It’s hard to disagree with Atrios’ take as to why there’s no “liberal version of CPAC”:
Coverage of the bizarro (liberal) CPAC would be all about how major Dem politicians needed to “distance themselves from the controversy” and about how “has the Left finally gone too far? (for the hundredth time)”. Years of attempted nutpicking at Take Back America or Yearly Kos have produced none of this, because the liberal conferences aren’t the bizarro versions of CPAC.
The fact is that a “liberal version of CPAC,” meaning a conference whose ideology was as equally extreme on the left as CPAC’s is on the right, would maybe feature a keynote from Noam Chomsky, a panel discussing the successes and failures of the Occupy movement, and maybe a drum circle or two, but it wouldn’t get a single prominent Democratic political figure to attend. This year’s CPAC, by contrast, featured major speeches by every single leading GOP 2016 contender (save Jeb Bush), the Minority Leader of the US Senate, the president of the Heritage Foundation, and the usual crowd of very prominent grifters and wanna-bes (Gingrich, Palin, and Trump to name just three). Thanks to our “liberal media,” conservative extremism will never be as toxic to a prominent American politician as even the hint of liberal extremism is. Ergo, CPAC grandees can let their freak flag fly in a way that analogous liberals would never think of doing.
You can see this in the results of every presidential election: if the Republican loses, the narrative is that they weren’t conservative enough, whereas if the Democrat loses, the narrative is that they…weren’t conservative enough (or the reverse of that coin, they were “too liberal”). Conservative extremism is covered as “edgy” or maybe even “divisive,” but never with the kind of open contempt that our media had for Occupy, when it bothered covering Occupy at all (Josh Marshall’s “tacit conspiracy of derp between the event organizers and the people who cover it” is a very succinct way of putting it). Even this year’s CPAC, which put a premium on The Crazy (although maybe CPAC Is Getting Less Crazy, don’t you know, because a few gay folks and a Muslim were allowed to be there) is being covered in serious terms, as “Christie’s turn to the right,” and its craziest speakers are being called “provocative”:
But the happy talk couldn’t paper over the fact that conservative hard-liners, including several eyeing a 2016 presidential run, don’t want conservative ideology to take a back seat to anything. And CPAC still booked a number of divisive and provocative speakers like Donald Trump and Bachmann.
The supposed Republican division between “pragmatists” and “purists” that CNN is describing is mostly a difference between extremists who are able to disguise their extremism for electoral purposes and extremists who can’t or don’t want to pretend that they’re anything but. You’ll never hear CNN describe it in those terms, though, because like Atrios says, attention must be paid.