Why are conservatives so angry? For eight years, they had one of their own in the White House and, for much of that time, control of the Senate, as well as two appointees to secure an enduring majority on the Supreme Court. Still they remain angry as if this were the only way to call their troops to action.
Now after losing the election, they've resorted to bully behavior in the form of name-calling. It's not Democrats who are in control. It's "socialists."
Over the weekend the Conservative Political Action Committee held its annual confab in Washington, the place they profess to hate most. (OK, they also hate L.A., New York, and now the South Side of Chicago.) "Earlier this week we heard the world's best salesman of socialism address the nation," quipped Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of the president. "Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff," remarked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee of the bank bailouts.
The once-anointed Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal were absent, the latter hailed as recently as Tuesday afternoon as the GOP's savior. Then, after his disastrous Kenneth the Page response to Obama's speech, the Louisiana governor was said to have decamped to Disney World, an absurd itinerary if ever there was one.
Instead conservatives -- many of whom criticized John McCain for not being conservative enough (he didn't attend) -- hosted the senator's unofficial running mate, Joe the (unlicensed) Plumber, a verbal prop transformed into a lasting hangover.
Ann Coulter was present. Again why is she so mad? Except that rage made her rich. The keynote speaker was Rush Limbaugh, the conservative who didn't think Bush was conservative enough. He worships Reagan's ghost.
The successful talk show host began his speech by making clear "who we all are." First and foremost, he said, "We love people."
You know a movement is in trouble when it has to make clear it loves people.
Limbaugh conveys a certain bonhomie while decrying almost everything. "We don't hate anybody," he said Saturday, before going on to disparage all Democrats, make sexist remarks and deliver an anti-gay slur that caused CNN to cut away.
Limbaugh loathes bipartisanship. To him, the country is waging an ideological war, between conservatives and liberals -- he sees no moderates -- in which he hopes to cede not an inch. What's he for? Little except smaller government and lower taxes for rich people. He's a champion of rich people, as well he should be, earning $38 million annually, but who knew the wealthy needed champions?
Speaking Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, made clear that he sees Limbaugh as the leader not only of the conservative movement, but also of the GOP. "He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party. He has been up front about what he views and hasn't stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure."
Anger is easy. Toddlers get angry. Talk shows such as Limbaugh's trade in anger. The blogosphere courses with vitriol. Anger's a visceral, fiery emotion, but it remains dry tinder without constructive solutions. Barack Obama was elected, in part, because he offers measured, assured calm, anger's antithesis. In economically uneasy times, when people are anxious and unsure, anger seems like the dead-wrong way to mend a crisis.
Do Republicans, let alone conservatives, really want a rich, intolerant radio-show host who roots for failure as its leader? Anti-taxman Grover Norquist, also present at the weekend's conference, once said of the federal government that he wanted to "get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
Looks like conservatives are in danger of doing this to their own movement.
Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.