Last week I spent some time at the National Taxpayers Conference in Crystal City, just over the river from Washington DC, trying to figure what the hardcore fiscal conservatives of the National Taxpayers Union had on their agenda in this era of out-of-control spending and government war on free enterprise. To my chagrin I found the event to be a shadow of what I understand it was in previous years. It was under-attended, with a weak schedule of speakers and an air of resignation which was almost palpable. I saw too many people talking about how to live with the excesses of the Obama era and too few discussing ways to fight back and preserve our most basic economic freedoms.
I'm sure that some of the low attendance can be blamed on the economy, but when is it more important for believers in responsible fiscal policy to organize than when times are darkest and the government is spending us into economic serfdom? The NTU's publications talk about leading a "national tax revolt" but what I found at the conference was about 200 of the same old think-tank staffers and DC insiders talking at each other with only a handful of grassroots activists in attendance, looking bewildered and out of place.
There were some good speakers and interesting events on the program, most notably Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal and John Stossel from ABC News, but the tone for the event was really set by the fact that the opening speaker was Sen. John McCain, who may look like a fiscal conservative by DC standards, but really doesn't have a lot of credibility, based on his record of lukewarm efforts and marginal accomplishments. It was clearly a bad sign that the bio of McCain in the program had far more about his war experiences than it did about anything he had ever done to reduce taxes or government spending. Sadly the same was true for most of the other speakers. They had plenty of accomplishments to list, but few of those were in the area of shrinking government and saving taxpayers money.
The breakout sessions had more to offer than the major speakers did, especially if you were interested in running a local political group or organizing tax protests. Groups like the Sam Adams Alliance and the Leadership Institute had good ideas and valuable things to teach grassroots activists in sessions like "Building an Effective Grassroots Organization" and "Getting Beyond Bylaws and Boards," but their knowledge would have been put to better use had more than a handful of actual grassroots activists been in attendance.