @alwaysonoffense and @OHCONSERVATISM got serious with the table tennis.  Meanwhile, @DinaFraoili gained an ardent admirer in Ginger the Golden Retriever. 

Did I feel like a bit of a schmuck when @NKCamp’s mom (who’s my age) brought us down brownies — warm brownies?!  Yes.  Yes, I did.  I’m not quite sure how I regressed back to fourteen in the span of an afternoon, but there I was, drinking Coke, snarfing brownies, and playing games with my new pals while playing hooky — from work, not school.  But still!?!

Well, so be it.  I had a delightful afternoon with some lovely, lovely people: @alwaysonoffense – who’s bright and engaging, and anything but what his name suggests; @DinaFraoili – the teeny ninja, whose impish sense of humor is adorable and contagious; @OHCONSERVATISM – who’s both puppy and sage, and sartorially splendid, suit or no; @mamaswati – whom I feel more than honored to consider a “for real” friend; and @NKCamp – who’s truly one of the coolest kids (and I hesitate to call him that, because it doesn’t really do him justice, but “young man” sounds so formal and stuffy) I’ve ever met, even if it does feel weird to him to call this so-called “adult” by her first name.  What a gracious host he was, and just flat-out fun person to be around.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his adorable younger brother (and photographer extraordinaire), whom I’ve already tagged as my future son-in-law.  MiniQ’s a bit young for him now, but we’ll give it ten years, or so, and all will be well.

In any event, I had a lovely day.  And once again, this silly social media tool known as “Twitter” has introduced me to some mighty fine folk.  ‘Tis a good thing.

Dis-Couraged

Those who have read my most recent blog entries already know I was fortunate enough to attend Smart Girl Summit 2011 this past weekend. I signed up for it several months ago, aware at the time who some of the speakers would be. However, I didn’t really take a close look at the agenda until early last week. I recall reading a tweet or e-mail that the new movie about Sarah Palin, “Undefeated,” would be screened at the summit, but didn’t really give it much thought. I’d seen articles here and there about the movie previously and, to be honest, had pretty well tuned it out. I guess you could say I’ve been ambivalent at best about Palin recently.

I wasn’t always. In fact, at one time, I was giddily enthusiastic about her. I still recall the big grin spreading across my face on the morning McCain announced that he’d selected her to be his running mate. I was in my car, driving to the license bureau to renew my license. It was two days before my 40th birthday. I was already somewhat familiar with Palin. I’d seen articles about her, some brief interviews. I liked her. She seemed bright, energetic. A real go-getter. I knew she wasn’t much older than me, and had just recently had her fifth child while serving as Governor of Alaska. I also knew that she was enormously popular. So when her name was bandied about as a potential VP candidate, I found the idea intriguing. And when it appeared for all the world the night before the announcement that McCain was going to opt for Pawlenty, I was somewhat disappointed. He was so….vanilla.

When the announcement was made, I was happily surprised.  Most conservatives I knew were less than excited about McCain being the nominee.  It felt as though “The Maverick” had been foisted upon us, compliments of an agenda-driven media, ridiculous structural defects in the GOP primary process, and with a slimy assist from spoiler Mike Huckabee.  He’d garner, at best, our reluctant support, more as the lesser-of-two-evils than anything approaching ideal.  The Palin selection, however, appeared to be a much-needed shot in the arm for McCain.  Suddenly, there was cause to be excited about the campaign.  Not only because of Palin’s positives, but also because her very selection implied that McCain – or at least those running his campaign – were bold enough to think outside the box and had their eyes firmly focused on what it would take to push past the Obama juggernaut. 

A friend I spoke to on the phone that morning expressed a bit of hesitancy about the selection of Palin.  He didn’t know much about her and wondered about her resume.  I quickly brought him up to date and explained why I believed she was exactly the breath of fresh air McCain so badly needed.  There was a big McCain rally planned here on August 31st (my actual birthday), and now that I knew Palin would be part of the mix, I resolved to attend and take my daughter with me. I had a sense that this might just be part of history.  A sense which was further reinforced when I later heard Palin give her acceptance speech.  “Yes!” I thought.  Oh, this was going to be good. 

Over that weekend news broke of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.  Ruh-roh.  This was a little troublesome.  I had the utmost sympathy for the Palins regarding it – it certainly didn’t make me think less of Palin as a candidate – or as a mother for that matter.  But I knew the sharks would circle and attack, and so they did.  With a degree of viciousness that surprised me.  That was a helluva lot of feeding-frenzied hate for someone who’d only just begun to wade into the water.  I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm for the rally, however.  The day before, I attended a smaller event hosted by the local talk radio station where folks were supposed to be able to pick up “VIP” passes to the rally.  Waited in the hot, hot sun for an hour or so, and finally snagged our passes. 

Being that Sunday was my birthday, my folks were planning on hosting family birthday dinner at their house that evening.  I let my Mom know that my daughter and I might be a little on the late side, as we would be attending the McCain/Palin rally.  I detected a cool note of disapproval on that one.  (My parents are diehard Democrats.)  But, hey, it was my birthday after all, right?!

Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I made our way out to the rally.  The crowd was significantly larger than I think the organizers had originally anticipated.  We had to park over a mile away and walk into the minor league baseball stadium where it was being held.  And it was very, very hot.  As a six year old, my daughter’s interest in politics was virtually nil.  Still, she was somewhat excited about this adventure – especially when I told her a bit about Sarah Palin.  And she was a good sport, despite the long trek, the heat, and the obscenely long line we were forced to wait in just to get cotton candy and a drink.  I never did figure out how to parlay our VIP passes into anything remotely approaching a decent perch, but once the guests of honor arrived, that didn’t really matter.  We could hear them just fine. 

There were several “warm up” acts – other candidates and local politicians.  Then the headliners.  I can’t recall anymore whether McCain spoke before or after Palin.  What I do know is that there was a palpable buzz of excitement attributable purely to her.  The crowd went wild when she began to speak.  We couldn’t see her well from where we were, but there was a Jumbotron.  I noticed she was wearing her hair down, rather than in its trademark “up do”, and she had a gorgeous white jacket/suit on.  She looked professional and cool, even in the heat.  She got the crowd seriously fired up.  I was glad we’d had a chance to be there. 

The family was all waiting on us for dinner.  We arrived about 45 minutes late, hot, tired and somewhat bedraggled.  I was still pretty excited about the rally, but they weren’t particularly interested in it.  What little discussion there was regarding Palin centered on some of the negatives they’d already been hearing about her.  I believe it was my sister who raised the concern about her religious views – was this a “bible thumper”?  Someone who’d push for something akin to theocracy?  I really wasn’t interested in spending dinner defending Palin or my affinity for her.  I basically left it at, “Well, I like her. This should be interesting.”

Over the next several weeks, the feeding frenzy intensified.  It wasn’t long at all before it was quite apparent what a lightning rod Palin had become.  From those on the left, there was a visceral, knee-jerk reaction of disdain.  She was alternately painted as an out-of-her-league ditz or a nutty Church Lady.  At the same time, the disturbing trend of some on the right was to place her on a pedestal and brook no criticism of her whatsoever.  Forget comparisons to Reagan – in some quarters, she was becoming the modern, female equivalent of Christ himself.  Not only did I find this annoying – it was concerning.  That degree of hero worship is unhealthy and, in my observation, often counter-productive to a campaign’s success.

People quickly lined up in the pro or con camp, and one’s thoughts on Palin became a sort of litmus test.  And middle ground was hard to claim and maintain.  I did my best.  I’ve always bristled at being labeled. I wanted to be able to make a case for her without being branded a starry-eyed fan girl.  Repeatedly, though, I found myself defending her.  The sheer volume of crap being lobbed at her was stunning to me.  Even my own mother, a woman I love deeply and admire greatly and would never characterize as petty or mean-spirited, bared her claws.  On the day my daughter had school pictures, she opted to wear her hair in an “up do.” I found this amusing, and when I relayed it to my Mom, was taken aback at her response. “Oh, God – not like that Sarah Palin?!”  Really?  Seriously?  I frequently wear my hair clipped up. I assumed my daughter got the idea from me.  There was no political statement being made.  But to Palin is where my Mom’s thoughts immediately went.   

And it wasn’t just those on the left who reacted so negatively toward her.  There were more than a few on the right who, rather than take up for her and applaud the energy and enthusiasm she brought to the table or the policy stances with which many of them otherwise agreed, turned their noses up and sniffed at her lack of Ivy League pedigree and her unconventional approach.  They couldn’t seem to get past the fact that she was no cookie-cutter GOP candidate.  She was an outsider, an “other”.  For some reason, her very presence at the table threatened people.

One thing I found myself liking about her more and more was her seeming ability to take a blow and swing back around and use it to her advantage.  At the time, I was blogging at a political message board I belonged to.  One Sunday, inspiration hit and I authored a piece about that very skill of hers.  It flowed easily, and I was pleased with the final product:

That Moose Don’t Hunt
September 14, 2008

In 1983, Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder said this of Ronald Reagan:

“After carefully watching Ronald Reagan, I can see he’s attempting a great breakthrough in political technology. He has been perfecting the Teflon-coated presidency. He sees to it that nothing sticks to him. He is responsible for nothing.”

This was, of course, intended as a criticism; a pointed tine, designed to scrape off a bit of Reagan’s polished veneer. Ironically, the pointy part didn’t leave its intended mark. Instead, it bounced back off the pan, and a Teflon exterior became yet another attribute for which Reagan was admired.

In fact, as Schroeder later noted, “I was hoping people would say, “Yes, he is commander in chief, he should be responsible.” Instead people said, “Yes, that is a Teflon coat. How do I get one of those?”

Comparisons have been drawn, of late, between Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan. Michael Reagan even penned a column titled, “Welcome Back, Dad,” in response to her rousing convention speech. And there certainly are some similarities between the two.

However, I would submit that Palin’s coat (typically NOT a fur, as she prefers those on her wall, or draped decoratively over her office couch) is not tipped in Teflon, but rather something akin to Flubber.

Since her August 29th debut as John McCain’s Vice-Presidential pick, all manner of slings and arrows have been hurled at Governor Palin, none of which appear to stick. But they don’t merely slide off of her – many of them, instead, appear to bounce right back at their respective hurlers. Sneer at her experience as a “small-town mayor,” and tick off the denizens of small-town America. (You know – the folks who bitterly cling to their guns and Bibles, and don’t give a rat’s patootie what arugula costs.) Wonder, patronizingly, if she can truly be an effective leader while still taking care of her *ahem* larger than “normal” family, and incur the wrath of millions of multi-tasking, hard-working, butt-busting moms across the country. Make a careless lipstick on a pig reference right on the (well-appointed) heels of her hockey-mom/pit-bull joke and sink from enlightened, noble inspiration to petty, panicked, “typical” politician. Stare down your bespectacled nose at HER “hubris,” and expose your own biased agenda for all to see.

Palin’s no absent-minded professor, though, who managed to cook up an anti-gravitational batch of “right backatcha.” The secret to her resiliency, I believe, is her authenticity. She is REAL. She isn’t an Ivy League intellectual, who ponders, reflects and pontificates. She isn’t a battered war hero, who regularly rubs even those in her own party the wrong way. She is, in many respects, an Everywoman. (Sorry, Oprah – she may have stolen Obama’s thunder, but I think she swiped YOUR theme song.)

And for millions of American voters, her being someone to whom they can truly relate makes any attempts to bring her down – especially those aimed at the very things about her which make her so real and relatable – all the more repugnant. Their reflexive response is not to pile on, but rather to turn on her attackers; to direct their distrust – and even their ire – right back at the source.

So, word to the wise, for the Obama Campaign and those in the media whose agenda leans left (though you’ve long since lost the integrity and capacity for intellectual honesty which would permit you to acknowledge it): You may want to rethink the throw-everything-at-her/nothing-is-out-of-bounds approach. ‘Twould appear that moose don’t hunt.

Pleased, that is, until someone I considered a close friend, and an excellent writer, weighed in with his critique.  He was among those in the anti-Palin camp. Though he’d couched his criticisms in more refined terms than many, it was clear she got under his skin and grated on him.  He was, at heart, a product of his East Coast liberal upbringing.  And though his views had moderated somewhat rightward over time, one concept which really seemed to baffle him was the contrast between flyover country (Middle Earth, is it?) and the coasts – the people, the attitudes.  Palin and her appeal truly puzzled him, and I imagine watching a number of his friends fawn over her and sing her praises got to be a bit too much.  So when he saw the opportunity to take a stand against it, he did.  His comments regarding my blog cut me more than they should have, and the whole exchange dealt a serious blow to our friendship.  It also put me off blogging for nigh on two years.  To be fair, that’s not on him – that’s on me. I allowed my own insecurities and sensitivities to get the better of me.  Unfortunately, Palin became associated with a very hurtful episode in my life, and I suspect that played a role in my beginning to distance myself from her.

Still, as the election drew nearer, there were certain levels of craziness I couldn’t resist stepping back up to combat.  For instance, the fellow message board poster who prided himself on his intellect and rational thought process who apparently started channeling Andrew Sullivan and staunchly maintained that Trig Palin was not in fact Sarah Palin’s child.  He laid out all manner of evidence in support of this theory, most notably, the fact that her ankles did not appear swollen in a photograph taken when she was around seven months pregnant.  There’s not much you can do but shake your head in the face of that level of Palin Derangement Syndrome, but it still struck me as bizarre, the lengths to which some would go to discredit the woman.  Lost in most of this was any sincere, substantive discussion regarding her policy positions.  Heaven forbid she be accorded even the slightest smidge of credibility.

After the election, I confess I felt relieved in some respects.  Now maybe she could return to her home state and get back down to the business of governing, as she’d done so effectively in the past.  Sadly, that isn’t how things shaped up.  When I learned of her decision to step down, I was sorely disappointed.  On some level, I understood the reasons she gave, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would permanently brand her a quitter and haunt her for the rest of any political career she sought.  That, combined with a growing degree of Palin burn-out and prompted me to withdraw from the Palin arena.  Others could continue to do battle over her. I was done.  I felt badly for her in many respects, but I also felt let down by her, and by the promise she’d once held but been unable to deliver.

From that point on, when Palin’s name was mentioned, I’d either refrain from comment, or say something non-committal.  “There are a lot of things about her I like, but….”  Yada, yada, yada. I took the safe road.  No sense in getting burned by standing too close to the lightning rod.

And so, as I alluded at the beginning of this piece, I wasn’t all that interested when I learned that “Undefeated” would be screened at Smart Girl Summit.  I didn’t know much about it, frankly.  I assumed it was a Palin-backed propaganda piece, and that, in and of itself, turned me off a bit.  She isn’t in the race, but here she was going on this bus tour, and putting out this film.  Was she just playing games? Playing “hard to get”?  There’s too much at stake here for that.   

I was so tired on Saturday, I seriously thought about skipping the movie.  But something Andrew Breitbart said during his Q&A session caught my attention.  He talked about the fact that so few in the GOP – especially at the leadership levels – seemed inclined to back up the folks who were actually doing the heavy lifting.  Himself.  Palin.  It struck me that he was right about that.  No one could seriously argue that they hadn’t been out there on the front lines, hadn’t been bloodied.  The least I could do was sit and watch the film.

And so I did.  And as I did, I found myself overcome with a very unexpected emotion: shame.  As I relived her story, the relatively humble beginnings, the young mother who decided to get involved and then rose and met each challenge that came her way, the can-doer who won office repeatedly with odds stacked heavily against her, the fearless fighter who took on corruption, the wildly popular and successful Governor, the exhilarating and scrappy Vice Presidential candidate, I was reminded of all the reasons I’d admired her.  And as I watched the absolute hatred and viciousness directed at her from all sides, the zeal with which many sought to take her down – yes, like the zebra set upon by the lions – I could not escape the realization that it was I who had let her down.  Not personally.  I am but one lowly fiscal conservative/social moderate/with libertarian leanings, far removed from her world, far from influential in any meaningful way.  But I stopped standing up for her.  And for the principles and values she’s fought so very hard for.  I became complacent and allowed others to badmouth her and besmirch her character without so much as the slightest challenge, without any effort to persuade them to stop, take a step back, and consider any of it. 

There may be many eunuchs in the GOP who’ve abandoned her to cover their own political backsides.  But what does that make me?  In many respects, Sarah Palin is me: She’s close to me in age, a PTA Mom, a Christian, a runner, a professional, a true believer in America and the principles upon which it was founded.  The difference is, she’s a fighter.  And I have been…a coward.  Rather than following her lead and boldly exhibiting the courage of my convictions, I allowed myself to become discouraged – DIS-couraged.  I’ve rationalized this by noting that in my line of work, and considering some of the career aspirations I possess, sticking my neck out and taking a clear stand could be dangerous.  I have a daughter to support, a mortgage to pay, a house to try and keep from falling down.  I can’t afford to take risks like that.  I need that security.  But at what cost?

I alluded to this in my second SGS11 recap blog – the recurring theme about each one of us having not only the ability but the responsibility to stand up and fight for the things we hold dear.  Not for fame or glory or validation.  But because it’s what’s right.  I’m not certain of the movie’s run-time, but I do know that for much of it, I found myself fighting back tears. Because I am ashamed – I’m ashamed of my fellow human beings who’ve made it their life’s work to tear down and destroy those who dare fight for and take pride in our great nation.  I’m ashamed of my fellow conservatives who’ve abandoned one of the greatest champions for the conservative cause because it was politically expedient to do so.  And I’m ashamed of myself – for not fighting like a girl.  For not fighting at all.

I haven’t yet figured out what this revelation will or should translate into in my life. I only know that I’m no longer comfortable sitting back and letting others do battle for me.  So, to those who question whether “Undefeated” is worth a watch, my answer is, “Yes.  Unless you lack the courage.”
 

Maiden Voyage – Part II

I knew I was bound to leave someone out of my recap.  Sure enough, as he graciously RT’d Part I of my tale today, I realized I’d forgotten the fine gentleman from Texas, Mr. @techaskew (“Mike) .  He was with the crew from @FTR__Radio Thursday evening, but I first encountered him in the #SGS11 time line earlier that day, as he was coming into town and faced with a greedy cab driver who tried the old run around on him.  Fortunately, Mike was onto the driver’s tricksies and quickly set him straight.  Another genuinely cool fella whom I enjoyed chatting with throughout the summit! (And whom I know is anxiously awaiting this installment of my recap!)

This is probably a good place to mention it — though Smart Girl Summit was, as one might expect, heavy on the estrogen, there were a number of Smart Guys in attendance, supporting both the group and the conservative cause at large.  Kudos to all of them!!

Saturday

Saturday morning came far too quickly in my view.  After I got home Friday night (around 1:30), I was still so jazzed from the day’s events, I stayed up until 3:00.  The morning session was set to begin at 9:00 a.m., and I was in zombie mode as I made my way back downtown, whining and chugging my Red Bull.  As it was, I didn’t make it until almost 9:30, but Tuesday had kindly saved me a seat, and I quickly started following along as another fine Texas gentleman, @RazShafer of American Majority, helped us learn how to be electorally effective at the local level.  Our next session was with a very nice and informative lady from the Leadership Institute whose name escapes me at the moment. She had some great tips and insights into running for office.  (I have to emphasize that all of the educational presentations really were quite good!)

Next up was a lively Q&A session with @Andrew Breitbart.  Despite the obvious Breitbart admiration among summit goers, they didn’t just serve him up softballs.  There were a couple curve balls, and maybe even a wild pitch or two.  But his responses didn’t disappoint. He didn’t bat an eye at the Shirley Sherrod question, though, come to think of it, he’s probably been asked it a thousand times in the past year.  (Folks, please – read the actual article.  And if you’re really interested in educating yourself about the situation, I also highly recommend taking a gander at the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of the Defendants in the suit. Though it was recently denied by the Court, it does a splendid job of setting out the pertinent chronology.) 

The comment that caused the biggest overall stir was Breitbart’s (well-received) declaration that he’d not be attending CPAC next year in light of their recent decision not to include GOProud at the event.  This was the first I’d heard of the ACU’s decision and it left me feeling torn and disappointed.  Given my experience at SGS11, and the knowledge that many more of my Twitter friends would be in attendance at CPAC, I’d planned on making every effort to attend.  But I can’t agree with the ACU’s decision. I sincerely hope they’ll reconsider. 

What resonated most with me, however, were his comments about the people who are presently doing battle on the front lines of the Tea Party/Conservative movement, and how they’ve been, in many cases, abandoned by those who really should have their backs.  This tied into his observations in “Undefeated” — which was screened immediately after — regarding all the “eunuchs” in the GOP who’ve left Palin to the wolves (or, in some cases, turned their fangs on her themselves.)  This, I will have to address in a separate entry. For now, I will simply say that I’d planned on skipping the screening. I’m so very glad I didn’t, even though the post-lunch zombie stupor about got the better of me long about the middle of the film.

The afternoon wrapped up with an impressive slate of 2012 candidates:  Ann Wagner (@Ann4Congress), running for the Republican nomination in Missouri’s Second Congressional District, shared a bit about her upbringing and values, and the reasons she’s now seeking elected office.  Sarah Steelman (@Sarah_Steelman), seeking the Republican nomination in Missouri’s Senatorial race, spoke of lessons learned from her time as a State Senator, and later, State Treasurer, and brought some economic figures/reality checks to the table.  Next up came the fiery Jackie Walorski (@jackiewalorski), currently running for Indiana’s Second Congressional District, with a speech bound to wake up even the most sleep-deprived of summit goers!  She was followed by the engaging Gabriela Saucedo Mercer (@SaucedoMercer), seeking the Republican nomination in Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District, who spoke of her emigration to America in 1986, and obtaining her U.S. Citizenship in 1991, and of what being an American means to her. 

Herman Cain (@THEHermanCain) capped off the summit with an inspiring call to the Smart Girls to “be the heat” on Congress and help him accomplish the goals he has set forth.  Cain himself was moved to tears as he relayed the story of a young girl who’d lived on the streets for nearly a year after running away from foster care with her little brother to protect him from being abused, and who’d learned from her experiences that she did not want to rely on the government to solve her problems.  And he beamed with pride as he told the story of his eldest granddaughter’s somewhat dramatic entry into the world twelve years ago, explaining that she is one of the primary reasons he’s decided to seek the Presidency, in order to fight for a better future for her.  Extra kudos to Cain for graciously acknowledging his close second place finish behind Bachmann in the SGS Straw Poll: “Pleased to learn I placed 2nd in the #SGS11 poll, just behind @TeamBachmann, a wonderful lady! Thank you all!”  (*cough* @TeamBachmann *cough*)

With that, the “official” summit drew to a close.  However, since most of the attendees were remaining in town until Sunday, dinner and drinks were in order.  I happily dined with my Midwest (plus Texas & North Carolina) Contingent  (@glenasbury @mamaswati @rjhornsby @hostagehoosier @LawMom @bluedevilmsn @mwarner95). Downtown restaurants were crowded with Cubs-Cards fans, but we wandered a couple blocks up the street to Tigin’s Irish Pub.  The trek was punctuated by a Mike Pence “woot” session between some drunken baseball fans and the ebullient Mark Warner.  Thankfully, the fans peeled off, and we made our way into the pub and enjoyed a nice dinner, separate checks and all. 😉  

After a brief convenience store stop on the way back to the hotel, we waited for an elevator to take us up to the roof.  And waited.  And waited.  If only catching an elevator up were as easy as sliding an escalator down (as demonstrated by one Samson Breitbart).  I’d include Sarah’s terrible towel saga here, but she tells the story far better than I.  Suffice it to say the hotel experienced a severe towel shortage this past weekend.  Along with an apparent Housekeeping/breakfast-tray-removing staff shortage — 36 hours is a wee bit long to leave a tray outside a guest’s door.  Just sayin’.

Atop the hotel, I showed off the downtown skyline to my new friends, pointing out my office, the brewery, the courthouses.  It was warm out, but still relatively nice up on the roof, and we enjoyed the view and the company until the hotel imposed its Draconian Roof Curfew.  Then we repaired to the lobby, where @FingersMalloy, @MelanieAnn79, @irishduke2, @techaskew, @JasonBWhitman, @Stix1972 and several other new friends were holding down the fort. 

At one point, @THEHermanCain returned from dinner and graciously posed for pics with us, while @LisaMeiNorton set to work on a new campaign song for him.  Soon, we were joined by other Smart Girls – @ORLibertyGal, @Mommentator, @skigarmisch, @NicholsUSA, @Nikkibama, @TeriChristoph, @pinkelaphantpun, @becs09, @Stacy_Mott and (I believe) @KristenHawley.  It was a right fine party in that lobby! 

As if the towel shortage and elevator snailishness weren’t already enough, I soon learned that the hotel also had possessed toilets.  I excused myself to the Ladies’ room at one point, and as I stood to exit the stall, the automatic flush mechanism suddenly decided to turn the toilet into a bidet.  Perhaps this is information I shouldn’t have shared — then or now — but after recovering from the initial shock and paper-toweling off, I returned downstairs and recounted my tale of toilet woe.  @JasonBWhitman then kindly shared my “Bidets Gone Wild” story on Twitter.  Thank you, dear! Some have speculated that @demonsheep’s presence at the summit might explain a lot. I’m inclined to think perhaps they’re right.

All that said, I still spent two-and-a-half days of the most fun I’ve had in recent times at that hotel this past weekend. And I’m neither a Smith nor an Underwood!! While I don’t know that I’d recommend The Crowne Plaza for future conferences, I can’t say enough good things about #SGS11 itself.  First, my hat’s off to the organizers and SGP leadership. My only regret is that they were so busy, I didn’t get much of a chance to meet and speak with them.  There were other folks in attendance I missed, as well: @DavidLimbaugh, @JenEnnenbach are two that come to mind. 

Most of all, I can’t stress enough how blessed I feel to have met so many new friends. (And to anyone I’ve left out, my sincerest apologies.  I know there were more great folks I met, but my brain is so tired I can barely see straight at the moment.  Tweet me, e-mail me, yell at me.  And I’ll be happy to edit you in!!)  What amazingly awesome people!  I found it very hard to say goodbye to them all.

One theme that ran through the weekend was the idea that each of us has a voice.  Each one of us has the ability (and the responsibility) to make a difference.  Which ties in nicely to the third SGS11-related entry bouncing around my brain.  But that one’s deeper and a bit darker and will have to wait until I’ve slept more than 4 hours.  Maybe it will write itself while I’m on the plane to Vegas…..

Maiden Voyage – Part I

This weekend marked my first foray into the world of political conventioneering — at least as an adult.  As a child, I had a fair amount of exposure to political gatherings and such through my parents, albeit of the liberal/Democrat stripe.  Smart Girl Summit 2011 (#SGS11) served as my initiation into convocations of the conservative variety.  I knew I’d want to compose a blog entry about it, but now realize there are actually two or three separate pieces weaving themselves together through my overly tired synapses.  The more straightforward one — the easier one — is simply my review of the weekend’s events and experiences.  The more complicated one is still percolating, and, frankly, weighing on me.  For now, though, it will have to wait.  So, without further ado, a look back at my Adventures in Smart Girlery.

How I Got There

I’ve been on Twitter since August, 2008.  It wasn’t until early spring of this year, however, that I truly began feeding my political junkie habit with it. Once I started following more than a handful of similarly-minded folk, it kind of snow-balled.  Soon, I wasn’t just reading what others had to say, I was talking back, interacting, and, somewhat to my surprise, forging actual friendships.  I cannot recall whether it was the lovely Miss @Nikkibama or the amazing Miss @Mamaswati who first mentioned Smart Girl Summit to me.  Whomever it was pointed out that it was being held in my fair city this summer, which meant I really had no excuse not to attend. So, I signed right up and began looking forward to it.

Anticipation

As the summit drew nearer, I found myself eagerly anticipating it.  The line up of speakers was impressive.  And here was a chance for me to meet and mingle with fellow conservatives — people who actually speak my language and whose eyes don’t glaze over when you start discussing primaries and debt ceilings and the Fair Tax.  Most importantly, I was really excited about meeting both Nikki and Sarah — in my few months following and interacting with them, they’ve both shown themselves to be very bright, energetic, engaging ladies, and I just new we’d have ourselves some fun!

The last minute announcement that @AndrewBreitbart would also be in attendance at the summit was the wickedly delicious icing on the cake.  I hate to so readily cop to hero worship, but…who am I kidding?  The guy’s proven himself a fearless warrior in the fight to expose leftist hypocrisy and journalistic double-standards.  Plus he’s rather endearingly irreverent.   

Outside the Comfort Zone

Thursday rolled around and I knew some of the SGS crew would be arriving early.  I briefly chatted with fellow St. Louisan @Stix1972 (Doug Welch) about trying to meet up with the early birds for dinner or a drink, but the realization that I really didn’t know any of them made me a bit apprehensive.  Still, as posts began accumulating in the #SGS11 time line, I clicked on the authors’ profiles and started following those I hadn’t been previously.  One friendly lady, @skigarmisch (Michelle Lancaster), punctuated her arrival from Texas by posting a lovely pic of the view from her room.  Well, it would have been lovely if the window hadn’t been quite so dirty.  Little did I know this was simply a foreshadowing of the less-than-optimal accommodations my new friends were about to encounter….

As the end of the work day drew near, I went back and forth on whether I should head over to the hotel and introduce myself.  It felt a little awkward — would I find familiar faces?  (They’re awfully hard to recognize from a postage-stamp-sized avatar.)  Many of these folks already knew each other — would I be intruding?  I decided to suck it up and step outside my comfort zone, and headed over to the hotel.

Communion

As I entered the lobby of the Crowne Plaza, I caught sight of a small group off to the side with laptops and headphones, apparently mid-podcast.  A couple of them looked familiar — people I’d followed earlier in the day from the SGS time line — but I certainly didn’t want to interrupt their show.  I decided to have a seat and wait for a bit to see if any other summit-goers appeared.  Soon, a group of ladies began to gather — I walked over and asked if they were “Smart Girls”?  Indeed, they were.  Introductions were made — here was @bluedevilmsn (Tuesday) from North Carolina, and @NicholsUSA (Natalie Nichols) of Texarkana; @MarciaChambliss of Alabama, and my new Twitter and G+ friend, the aforementioned @skigarmisch/Michelle, also hailing from Texas. These lovely women graciously welcomed me into their midst and soon invited me to join them for dinner. 

Ultimately, we decided to keep it simple and dine there at the hotel.  I’d eaten lunch in the restaurant there before, but it had been awhile.  The empty dining room which greeted us upon our arrival perhaps should have been a tip off that the dining experience might not be top notch.  To be fair, the waiter was very nice — in spite of suddenly finding himself besieged by a gaggle of fired-up conservative gals, and one potential fugitive from justice (more on that later).  And the food, once it arrived, salads hand-in-hand with the entrees, was actually pretty good.  The company was delightful. I truly enjoyed getting to know these ladies and their stories — comparing notes on our various blogging/Twitter experiences, prior conferences, pets, kids, grandkids.  

Later, we made our way back downstairs to the hotel bar.  One thing I discovered while we were at dinner was that the cell phone & wi-fi reception in the hotel was sporadic at best.  Despite multiple attempts to get back in touch with @Stix1972/Doug, I wasn’t able to make contact and let him know where we were.  I was happy to see he’d made his way to the hotel and was catching up with the FTR Radio crew I’d seen earlier.  More introductions were made — here were the adorably spunky @Melanieann79 and polysyllabic word fan @IrishDuke2 of Michigan; SGP Tech Queen @Michelle_Moore and idea guy and STL area triangulator Brian B. (whose Twitter handle I never did get?!)  And my friendly and funny downtown “neighbor” Doug.  We learned, to our disappointment, that Mr. Mohawk (@FingersMalloy) had encountered motorcycle mechanical difficulties on his way, and wouldn’t be able to join us until the next day.

 I left the hotel Thursday evening glad I’d made the effort.  Now I’d know quite a few people by the time the summit officially commenced!

Fryeeeday

I made a pretense of working Friday morning, but my attention was firmly fixed two blocks north. I was anxious for Sarah and Nikki to arrive and to start greeting other Twitter friends, as well.  I wandered over once registration opened up and got my handy-dandy summit badge — now I was officially a Smart Girl!! (And to think, a laminated badge was all it really took?!)  I soon found Tuesday and we made a quick detour to Starbucks before the speakers got underway.  Back at the hotel, I spied Sarah across the lobby and greeted her with a big hug.  @Mamaswati has this incredible gift for making everyone she meets feel like they’ve been best friends for life. 

Back upstairs,Tuesday and I grabbed seats together in the Mississippi Ballroom. Something that caught me by surprise, pleasantly so — before the program started, we all stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance.  (I sense progressive lips everywhere curling up into sneers of derision. Y’all go ahead with that, I’m gonna keep loving my country and its flag.) 

First up was Missouri’s Lt. Governor, Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder).  I like the man.  I always enjoy his radio appearances and his speech, though brief, served as confirmation of the reasons why — confident, competent and chock full of good old fashioned Missouri sensibility (a/k/a “common sense”). Next up was Nicole Neily of the Independent Women’s Forum — sharp, impressive and informative.  Then came Rebecca Kleefisch (@Rebeccaforreal), currently serving as Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, and boy, did she wow me.  Great story, great passion, great presence, great save of the lectern….  She is one neat lady and Wisconsinites should count themselves quite lucky to have her!

Next, Kristina Ribali (@ORlibertygal) of Freedom Works gave us a very effective and informative demonstration of Freedom Connector.  I regret not getting to talk a bit more with her during the summit, but she is also one impressive lady.  Plus, she sports awesomely offensive t-shirts. (“Capitalism = Freedom” — the horror!!)

During a short break, I had the great pleasure of meeting two wonderful ladies seated in front of us. Andrea (who doesn’t have a Twitter account, darn her) is a fellow St. Louisan and an actor, looking to get some conservative projects off the ground.  Debbie (@LawMom), is a single-mom lawyer from Texas whom I took to immediately.  We have so much in common.  Plus, she’s quite simply an amazingly cool lady!  I look forward to brainstorming and collaborating with her on some legal beagle conservative Jiu-Jitsu. 

After the break, Deneen Borelli (@Deneenborelli) fired us up and got us all looking forward to her forthcoming book: “Blacklash: How the Left is Driving Americans to the Government Plantation.”  Pick up some popcorn and wait for some leftist heads to metaphorically explode over that one. 

Then my new friend Natalie took the stage to share the story of her emerging battle with the Old Boys Network in her home county of Bowie (that’s Booooooeey), Texas.  Natalie currently serves as the County Clerk, and it seems her objection to the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer from the court minutes and subsequent calling out of (fellow Republican) Judge Sterling Lacy for his mendacity regarding it has her now potentially facing loss of her job, indictment, and up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for “Disrupting a Public Meeting”.  All of this stemming from ridiculous kowtowing to political correctness for fear of being sued by the ACLU.  I should mention that Natalie is this teeny-tiny little wisp of a girl.  I suspect, however, that some have misjudged the amount of fight in her.  I’m saying prayers that Natalie will soon be vindicated.  You can put that in the record.

Marilyn Musgrave, former Congresswoman from Colorado, next took the stage and shared some inspiring thoughts on her tireless work fighting for pro-life causes and candidates.  One thing I noticed as I listened to all these speakers — when someone truly has the courage of their convictions, it shines through — a light from within; a beacon. 

The last speaker of the day was Phyllis Schlafly, conservative activist, Eagle Forum founder, and fellow St. Louisan.  As a young person in a liberal world, I only heard her name hissed as a curse.  She was the anti-feminist.  Funny, as I listened to her speak of her education, work and life experience, she struck me as the ideal feminist — smart, capable, and anything but a victim.  I picked up an autographed copy of her latest book after the speech. 

Smart Girl Prom

After a quick change back at my office into somewhat cocktaily attire, I returned to the hotel for the Banquet and Awards.  Down in the lobby, I met more folk I’d only known previously as mysterious Twitter personae: @TookieW, @RebelPundit (whom I understand snagged shotgun for the Breitbart Camaro ride from Michigan). I believe Adam Sharp (@SharpElbowsNet) was there, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to chat with any of these fine fellas at length, but I do know they are folks I’d want on my side if I were ever gearing up to do battle.

I had the great pleasure of dining with @Mamaswati and my new contingent of Midwest friends: Loren Heal (@lheal), Effinghamite, Precinct Coordinator and blogger extraordinaire; Rick Hornsby (@rjhornsby), excellent brother, dog lover, photographer, power-cord supplier, and, when needed, muscle to back up his Smart Girls; Mark Warner (@mwarner95), Indianapolisanian, Irishman, gentleman, Pence-Wooter, and all-around good guy; Glen Asbury (@glenasbury), Kokomoianite, biographer, possessor of the kindest soul and who welcomed me so warmly when we first met it almost made me teary; and Emily (@hostagehoosier), darling soon-to-be mama teaching DC a thing or two about the Midwest.  What lovely, lovely people these are!

Dinner was quite yummy. Especially as it was punctuated by some great pep talks!  The event was emceed by the (Breitbart-described) Goth/Wonder Woman version of Phyllis Schafly, Dana Loesch (@DLoesch).  Anyone who follows Dana’s show or Big J contributions already knows this:  She is St. Louis’ own conservative juggernaut.  Whip smart, fiery, fearless and focused, she is, quite simply, awe-inspiring.  (Yo, Progressives…WHY YOU NO LIKE??!!  Kidding – I know why they no like.  She scares the bejeebers out of them and makes them feel ickily uncomfortable and inadequate. Keep up the excellent work, Dana!)

The evening’s first speaker was Tracy Henke of Americans for Prosperity, with some words of wisdom regarding economic policy, especially timely in light of Debt Ceilingpalooza.  She was followed by one of the biggest smile-inducers of the summit for me: Jon David Kahn (@mrjondavid) performing his American love song, American Heart, which sounded awesome, despite the cruddy acoustics/circular speakers. 😉   I do love the way he unapologetically loves our country! Plus, when I got to talk to him later, I found him to be just a genuinely cool fella.  I especially liked his enthusiasm for finding himself in a room full of conservative women — I know that’s a rarity in his neck of the woods! 

Next up was U.S. Senatorial candidate Jamie Radtke (@jamieradtke), whom I quite frankly just adore. I first heard her on Dana’s show several months ago and was so impressed I began following her on Twitter.  Jamie just gets it.  I would love nothing more than to see her succeed in her bid for Virginia’s Senate seat — we would all benefit from her being there!

Last, but far from least, Andrew Breitbart.  Disarmingly funny, brazenly blunt, and all fired up.  It impressed me that he’d hopped in a rented Camaro and roadtripped it down here from Michigan to attend.  His account of the hotel towel shortage had me cringing again at the decidedly unimpressive accommodations, though he was good natured about it all.  Later, he was extraordinarily patient, posing for pics with all the fangirls and fanboys, myself included.  I would think it might be weird to have that degree of hero-worship focused on you, but he seems to take it all in stride.

After dinner, folks hung around for cocktails and the movie “Fire from the Heartland.” I was pleased to meet and chat briefly with Ann Wagner (@Ann4Congress) who’s currently running for Congress in my district. I didn’t know much about her before, but found her quite personable, bright and energetic. It’s reassuring to know we have someone like that vying to succeed Todd Akin!

One of the evening’s funnier moments came as I was chatting with Tuesday and Fingers (who is simply a delightful man.  Like Sarah, he has a knack for making you feel like a dear old friend.)  We were discussing how warm it was in the room when I recalled that I had my mini-fan in my purse.  I suppose it looked somewhat suspect when I first pulled it out and held it up for their inspection.  The look on both faces was priceless.  I hurriedly explained, “No – it really is a fan!  See?” Only, when I flipped the switch to turn it on, nothing happened.  At which point I mused, “I guess the batteries are dead.” This prompted outright laughter.  Shaking my head, I returned the fan to my purse.  A few minutes later, I felt my purse vibrating, but couldn’t figure out why. A quick inspection revealed that the fan’s batteries had apparently reanimated.  Really – you can’t make this stuff up!

The remainder of the evening was split between the hotel bar and the conference room, chatting with my new friends.  Very much enjoyed getting to know them all a bit better!  Even that soul-devouring @demonsheep! The end of the evening found us all back downstairs at the bar, amid grumblings from several of my pals regarding the slooooowness of the elevators.  It probably didn’t help matters that the hotel was hosting one or two very large family reunions, and it was a Cubs-Cards weekend. 

At one point, Loren and I decided to go talk to Breitbart who was seated nearby. I worked up the nerve to sit down next to him and tell him how much the first couple chapters of his book reminded me of me — not his wild-child days at Tulane so much, but just his outlook and motivators at that stage of his life.  Another friend or two came over to talk, as well, and I found myself somewhat trapped — not in a bad way at all — it’s just that there was no graceful or polite way to exit the conversation so as to avoid monopolizing it.  So, I ended up having a nice chat with him — about my work, St. Louis politics, commercial real estate, kids.  I confessed to him how pleased I was when I awoke one morning a couple months ago to find that he’d started following me on Twitter.  Only to realize moments later that my new follower was actually one Andrew Breitfart.  It did put a grin on my face yesterday morning when the real McCoy actually did start following me.  This is what Twitter geeks would generally refer to as #winning.

There’s more to say about Breitbart and his remarks at the summit that’s of a more serious, less fangirlish, bent, but that’s going to have to wait for another entry.  This one’s already turned into a novella. And I haven’t even gotten to Saturday yet.  Part II will follow Monday evening…..