David Frum says that we should eschew the divisiveness of Rush Limbaugh, that the Republican Party must moderate its tone, that cooler, wiser heads must prevail, and that we must take counsel of calmer, more intelligent voices – David Frum's, for example.
Citing surveys showing Republicans losing ground everywhere, Frum concludes that it is largely the polarizing aggressiveness of Limbaugh, Coulter et al that is dragging the party down. One survey floating about the web today purports to prove that Rush has an approval rating lower than that of George Bush. As the indefatigable Dan Riehl points out, that particular survey was conducted by something called Democracy Corps, founded by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, two men not normally associated with the notion of political impartiality. But no matter; there is no doubt that the Republicans have fallen on hard times. I think it is disingenuous, however, to blame Rush and other conservatives of feisty temperament for the travails of the GOP, and I wonder whether it is really just a crazy coincidence that Frum and Obama seem to agree on this issue, or whether this is another instance of a RINO flying under false colors.
Frum would have us believe that Rush is giving Republicans a bad name, yet, somehow, Democrats, supported by partisans of both the shrieking (Olbermann) and drooling (Matthews) varieties, and by a far-flung computer network manned by radical, and very frequently vicious, leftists operating under the auspices of MoveOn and the Daily Kos, avoid the stigma of divisiveness. Because of some admittedly serious setbacks over the last few years, Republicans are being exhorted to scrap their focus on social values, learn how to talk to younger voters and women, and emphasize smaller, limited government. On that last point, I am in complete agreement, and I certainly can’t argue with the importance of more effective communication (although my definition of “more effective communication” is that we need to make our ideas better understood, not water them down); however, the constant derogation of social values by Frum and others presupposes that smaller, limited government is possible in the absence of the moral discipline which most of those values boil down to: an appreciation for the crucial importance of personal responsibility and self-control, a genuine respect for civilized dissent, the superiority of charity and sacrifice to the narcissistic pursuit of instant gratification and self-indulgence, and the humility to see that no one person, or group of persons - let alone one’s spiritually, intellectually and physically limited self – possesses the blueprint for creating heaven on earth.
There were several reasons that John McCain lost the election; the hammer-blow of the sudden economic crisis, the star-quality of his opponent (however contrived that may have been), the scandalous one-sidedness of the media, and because…well, because he’s John McCain. I think it’s important to note that McCain didn’t put social issues in the foreground of his campaign, that he was civil (to a fault), and that he entered the race with an indisputable reputation for bipartisanship – and he still lost.
Back in the early Clinton era – September of 1993, to be exact - the National Review put out an edition with a cover that showed an illustration of Rush Limbaugh, dressed as a 19th-century parliamentarian; the cover story, by James Bowman, was entitled “The Leader of the Opposition” ( link to article here), and was a tribute to Rush’s importance as a popularizer of conservative ideas and as a flag-bearer for the base, a person around whom conservatives could rally in an era when the Reagan Revolution had stalled under the clumsy and indifferent management of Bush 41, and the Clintons had taken over Washington with big ideas of socializing health care. Rush was a frequent critic of “Hillary Care”, and was instrumental in spreading the word about its more obnoxious aspects (the Clinton health care proposals ultimately suffered a humiliating defeat). Rush also was a big booster of the Contract with America, which paved the way for Republican majorities in the national legislature (subsequently lost as many Republicans, having got a whiff of pork, began earmarking and spending like Democrats).
Is it Rush’s statement that he hopes Obama will fail that has Frum in a huff? The comment has been taken out of context by many to signify mere vindictiveness, but it isn’t that at all. Rush was simply saying that, to the extent Obama tries to expand the power of Big Government, he hopes he fails; as do I, as do all people who value personal freedom and limited government - presumably even David Frum (although perhaps not; it was Frum who not so long ago was applauding Barney Frank for pushing for the original banking bailout – “a big solution to a big problem” – having forgotten, apparently, that Frank, himself, was a big part of the “big problem”).
Frum says in his article that “America is not turning Democratic because Americans have suddenly become liberals. America is no more liberal than it is conservative. Most Americans are not ideological at all – and they gravitate to the less ideological party, to the party that seems businesslike, sensible, and responsible. (Or anyway: less profligate, less heedless, and less irresponsible.)” And the Democratic Party matches that description? Please. Party identification is a constantly changing, even ephemeral thing, and among the sizeable plurality of uninformed, unengaged voters, who may well have made the difference in the election, Obama was seen as an A-list celebrity and even a superhero, and the Democratic Party was swept along in his wake to victory. You don’t fight that kind of ignorance with bigger mirrors and more smoke, or by reducing your political platform to one or two planks that offer the unexciting promise of Not-Quite-So-Big-Government, or by unprotestingly accepting the inevitability of a leftist victory in the culture wars. You declare your principles and stick to them, and this is what Rush and others are trying to do. And I’m a long way from being convinced that traditional conservative principles have, overnight, become permanently toxic.
Rush Limbaugh is not an elected officeholder, but a private citizen with a large following who is not afraid to fight the Left with ideas, satire, and sarcasm. If there are potential Republican leaders who can do as good a job at articulating conservative ideas, and can do so with a minimum of obscurantist diplomatic applesauce, then let them step forward.