I mention this in light of my comments yesterday, in "Rush Limbaugh: Leader of the Republican Party?," and some of the responses therein.
So let me be clear: I'm not criticizing Rush Limbaugh. I watched his speech to CPAC on Saturday and I was getting my own "rush" of adrenaline, endorphine, or some other "right-on" chemical-emotional reaction while listening to the guy. The big "El Rushbo" hit all the right notes, chumming the waters of both left and right as no other contemporary commentator can do. My only point, and this would seem uncontroversial, is that Limbaugh is by no means the leader of the GOP, which should be clear from the title of my entry. On the other hand, it's pretty much a slam dunk that Limbaughs' the leader of today's conservative movement. He's consistently opposed big government and concessions to the "bipartisan" Titanic that's gotten us into so much trouble these last few years.
Oh sure, I criticized Rush last year and his supporters as "Rushbots" because some of the attacks on McCain's campaign were dishonest and frankly irrational.
But I'm not criticizing Rush today. Conservative have really no time to be creating internal enemies. I'm not so naive to say that we won't have our battles, but the faster a "new right" consensus emerges that amounts to something of a guiding agenda for the movement, the better off we'll be.
Jonah Goldberg hits on this today in his essay, "The Tired War on Rush Limbaugh." I thought the piece was pretty unoriginal at first, considering how Goldberg was going off on the Democrats and their attacks on conservative talk radio as "the font of all evil." Really? Folks need to look no farther than the continuing debate on the "Fairness Doctrine" to understand that the rising tide of tea-party conservatism is the biggest threat to the left's totalitarian agenda - and thank God for that!
So I was pleased when Goldberg turned his focus to the political right, where the real challenges to a Republican revival are located:
The more interesting war on Limbaugh comes from the right. My National Review colleague John Derbyshire has written a thoughtful article for the American Conservative disparaging the "lowbrow conservatism" of talk radio. His brush is a bit too broad at times. Some right-wing talkers, such as Bill Bennett and Dennis Prager, can be almost professorial. Michael Savage, meanwhile, sounds like the orderlies are about to break through the barricades with straitjacket in hand. Derbyshire is nonetheless right that conservatism is top-heavy with talk-radio talent, giving the impression the right is deficient in other areas and adding to the shrillness of public discourse.Now, again, let me indicate right away where I stand on this, since I might be seen as more on the intellectual side of things (and hence a soft and squishy conservative like David Brooks, David Frum, or Ross Douthat). Recall that I'm neoconservative, and that means I take tradition and values as key to any sustainable outlook for the right. I also see foreign policy as not just another issue within the party platform, but as a problem that defines the identity of someone who claims to stand up for American values. Hence, while I'll engage the Brooks' or Douthats, I'll have no truck with folks like Daniel Larison who might as well be Democrats.
Another point of attack comes from "reformist" conservative writers, such as blogger Ross Douthat of the Atlantic and former Bush speechwriter David Frum. They argue that conservatism is too attached to talk-show platitudes and Reagan kitsch. They want conservatives and Republicans to become more entrepreneurial, less reflexively opposed to government action. Hence, the New Reformers object to Limbaugh's role as an enforcer of ideological conformity. What's good for Limbaugh, many of them argue, guarantees that the GOP will become a powerless rump party only for conservative true believers.
I'm dubious about that, but I do have a suggestion that would help on both fronts. Bring back "Firing Line." William F. Buckley Jr., who died almost exactly a year ago, hosted the program for PBS for 33 years. He performed an incalculable service at a time when conservatives were more associated with yahoos than they are today. He demonstrated that intellectual fluency and good manners weren't uniquely liberal qualities. More important, the "Firing Line" debates (models of decorum) demonstrated that conservatives were unafraid to examine their own assumptions or to battle liberal ones.
Conservatives need to ask themselves about the big picture: What do we want? Getting back in power is important, but should we acquiesce to what many recognize is likely a permanent expansion of the welfare-entitlement state? Folks decry the notion of "moderation," but how do we define that? Is former President Bush a "moderate" because he grew the government under his watch? As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out many times, the costs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq account for much of the increase in government spending as a percentage of GDP, and while the administration okay'd the expansion of Medicare, Bush spent all of 2005 campaigning for Social Security reform which would have sought to move the country toward privatization, and hence a shift toward shrinking governmental dependence and fostering an "ownership" society.
I don't have all the answers to these questions, but I do know that conservatives won't have to worry about the Democrats as long as we're looking to slit each other's throats.
Here's what Paul Ibrahim has to say about moderates:
It is non-conservative Republicans who have gotten the party to where it is today. It is the massive spending and government enlargement that have forced a significant part of the base to abandon the GOP. It is the pork projects and the related corruption of “moderates” that have dragged down the Republican brand. The people who have decidedly not been the downfall of the Republican Party are its conservatives.So, let's talk more about this. What is a non-conservative Republican? Is it a neocon "warmonger" like me, or a "soft intellectual" like David Brooks? Or is it a wonkish Harvard graduate like Ross Douthat?
I know where my loyalties lie, and that's with regular folks and bedrock values. In contrast, the Democratic Party is out to destroy this country, and when Rush Limbaugh said he wanted that nihilist agenda to fail, I said "hallelujah"!
We need more people to speak clearly like this, but we also need more people to welcome truthsayers like Geert Wilders into the spotlight as well. And apparently, that wasn't happening at CPAC.
So let's get it together. We have to speak truth to this leftist agenda, both home and abroad. By all means, yes, let's debate and refiine our ideas, but we should never forget that conservatism is what's going to save this country, and what the "next right" agenda requires is a little more attention to defining conservatism in the age of Obama. We should be perfectly happy to go back to Goldwater's ideas to do it, but we should also remember that even the "wisdom of the ages" gets an update now and then.