There are certain clichés about ''liberals,'' ''progressives,'' ''lefties,'' what have you. As a longtime spy in that house of love, I can tell you that I've seen many of those clichés in action.
I remember fondly some afternoons during college years in Florida, when over at a crunchy couple's apartment, crazed cats would attack my ankles. If I were a cat on a lentil-stew diet -- save for the weekly slice of bologna for some needed amino acid -- I'd probably be crazed, too.
Or, later living in the so-dubbed ''People's Republic of Portland,'' spotting a notice for a group whose membership was limited to women celebrating their facial hair. My first thought? I have to shave. Why don't they?
Whatever the cliché, and I'm certain I embody as many as I observe, I've been spending too much time thinking about them after having been hit on the head by Rush Limbaugh's recent and widely televised speech from the Conservative Political Action Conference, held late February here in Washington. Granted, I did not catch the whole thing, but recasts of long portions on Fox and elsewhere, since I was floating through the Caribbean as the conservatives convened. What perfect timing.
I'm kidding, of course. I have Republican friends, Democratic friends, Libertarians and Greens (my own affiliation). And I don't hate Rush. He, Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan -- they all seem pretty jolly. I'm sure they'd be a lot of fun at a bar. Though I can't say the same for Bill O'Reilly, who seems... twitchy. And I know that fundamentalists need not be God-fearing to be annoying. I'll take happy hour with Nancy Reagan over a barbecue with a band of Shining Path guerillas any day.
Despite my slight conservative leanings -- I did write in favor of bombing Afghanistan during the Clinton years, and thought the Sept. 12 protests against invading the same country were nutty -- Limbaugh's speech just seemed a tad whinier than I expected. Behind the chants of ''U-S-A,'' there was this thread of victimization.
From the Fox transcript:
''The racism, the sexism, the bigotry that we're all charged with...doesn't exist on our side.''
''What [people know of conservatives] is largely incorrect, based on the way we are portrayed in pop culture, in the 'drive-by media' and by the Democrat Party.''
''They can't possibly like us. They're our enemy.... They think we need to be defeated.''
I think that last one was more boast than complaint, but still the tone was worrisome. What worried me was that Limbaugh, to a chorus of support, truly appeared to have his audience believing that they are the new victims of Obamaland. That's sort of rich, considering some of the co-sponsors of the conference.
Look, there's the Concerned Women for America contingent: ''Congressman Barney Frank wants to weaken our military by allowing homosexuals and reduce spending for national defense,'' warns the group's 2009 ''issue alert.''
I think my officially nonpartisan Family Research Council buddies are over at the open bar. ''Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed,'' reads their Web site. ''It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.''
There's the Eagle Forum booth. And the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. And Young Americans for Freedom -- freedom, that is, unless you happen to be a transgender resident of Lansing, Mich., trying to use the appropriate public bathroom. No freedom for you.
In a room full of Rushies, maybe the victim argument plays. But when Limbaugh is saying that government is oppressive, particularly ''liberal'' government, for maintaining a ''welfare state,'' is he arguing that states or companies have done more than the federal government in the name of freedom or fairness? There are plenty of corporations who treat minorities and women better than the government has, and plenty who haven't. Same goes for state governments.
But where's the mea culpa from social conservatives for segregation, lower pay for women and police raids on gay bars? With some minor exceptions, it wasn't society's right wing leading us away from those fun times. Instead, there is a moan about watching taxes rise on some during a wartime recession. Hurts? So does going to a substandard school because your parents don't make enough money to live in the good school district. Despite his claims that it is government and regulations that stand in the way of everyone's good time, Limbaugh knows that luck is as important as grit, telling his audience, ''I see human beings who happen to be fortunate enough to be the luckiest people on earth since you are Americans.'' And he's right: If you're born American, that makes you a hell of a lot luckier than most.
I want America to have a strong conservative movement. The more voices at the table, the better. But if Rush's crowd is representative, it seems the right is at a fork in the road. Are they going to go for the big tent where Log Cabin Republicans will be as welcome Phyllis Schlafly (as one might argue the Dems have done by reaching out to faith communities more earnestly), or will they feel more comfortable idling for a while? The GOP convention gave a taste of 21st century conservatism, recognizing the LCR attendees. But what happened?
If Rush or Ann or Tucker or Pat want to talk about it over a beer, that sounds like a good time to me. But you're buying, because God knows you've got a helluva lot more money than me, whatever the tax code.
Will O'Bryan, Metro Weekly's managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.