Classic Rush, without Neil Pert

Watching Rush Limbaugh pompous at the Conservative Political Action Conference the other day, I was struck by two thoughts.

1. Sometimes you have to accept “pompous” as a verb. No word better describes the Rushter’s bloviating delivery of what, if you dissect it, was mainly nonsense, and warmed-over nonsense at that.

2. We may be witnessing the leading edge of a retreat of neo-conservatism.

Not its demise, more’s the pity. When the neo-cons and everything they hold dear collapsed, taking the economy with them, it probably didn’t affect the swing of the pendulum. The American voter has a weak memory but a strong sense of entitlement. In a few years, if his 401(k) is still in negative territory and retirement is receding like a mirage, he’ll spell “blame” O-B-A-M-A.

For now, though, it’s fun to watch the right scrabble for traction. Limbaugh’s CPAC reception was heartening and frightening at the same time. His speech—full disclosure: I could stomach only part of it—was Classic Rush, a burlesque of distortions, half-truths and manipulation.

For all that it pushed up my blood pressure, though, it was a joy to hear. One of the dangers of success is that you may begin to take yourself seriously. Rush shows every sign of believing in the infallibility of Rush, and we know what goeth before a fall.

That was the heartening part. Listening to him, I felt the same cautious optimism as when listening to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal deliver the Republican response to Barack Obama’s speech the previous week: If he’s The Man, and those are The Ideas, Democrats should reign in perpetuity.

The frightening part was that Limbaugh’s audience didn’t exit early and laughing. From what I could see, they lapped it up.

OK, he was talking to the way-right base, a group former DNC chair Howard Dean estimates is no more than 15 percent of the population.

Still, his speech—the part I heard, anyway—was wackanoid conservative crap, as was former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’s address. ( nailed that, referring to CPAC as Crazy People Are Coming and reporting that Bolton “tried to up the fear quotient in the room by raising the prospect of an Iranian-sent nuclear attack: ‘It’s [a] tiny [threat] compared to the Soviet Union,’ Bolton said, ‘but is the loss of one American city—pick one at random: Chicago—is that a tiny threat?’ The audience erupted in cheers and laughter at the idea of Obama’s home city being obliterated.”)

So: Full-on crazitude, the most egregious and baseless collection of bull pucky uttered in the name of freedom since Joe McCarthy died—and the true conservatives ate it on toast.

Perhaps to temper the Wild-Eyed Crazy image all but the most demented of them must have noticed was going over the airwaves, the CPAC heavies also rang in a new face at the dais. Thirteen-year-old Jonathan Krohn delivered a creepy defense of conservatism that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and set my child-abuse detector clanging.

You can find that on YouTube, and Wikipedia will yield a bio noting, among other things, that Jonathan’s mother is a drama teacher, that he’s performed onstage since he was 8, has appeared on Broadway as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins, played John Darling in Peter Pan and has acted in Wizard of Oz, Tom Sawyer and The Jungle Book. He’s had more stage time than Ryan Seacrest.

Which doesn’t change an important point: The most relevant and rational speech at CPAC was made by a person still awaiting his first pubic hair.