Opinion: Republicans gather for rhetorical war dance as Obama signs arms pact with Russians

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Laissez les bon temps rouler!

With that whoop from partisan warrior and local girl Mary Matalin, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference got underway Thursday night in New Orleans with -- what else? -- a Mardi Gras of Pelosi-Reid-Obama-and-assorted-other-Democrat-bashing.

Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, got things roiling with a scalding attack on President Obama, calling passage of the epic healthcare bill — without a single Republican vote -- “one of the most arrogant power plays in American history.”

All this and Sarah Palin isn’t even on the speaking schedule until Friday.


Cheney drew the first standing ovation of the session — a quadrennial showcase for the party’s rising stars and presidential wannabes -- by invoking the GOP’s....

...rallying cry, “repeal and replace.” She predicted the effort would begin with a GOP Congress elected in November and finish with a Republican president sworn into office Jan. 20, 2013.

Cheney devoted most of her commentary, however, to a scathing assessment of Obama’s foreign policy, which she summarized, alliteratively, as “apologize for America, abandon allies, appease enemies.”

“President Obama,” she said to an appreciative roar, “stop apologizing for this great nation and start defending it.”

Showing chip-off-the-block support for her pugnacious pere, Cheney defended his harsh — and unusual for an emeritus pol — criticism of the Obama administration.

“The media has played this up as a confrontation between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama,’ Liz Cheney said, to whoops from the crowd. “But I prefer to think of it as a constructive dialogue between a two-term vice president and a one-term president.”

All of that, however, was just warm-up for Newt Gingrich, the flame-throwing former House speaker, who loosened some of his own characteristically blistering rhetoric:

‘The president of the United States,” he declared, “the most radical president in American history has now thrown down the gauntlet to the American people. He said, ‘I run this machine. I own Washington and there is nothing you can do about it.’ ”

Saying he knows a few things about how Congress works, Gingrich scoffed at the timidity of those who say the healthcare bill need take effect simply because it’s now the law of the land. A Republican-run Congress can cut off funding starting in 2011, he said, and hold the line until a Republican president repeals the measure in 2013.

Gingrich, a linguistic tactician as well as political alley-fighter, counseled Republicans to overcome their Party Of No image by turning the midterm election into a contest between “the things we say yes to… lower taxes, more jobs, less spending, lower deficits, lower interest rates and the things [Democrats] say yes to…. higher taxes, fewer jobs, bigger government, more bureaucracy, more power for politicians. “

Put more succinctly, Gingrich said, the choice is “not Obama vs. anti-Obama but America vs. a secular socialist machine.”

The crowd, thousands strong, ate it up -- like red beans and rice.

--Mark Z. Barabak

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