The Republican Committee may have elected Michael Steele as its new chair, but you can't tell if you've paid any attention at all to the headlines. This isn't due to the left's incessant attempts to portray Rush Limbaugh as the real head of the party - more on this in a bit; rather, it's due to a continuous power vacuum and Steele's hesitance to embrace conservative ideology for fear of sacrificing his "big tent" pseudo-popularity.
I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I'm not reluctant to admit such; regardless your opinion of him, the man is a brilliant talk radio host and as a talk radio host, I appreciate the skill that goes into driving a daily, four-hour long program with nothing in the room but you, a mic, and maybe an engineer. The names that pop up on the call screen are the only proof that you are still connected to the outside world, the only proof that you're having a conversation. (Emails, et al., are an indication too, but not nearly as organic.) Limbaugh is theatrical; an impresario in the sphere of politics; as good a strategist as Newt Gingrich; as sharp on the uptake as Ronald Reagan; and every bit as vain as any entertainer with his influence.
I regularly find Limbaugh's analysis clever and his ability to hold the GOP's feet to the fire impressive. I'm not going to bash Limbaugh - that's a weak tactic employed by "Republicans" who think the quickest way to earning relevancy is to bash the talk giant (or their own) as a cheap way to appear "bipartisan." I am, however, going to be honest.
I watched some of the CPAC coverage, the big conservative conference in Washington D.C., over the weekend. That same weekend nearly 150,000 people gathered in Las Vegas for Nascar's Sprint Cup Series. I bet if you polled the audience not more than half of them would have been able to even define what CPAC was and why it was being held or who was holding it. So instead of getting out there, holding free meetings with the average American citizen at a time when Americans feel the most under-represented - so much so that they've taken to protesting in the streets and dumping tea in the rivers as a revival of the 1773 aesthetic just to get their voices heard - Republicans holed up at a conference and talked about the technology that many of them still aren't using adequately (the conservative citizens who took to the streets? Another story) and discussed their identity.
Ugh. The Republican party is going through one of those annoying, angsty, and self-imposed "I have to find myself" phases. It seems offensively overindulgent.
I say this because we have a group of policy-makers and wonks sitting around in dark lecture halls wondering what conservative really means, man. And out of all of them, a 13-year-old got it the best: conservatism is conservatism. It is what it is. There is no modification, no redefining. Limbaugh made this point as well, in between grandstanding for the cameras.
I'm not criticizing those who did attend CPAC; I think it's a relatively good idea; but it seemed most of the focus was redundant considering we know what conservatism is. The problem isn't recognition: the problem is that most Republicans are too chicken to embrace it.
When Limbaugh took to the podium he was only supposed to speak for 20 minutes but instead went on for an hour-and-a-half. If you are in the business of talking and thinking out loud, this is not problem. Normally I enjoy Limbaugh's speeches. This time though, I thought that he'd gone over the top.
After the speech the media assailed, quipping, writing that Limbaugh is the head of the GOP and the RNC are nothing but yes men. Michael Steele appeared on D.L. Hughleys CNN show and all but cowered when Hughley compared the GOP to the Nazi Party. Steele overlooked the comment and allowed a truly incendiary comment to be made - to say nothing of the feelings of countless Jewish Republicans, many of whom are among my acquaintance.
Steele went for the bait and allowed himself to be compromised when he clumsily defended himself. ( I do like how he corrected Hughley on the latter's statement that Limbaugh was the "de facto leader of the Republican Party." That's about it, though.)
Steele made the fatal error that conservatives - those ones too chicken to own their ideology? - have been making for the past eight years: he allowed the opposition to define his ideology, his platform. They've allowed society to mark conservatism as dorky, stuffy, and unattractive. As if this wasn't bad enough, there exist some conservatives who believe they have to live up to the stereotype.
Limbaugh has called the GOP out on this repeatedly. I like that he's done it and I also like how he makes the current congressional majority squirm. What I dislike is how Limbaugh has built himself up to be on the first line of defense for the GOP. This is so much so that it has become a distraction: instead of focusing on the economy and this administration's policies, we are focusing on Rush Limbaugh. Sure, Rahm Emmanuel's clever posturing had a hand in this but even he lacks the brilliance to pull it off at this level; I'm one of the minority who feels that it's mostly fueled by Limbaugh's own ego.
I said such on my regular morning radio spot and the hate mail which hit my inbox was ridiculous. All from "conservatives." Once you believe a party or a person has the patent on conservatism you become a blind follower, which negates the premise of it. By this conservatives become the very thing against which they rail and the humorous/sad thing about it is that they're completely unaware of it.
These are the people who completely go menstrual when anything critical of their precious [/Gollum] party is mentioned. The land of Kool-Aid and honey falls on either side of the center line.
Mary Katherine Ham cites the DNC's strategy to exploit this power vacuum:
Today, those same people woke up to find that the White House is not only prioritizing every social program they can think of over the banking crisis, but they've got a detailed, extensive, plan for making Rush Limbaugh the face of the Republican Party.
She links to a Politico piece:
Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.
The strategy took shape after Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville included Limbaugh’s name in an October poll and learned their longtime tormentor was deeply unpopular with many Americans, especially younger voters.
“We helped get the ball rolling on this because we’re looking and listening to different Republican voices around the country, and the one that was the loudest and getting the most attention was Rush Limbaugh,” explained DCCC chairman and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Rush Limbaugh seems like the "de facto leader of the Republican party" because of the simple aforementioned truth: no one else in the conservative movement has the balls to take a stand and be counted. Those that do are Palinized. Just ask Bobby Jindal.
Ann Althouse makes a brilliant point:
So let's have a free-wheeling outsider voice reviving conservatism. In fact, with all this newfound power, Rush is likely to concentrate on explaining conservatism. He's not out of control, and it would be naive to think he's going to say outrageous things that can be used to hurt Republicans. He's more likely to throw stink bombs when he's not getting enough attention. What he will do now, I think, is highlight things Democrats say and show you why those things are outrageous — and he is at his best and most entertaining when he does exactly that.
This doesn't just apply to elected officials; in fact, this applies more to the average, everyday conservative American. Where were the conservatives the past eight years? The protest in which I participated last Friday? I've never been around so many. Now they're coming out; now they're saying something. They've realized what I and others have known for a long time, which is that for too long politicans have thrived on the apathy of the citizenry.They're realizing that it's not enough to watch Fox News or listen to talk radio - passive activities.
People placed too much faith in their elected officials. For the first time they're seeing the importance of having your government work for you and not vice-versa.
So for any Republican to place the blame of a co-opted spokesman squarely on the shoulders of Mike Duncan or Michael Steele is intellectually dishonest. The GOP didn't form a message because the people didn't hold them accountable. Any Republican upset at the perception that Limbaugh speaks for the Republican party can look at their own reflection for responsibility. Any liberal that would attack Limbaugh as the representative for the GOP does so with the silent understanding that it's easier to attack an individual than an entire party or a a political ideology to which half the country subscribes. No matter how you slice it, it's intellectually dishonest.
Sister Toldjah has a golden nugget in her piece questioning Steele's ability to lead the RNC:
Of course none of this takes into account that both parties have prominent people within it who espouse views that most of them agree with on a general level - the Democrats have them with the Daily Kos and HuffPo crowds, who they’ve gotten quite cozy with over the years, and the GOP has them with Rush Limbaugh’s listeners. People are naturally going to gravitate to public figures they can relate with and to, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the Obama administration would have the American people thinking that this is a dangerous thing simply because Rush puts to the airwaves the feelings, thoughts, and ideas so many conservatives across this country have.
Also, regarding the issue of who and what conservatives want to fail, this post is definitive reading.
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