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The Five Creepiest Moments of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference

If anything can make you forget 3,500 Republicans chomping reindeer jerky, it's Sarah Palin screaming "Who dat!"

Anyone interested in taking the pulse of the GOP base in 2010 has a few options. They can watch Fox News at any hour of any day. They can trot down to their local Tea Party, where the overwhelming majority of participants vote, and have always voted, Republican. They can visit the various official party Web sites, where the leadership has crafted a message to resonate with the angry anti-government mood that defines today's conservative grassroots.

But while all of those political thermometers are fine as far as they go, there's really no substitute for hanging out at the New Orleans' Riverside Hilton bar during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Only there can you relax in comfort and enjoy a Caesar salad while being lectured to by the president of the Louisiana Women's Republican Club on why the idea of a secular American republic is "a lie sent directly from the flaming pits of Hell," and why secular Jews (like this reporter) must accept the Word of God before the coming Final Battle, after which it will be too late.

Yes, you can experience that and much more at the annual SRLC, which concluded on Sunday with a "Pink Tea" event for Republican women. By now, the newspapers and blogs have relayed the major news items from this year's gathering in New Orleans. The conference, part midterm pep rally, part starting-gun for 2012 jockeying, was marked by a predictable mixture of bombast and contrition.

Liz Cheney tore into what she sees as Barack Obama's foreign policy of appeasement, apology and abandonment. Newt Gingrich railed against the Democrats' "secular socialist machine," pausing only long enough to offer an Orwellian 2010 GOP slogan of "2+2=4." Rick Santorum apologized for endorsing Arlen Specter in 2004. Michael Steele apologized for everything. The conference featured about 25 teleprompter jokes, plus one gay joke (see below). It concluded with a meaningless straw poll that saw the absent Mitt Romney triumph by a single vote. One after another, speakers preached a message of conservative unity and focus in the run-up to November.

If all that sounds like more fun than a French Quarter whorehouse, here are five other memorable SRLC moments you can kick yourself for missing.

Newt Gingrich playing tough guy to 'Eye of the Tiger'

In a perfect world, politicians would have their own entrance songs on debate nights. But blasting your pump-up music before a set piece of shadow boxing? For that, only one song really works, and that's the one song associated with the most famous training-scene montage in film history. Yet even that might be hard to pull off if your name is Newt Gingrich. On the opening night of the conference, following a 30-minute speed bag display by Liz Cheney, the portly Gingrich attempted to play the role of Rocky Balboa for an excruciating two minutes.

To raucous applause, the former House speaker and presidential hopeful appeared through a ground level entrance just as stage speakers spat out Survivor's famous power-chords. This brought the crowd of 3,500 southern Republicans immediately to its feet, each one trying to catch a glimpse of Gingrich as he worked his way, eyes ahead and without irony, through the crowd.

Gingrich might want to review his Rocky films. "Eye of the Tiger" appeared in Rocky III , in which Balboa is not the underdog challenger, but the 10-time defending world champion. Using the Rocky III template, Rocky is Obama, who is in possession of the championship belt known as the White House. Gingrich is not only without a belt, he is fat and retired, busy making direct-to-DVD Bircher-circuit documentaries about Christ and Country.