March 1, 2009 | WASHINGTON — Seizing the opportunity to speak to a national TV audience, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh told a packed house of cheering supporters at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual meeting in Washington to resist President Barack Obama’s plans to expand government and not “think like a minority.”
Limbaugh exhorted conservatives to stay upbeat, blasted the alleged socialist agenda of the “Democrat Party,” and called out the new president, the one he hopes will fail.
But strip away the platitudes and cheap applause lines about freedom, self-reliance and the virtues of capitalism, and you’re left with the subject that really interests Rush Limbaugh: himself. The conservative talker with the self-professed “talent on loan from God” spoke incessantly in the first person: there were more “I’s” in his CPAC address than in an Idaho potato field. One clear message emerged from the speech:
“Le mouvement conservative, c’est moi.”
And it’s a message that makes some of the nominal leaders of the Republican Party uncomfortable.
The reliably self-aggrandizing Limbaugh referred about nine times during his speech to it being his first ever live televised national address. While that ignores the four years during the 1990s when he had a syndicated television program, taped live before a studio audience (and produced by Roger Ailes), it does underscore his relative importance to what remains of the national Republican Party. He spoke on the heels of a CPAC poll that revealed no clear choice among attendees for a 2012 GOP nominee, at the end of a week in which new Republican National Committee head Michael Steele kept finding fresh ways to make America cringe, and in which Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal went from Next Big GOP Thing to punch line. Republicans, and some enablers in the media, have complained that “the left” wants to make Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin the de facto heads of the Republican Party, but, in fact, it seems to be the right’s beloved free market that is doing that.
From The New Republic:
The only thing more painful than Michael Steele’s version of ebonics is Michelle Bachmann’s. From CNN’s write-up of Steele’s speech to CPAC:
As he concluded his remarks, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — the event’s moderator — told Steele he was “da man.”
“Michael Steele! You be da man! You be da man,” she said.
Almost makes you long for the days when conservatives were complaining about terrorist fist jabs.
From The Washington Post:
Same old hotel on the park, same ballrooms, same long lines down the corridor to hear the big-name speakers, but otherwise the landscape looks radically different for this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which wrapped up yesterday afternoon at the Omni Shoreham. The conservatives are in the dark woods now. The deep brambles.
The country’s conservative, Republican-dominated strongholds have shrunk to the Deep South, the Plains and talk radio. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate Republican leader, warned that the GOP cannot be satisfied with being a regional party. “We must make a comeback,” he thundered in the Regency Ballroom.
This is the first time since the aftermath of Watergate that conservatives have known what it is like to be so completely out of power, out-funded, out-organized and arguably irrelevant to national governance. Even the free market has seemingly betrayed them, what with the Wall Street shenanigans, banking dysfunctions and auto industry incompetence.
One word that has surfaced repeatedly here in speeches and interviews has been “socialism.”
“Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told a packed ballroom on Thursday.
“We now have moved a major step in the direction of socialism,” Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) said Friday, adding: “We are close to a fascist system where the government has control of our lives and our economy.”
The last three CPAC gatherings have seen an incremental decline in the fortunes of the conservative movement. Two years ago, CPAC was the hottest ticket in town, featuring a cattle call of Republican presidential hopefuls. Mitt Romney jump-started his presidential campaign with a speech designed to prove his conservative credentials. John McCain didn’t show up, knowing that this crowd, which starts on the right of the ideological spectrum and walks out on the ideological wing from there, would never embrace him.
And now there’s this year. The bottom. Exile Island.
The conservative activists are hardly hangdog, however. Feisty is more like it. Some openly embrace the moment as purifying, an opportunity to get back to basics after years in which elected Republicans have strayed from what many here see as the righteous path.
Including at this conference. Shock pundit Ann Coulter yesterday aimed almost as many verbal darts at McCain as she did at President Obama. Obama beating McCain, she said, was like George Foreman in his prime beating White House correspondent Helen Thomas in the 12th round on a technical knockout.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a possible future presidential candidate, worked the talk-radio booths in the exhibit hall, saying that Obama and his policies have set up precisely the right national debate as the country heads toward the 2010 midterm elections.
Not many people had anything kind to say about the recently retired President George W. Bush, who is sometimes called a liberal masquerading as a conservative.
There are some basic questions to be answered, such as: Has the right become too conservative or not conservative enough? Is it enough to be a party of “no,” or do Republicans need to reinvent themselves and provide new ideas of their own?
Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson endorsed the cleansing effects of catastrophic failure: “It’s the end of the road for self-denial,” he said.
Much of the rhetoric at the conference centered on issues that are staples of conservative talk radio. McConnell managed to draw a standing ovation with a jab at the Obama administration for its plan to remove detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
There was much talk among Republican speakers of coming up with new ideas.
“We’re not just going to be the Party of No. We’re not just going to be the party of opposition,” said Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), the House minority leader. But he offered little more beyond the notion of keeping government limited and “unleashing the power of freedom” in the lives of Americans.
Huckabee sounded a populist note: “We’ve got to get the word out that the Republican Party is not just a haven for rich white guys who want to get richer.”
Bay Buchanan, the conservative pundit, paused in the hotel corridor to offer a realistic assessment of the prospects of continued Democratic dominance: “As long as they’re pursuing legislation that appears to be working, we won’t be able to come back,” she said. “If the economy comes back, the group in power stays in power. It’s that simple.”
A measure of the conservative predicament was the seeming reluctance of some speakers to directly attack the president. It is as though Obama’s popularity created a cloak of unmentionability. ” Nancy Pelosi” and ” Harry Reid,” however, served as pungent invectives for this crowd.
Pelosi and Reid are really the ones calling the shots, not Obama, said anti-taxation guru Grover Norquist at a gathering of young conservatives Friday morning.
One man did take on Obama repeatedly. Romney, in a carefully crafted address late Friday that sounded like a practice run for a 2012 presidential stump speech, began with conciliatory words for the new president before his rhetoric sharpened, culminating in standing ovations and one brief eruption of “USA! USA! USA!”
“It is not the time to fulfill every liberal dream and spend the country into catastrophe,” said Romney, who edged Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a straw poll yesterday as the person CPAC attendees would like to see as the GOP presidential candidate in 2012.
Noting Obama’s announcement Friday that combat troops will be out of Iraq by August 2010, Romney said, “It is in spite of Barack Obama’s stance on Iraq, not because of it, that the troops are coming home in victory.” The ballroom erupted in applause.