Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Republican on Why Rush Is Bad for the GOP

Many voiced defenses and attacks on Rush Limbaugh and his relationship with the GOP this week, but a predictable pattern emerged in which Republicans defended Rush and his apologizers while Democrats scoffed and ridiculed the man and the apologies. In the partisan demonizing of Rush and his attackers, few questioned the implications and consequences of Rush as the leader and face of the GOP, that is until David Frum, Bush (the second) speech writer and life-long conservative, gave his perspective today on what Rush actually brings to (or rather repulses from) the Republican party in his Newsweek article, "Why Rush Is Wrong." After guaranteeing his conservative credentials as a defense to the RINO-type attacks he foresees as the most predictable rebuttal to his statements, he moves on to his reasoning on why Rush is not the spokesperson the right needs at this moment.

It really comes down to two words: independents and women. He proclaims that Obama does a super job at attracting these groups (and conservatives) by appealing to accountability and family-values:

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

Rush, on the other hand, does just the opposite. His demeanor, physical appearance, and marital history bespeak of someone antithetical not only to women and independents, but also conservative values:

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Think about it. Rush is already hurting among women (he even admitted recenlty that he should hold a conference on why he has a gender gap of 30 points in his listening audience). Women consist of the majority of this nation and an ever-increasing segment of the voting bloc. Rush's latest comments reiterating his hope that Obama fails might do well among conservatives who strongly abhor socialist policies, but a moderate public is mostly worried about their jobs and navigating this economic downturn, not ideological principles. While Frum agrees that he wants liberal policies to fail, he argues Rush missed an important distinction when making his infamous declaration that he "hopes Obama fails."

Notice that Limbaugh did not say: "I hope the administration's liberal plans fail." Or (better): "I know the administration's liberal plans will fail." Or (best): "I fear that this administration's liberal plans will fail, as liberal plans usually do." If it had been phrased that way, nobody could have used Limbaugh's words to misrepresent conservatives as clueless, indifferent or gleeful in the face of the most painful economic crisis in a generation. But then, if it had been phrased that way, nobody would have quoted his words at all—and as Limbaugh himself said, being "headlined" was the point of the exercise. If it had been phrased that way, Limbaugh's face would not now be adorning the covers of magazines. He phrased his hope in a way that drew maximum attention to himself, offered maximum benefit to the administration and did maximum harm to the party he claims to support.

Instead of repeating the same cliché lines about Reagan and the policies of the past, Frum believes the conservative movement needs to evolve to meet the demands of the present.

Of course, we can keep repeating our old lines all the same, just the way Tip O'Neill kept exhorting the American middle class to show more gratitude to the New Deal. But politicians who talk that way soon sound old, tired, and cranky. I wish somebody at the … GOP presidential debate at the Reagan Library had said: "Ronald Reagan was a great leader and a great president because he addressed the problems of his time. But we have very different problems—and we need very different answers. Here are mine."

The voting trends show an increasing populace wary of the Republican party and the solutions (or lack of) they offer. In order to overcome this downward spiral, Frum argues they need to modulate (not erdicate) social conservativism. In other words, they can accomodate the po-lifers without running a president or vice-president that makes it the party platform. The gay rights movement is too strong to overcome and will only cost them the youth vote in upcoming elections. He says the GOP must adopt a more environmental approach regarding conservation even if they do not bow down to Gore and the loss of property rights. Lastly, Republicans need to practice whtat they preach when they hold power. The party lost a lot of trustworthiness during the presidency of Bush and his obedient GOP congress.

Above all, we need to take governing seriously again. Voters have long associated Democrats with corrupt urban machines, Republicans with personal integrity and fiscal responsibility. Even ultraliberal states like Massachusetts would elect Republican governors like Frank Sargent, Leverett Saltonstall, William Weld and Mitt Romney precisely to keep an austere eye on the depredations of Democratic legislators. After Iraq, Katrina and Harriet Miers, Democrats surged to a five-to-three advantage on the competence and ethics questions. And that was before we put Sarah Palin on our national ticket.

He comes away with the warning that Rush speaks of a country that no longer exists, says that change is not necessary, and believes that the same failed approaches will win in the future. Frum does not buy it. Frum argues it is time for the conservatives to find a redeeming voice in light of the harmful policies of Obama:

Decisions that will haunt American taxpayers for generations have been made with hardly a debate. The federal government will pay more of the cost for Medicaid, it will expand the SCHIP program for young children, it will borrow trillions of dollars to expand the national debt to levels unseen since WWII. To stem this onrush of disastrous improvisations, conservatives need every resource of mind and heart, every good argument, every creative alternative and every bit of compassionate sympathy for the distress that is pushing Americans in the wrong direction. Instead we are accepting the leadership of a man with an ego-driven agenda of his own, who looms largest when his causes fare worst.

Unfortunately, those that promote and defend Rush are benefiting Obama more than harming him in the public eye. This distinction will either drag the Republican party down further or will be overcome through a distancing from the pseudo-imagery of conservatism espoused by those like Limbaugh.

I'm a pretty conservative guy. On most issues, I doubt Limbaugh and I even disagree very much. But the issues on which we do disagree are maybe the most important to the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party: Should conservatives be trying to provoke or persuade? To narrow our coalition or enlarge it? To enflame or govern? And finally (and above all): to profit—or to serve?