Looking for all the world like the sweating floor manager on the late afternoon shift at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club in an unbuttoned shiny black shirt and undersized sport coat, Rush Limbaugh leaned his meaty hands on the lectern at the CPAC conference and slipped a greasy dollar bill into the G-string of the writhing conservative dead-enders packed into the garishly lit Omni Shoreham in Washington DC.
Jowls rolling like thunder from the right via CNN's unfortunate high-definition feed, Limbaugh took control of the sad and tattered remnants of the mainstream conservative movement, and urged continued allegiance to the noble Lost Cause of Reagan, metaphorically carrying his rebel-yelling followers into the hills like modern-day Quantrill's Raiders standing firm against change.
If there's any doubt that the GOP's own Paulie Walnuts is now firmly in command of the Party of Lincoln, the "breaking news" style coverage of Limbaugh's bellow-cose rant dispelled the notion. CNN, for one, went wide - with the kind of uninterrupted live footage usually reserved for Presidents and Popes, followed by a panel of analysts to weigh and consider the import of the speech to this republic of ours. There were other dancers on the stage, to be sure - including Ward Connerly, Ann Coulter, Phyllis Schlafly and Karl Rove - but only Limbaugh's hour-long ramble (he went over by 30 minutes) garnered opposition leader status. "As the movement searches for a front-and-center spokesman to provide inspiration and direction, Limbaugh's refusal to tilt toward the center may place him out front in a Republican Party already suffering from a disappearing moderate wing," wrote Tom Schaller in Salon.
Limbaugh is a showbiz talent, and he is taking full advantage of this moment of rudderless, thoughtless spinning in circles by Republicans to seize the stage in full-throated opposition to the overwhelmingly popular new President - and virtually everything he stands for. In rooting publicly for Barack Obama's failure, Limbaugh may be leading the conservative movement to a smaller, fringe-like existence in the halls of power - but it will an existence that he can easily dominate.
Leading gullible Republicans into the hills of guerrilla ideological resistance during the nation's toughest economic crisis in 80 years constitutes a gift of incredible political proportions for the Obama Administration. Instead of principled point-by-point opposition by a chastened party of experienced professionals ready for tough dealings at the bargaining table, President Obama is blessed with clownish truculence and pure rejectionism - embodied in the Republican response to the President's forceful Congressional address by Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a moment of excruciatingly tone-deaf ideology rescued only by the attention lavished on its shockingly poor delivery.
President Obama, of course, is aware of this lumbering and clumsy gift from the right - so much so that he sent chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to Bob Schieffer's CBS studio this morning to declare Limbaugh "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party."
And it's that blustery intellectual force that convinces Republicans like Jindal and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi that their political futures are enlarge and brightened by a nihilistic refusal of Federal funds to their own communities. "White kids on dope," jibed conservative Rod Dreher, one of a small cadre of right-wing commentators to take on the Limbaugh lemming movement, the willful ignorance of the current crisis and the nation's ultimate rejection of a failed a humiliated party leadership. "No need to return to first principles and recalibrate policies to account for new realities," wrote Dreher. "Just find a better messenger for the same old same old. You begin to see why nobody inside that bubble could grasp what a flop Bobby Jindal's reheated Republican mush of a speech was going to be ahead of time."
Rush Limbaugh is right about one thing: President Obama is indeed on a mission of reinvention. That much was clear from his speech on Capitol Hill last week - and even clearer in his budget proposal. And, as Limbaugh undoubtedly knows, the President holds the whip hand for the foreseeable future. So Limbaugh plays to that loss of power in his audience, and in a speech that referred bizarrely to "slave blood" and a defense of John Thain (who seems to literally be asking for a set of numbered orange duds from Andrew Coumo) and the spending habits of bail-out bankers, he laid on some false concern for Obama:
President Obama is one of the most gifted politicians, one of the most gifted men that I have ever witnessed. He has extraordinary talents. He has communication skills that hardly anyone can surpass. No, seriously. No, no, I'm being very serious about this. It just breaks my heart that he does not use these extraordinary talents and gifts to motivate and inspire the American people to be the best they can be. He's doing just the opposite. And it's a shame. [Applause] President Obama has the ability -- he has the ability to inspire excellence in people's pursuits. He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path, seeks a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners and punishes -- and he speaks negatively of the country. Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill. Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night in a corner of America that's very obscure. He's constantly telling the American people that bad times are ahead, worst times are ahead. And it's troubling, because this is the United States of America.
Yes, Rush this is the United States of America. And your timely and spectacular gift to the President is much appreciated indeed.