Limbaugh’s Party?

David Plouffe in the Washington Post ridicules the GOP for allowing Rush Limbaugh to become the “Minority Leader,” boss of the Republican party.  Plouffe notes how Limbaugh and the conservatives in their “just say no” strategy are turning off the rest of the country in order to appeal to their hard core conservative base.   He cites polls that show most Americans think Obama is trying to work with Republicans, while they believe it’s the Republicans who are refusing to work with Obama.  When RNC Chair Michael Steele feels compelled to call and apologize to Rush after criticizing him on Sunday morning TV, it appears that the Republicans now have been reduced to being led by a guy in it more for rabble rousing and entertainment than the good of the country.  Limbaugh (and talk radio in general) goes for emotion, not reason.  It’s the gut, not the head.  Is that what the GOP has been reduced to?

Maybe not.  Politico reports that the Democrats and the Obama White House are purposefully using a “Limbaugh strategy” to keep the GOP unpopular.  Their polling shows that he is one of the least popular political figures in the country at this point, his numbers are lower than those of President Bush (the Younger).   He has a loyal audience, but the vast majority of independents and especially young people are turned off by Limbaugh.  With Bush and Cheney off stage, the Democrats see Limbaugh as the new Republican bogey man they can use to cast the GOP in a poor light.

Limbaugh, of course, loves this.  He’s in this for the ratings and the money, after all, and something like this makes him relevant.  Given his inability to sway the elections, or even the GOP primary, it was starting to appear that the era of “talk radio” as king of the “right” was over.   It seems that most of the talk radio crowd pulled out all the stops to work against the nomination of John McCain, but when the dust cleared, they’d not made much of an impact.  Limbaugh ranted against McCain for weeks to no avail.

Furthermore, most Republicans don’t see Limbaugh as their leader, and rank and file Republicans want their party to work with Obama, and influence the plans that come out of the White House.  If you go with “just say no,” and dig in your heels and fight, you limit your ability to have an impact on what actually gets done.    Unless you can actually stop Obama from passing plans to deal with the crisis (and it’s unlikely the GOP can muster the discipline and support to do that), it’s a lose-lose strategy.

So why do Republican leaders allow themselves to be seen as being beholden to Limbaugh?   Why do they seem afraid to break from him?   Partially, I think they are suffering from a belief that Limbaugh and the “right wing blogosphere” is more representative of national public opinion than it is.   Such groups can become inbred to the point that people reinforce each other’s pre-existing view and develop a kind of group think whereby they believe they are leading some kind of real resistance.  That’s one reason I avoid partisan blogs on each side — they tend to be out of touch with reality.

That was on display in 2007 when the Limbaugh crowd led a fight against immigration reform.  The Republicans stopped the legislation, but fooled themselves into thinking they had an effective wedge issue for the 2008 election.  Turns out most of the public didn’t really care.

Perhaps more importantly, the Republicans don’t really have an alternative.  They aren’t sure what they stand for anymore, and realize that Obama is dealing with a mess inhereted from President Bush.  In opposition the GOP can rail against their own borrow and spend policies of when they were in power, and by embracing Limbaugh they may feel they are cutting themselves off from their past errors.   That isn’t necessarily a bad approach in terms of policy, but they need to do it without embracing a propagandist who cares more about vitriol than results.  They need to recognize that the voters Limbaugh inspires are already in their pocket.

Consider Limbaugh’s desire for Obama to fail.  He rationalizes that by saying he doesn’t want the philosophy of Obama to win out over his conservative philosophy.   Think of what that means.  Limbaugh has already decided that his philosophy is “right,” and thus he hopes that Obama doesn’t succeed because that would make it appear Obama’s philosophy is “right.”  Most of the public, though, would argue that real world results are the best way to test ones’ philosophy.   Talk of principles and ideals is all well and good, but it’s really angels dancing on a pin until one tests them in the world at hand.   Limbaugh sounds like he hopes Obama fails just because he doesn’t want to be proven wrong.  Talk about petty!

The Republicans need to stop being a tool of Limbaugh’s, and stop allowing the Democrats to use Limbaugh to shape public perception of the GOP.  I may support Obama, but we need a strong Republican party to come up with alternate  ideas, put checks on Democratic overreach, and create true debate about the actions being taken.  The Republicans were the ones who realized that social welfare programs can become detrimental to recipients by creating a psychology of dependency, and recognized the danger of too much statism.  We need that voice as part of the conversation about what to do moving forward.

With Limbaugh ultimately you get an emotional call to adhere to “principles” in a system that functions on the basis of compromise.  You get “just say no,” instead of  “let’s figure out a deal.”  Limbaugh and those of his ilk ultimately represent an approach to politics that is closer to fascism than the principles of the Republican party.  It’s about emotion, propaganda, attacks, and bravado.   That’s not what the GOP is all about, and deep down most Republicans know it.

One reason they may have taken to Limbaugh’s approach is it’s a “quick fix.”  Grab on emotional conservative themes and bask in the rhetoric.  But what the Republicans need is to slowly work through what’s gone wrong, what ideas they have, and how they can play a relevant role in moving forward.  And, once the party decides it wants to thoroughly reject Limbaugh as their leader, there are a couple moderate Republican Senators up here in Maine who would be much more effective in the role — and could in fact save the GOP in the long run.

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  1. #1 by henitsirk on March 5, 2009 - 03:27

    My husband gets bombarded by emails from my stepfather all the time — mostly ultraconservative stuff straight from talk radio. It is so patently irrational most of the time, all about how we have to stop Obama’s plan to make us all socialists, or about how the current mess is somehow “what we voted for” in Obama (as if he created it somehow in the last few weeks!)

    Unfortunately the squeaky wheels, in this case the edge of the conservative spectrum, gets undue amounts of attention and therefore we tend to perceive them as representing a larger portion of the populace than they really do. Most people are much more centrist and pragmatic than that, I think. I hope.

  2. #2 by Jeff Lees on March 10, 2009 - 18:14

    I grew up listening to talk radio: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and many others, and you are completely right Scott. All they do is appeal to emotions and “core conservative values.” They are uncompromising and obnoxious. They are the ones who are digging the Republican Party’s grave. I personally hold talk radio and it’s listeners for Bush and his ‘neoconservative’ politics, and for McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, and the subsequent loss of the election. I could rant about them all day, but suffice to say, the Republicans need to tell people like Rush Limbaugh to STFU.

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