It bears repeating – one must not confuse Hollywood with the rest of Southern California. Hollywood is the place with all the wild-eyed liberals – actors with causes and all the rest.
But much of Southern California is quite conservative. Head south – the airport in Orange County is John Wayne International Airport, with a statue of the Duke and all that – and it’s not far from Garden Grove and the famous Crystal Cathedral. The airport is in Irvine, where the subprime mortgage was invented and where all but one of the major players in that particular game was headquartered. This is Jesus and unregulated free-market country, and further south is Lake Forest with Richard Duane “Rick” Warren’s Saddleback Church, currently the eighth-largest church in the United States, and that includes multi-site churches – pleasant pro-war folks who hate gays and women’s rights, and most specifically the right to abortion, but love Jesus, the muscular Jesus, not the wimp. Head down the freeway into San Diego County and you pass through San Clemente, where Nixon had his Western White House (he was born nearby in Whittier), then past the big nuclear power plant, then past Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine base in the west, and you’ll get to San Diego, with the big naval base and Miramar Air Station, former home to Top Gun. Inland San Diego gave you the staunch conservatives Duncan Hunter and Duke Cunningham and Darryl Issa – and Rancho Bernardo, not far from Pendleton, holds an amazing Fourth of July Parade. The whole state gave you Ronald Reagan, the current apotheosis of conservatism.
So just what made you think we’re all liberals out here? This is God, Guns and Small Government country. The state is forty-two billion dollars in debt – since Proposition 13 passed in 1978 no one wants to pay taxes on anything, and our state budget was nine months late, as state Republicans blocked any solution to the problem other than drastically cutting taxes even more. Those Republicans who gave in to get the damned thing passed are being drummed out of the party, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, our Republican governor, wasn’t invited to the state’s Republican convention – it was his budget, you see. Obama carried the state, but there were vast areas around here where he got barely one vote.
So it’s not surprising that days after Rush Limbaugh spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and reiterated that he wants Obama to fail – a depression deeper and more painful than the Great Depression is far preferable to having big-government Democrats have their way – Rush is still in the news. That message resonates out here, but just not in Hollywood. Rush is the hero of the day, and now he has challenged Obama to a debate – one on one, man to man, to let America see who is the better man, with the better ideas, and the natural leader for America. Rush seems to think he’ll wipe the floor with Obama – and America will see what a fraud Obama is, a man who hasn’t thought things through and will ruin America with his foolishness. Many out here long for that.
The dynamics here are interesting – a talk show radio host out to show up the president, to show America agrees with him, not the guy in the White House. And this has put Republican politicians in an awkward position – the whole thing is a bit absurd, but the Republican base is all riled up, and they look foolish and weak compared to Rush.
In fact, in Newsweek, Jonathan Alter argues that Rush is Making the GOP the Party of Wimps:
Witness the specter of party leaders from Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to Republican Party chairman Michael Steele all issuing craven apologies to Limbaugh after uttering the truth, which is that Rush’s rhetoric is “ugly” and that he was wrong to say he hoped President Obama would fail. The monster the GOP collectively created – Rush’s “dittohead” army of conservative listener – makes life miserable for anyone who dares criticize the Great Bloviator. By enforcing right-wing political correctness, the dittoheads are making their party leaders look weak.
And looking weak is just death for Republicans:
Strength, of course, has been the great, well, strength of the GOP. Starting with reactionary vitriol directed at the New Deal (echoed today) and extending through the Cold War, Republicans have long had the advantage of looking and sounding more muscular than Democrats. For most of the last century, conservatives have been depicted as “rock-ribbed” and liberals as “whiny.”
You remember the seventies – Jimmy Carter, a fellow with a degree in nuclear physics who once commanded a nuclear submarine with twenty-four Polaris missiles to nuke the Soviets became a girlie man:
This symbolized public attitudes toward liberals, and the caricature paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory and the 1994 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives.
And Limbaugh was a key player that made much of that possible:
For two decades, he has provided a daily three-hour national advertisement for the GOP specifically and the conservative movement in general. Because most mainstream media types in Washington and New York don’t listen, they never fully understood how big Rush had become.
Out here in California, but not Hollywood, we understand. Alter, however, says Rush’s popularity is waning, if you look at the numbers:
Rush’s audience remains huge, with a weekly audience of more than 20 million, and will stay large for as long as he broadcasts. If his listeners can forgive him sending his poor housekeeper into a parking lot to score drugs for him, they will forgive anything. But these folks no long represent the American mainstream. In fact, while 28 percent of Americans still identify themselves as Republicans, 29 percent call themselves independents. Plenty of the indies might still be listening to Rush, but they don’t take their marching orders from him anymore. To them, he’s just another entertainer. …
The president’s popularity is in the 60s, and the entertainer’s, according to internal Democratic polling, is in the 20s. So Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs are now piling on, describing Limbaugh as the “intellectual force” and “de facto chairman” of the party.
Of course they are, as that works just fine, and “will keep on working until enough Republicans grow a spine.”
But what is a party without its base? Those were the people at CPAC. And they agree with Rush, as Hunter of Daily Kos explains here:
The takeaway message from the event is that any basic competence whatsoever in government is equivalent to socialism.
Oh, and any level of taxation equals socialism, and any attempts to save America from economic depression are socialism, and bailing out capitalism is socialism, and not bailing out capitalism is socialism, and high speed rail is socialism, and energy independence is socialism, and any attempts to make fun of Rush Limbaugh’s ever-ballooning sense of self importance is socialism, and pointing out that all of the events that led to the current mess happened under not just Bush, but with willing and supplicating conservative support… well, that’s socialism too. The things in America that aren’t socialism or incipient socialism are so few that they can be neatly packaged in a gift bag, available for sale in the lobby.
So, Rush Limbaugh says Obama should come on his show and debate him, and at the New Republic, Michael Crowley says maybe Obama should take him up on that – “If Rush really is the leader of the opposition, then why not talk to the opposition?”
Here’s the reasoning:
What’s the worst that can happen? If the concern is elevating Limbaugh, well, he’s already been plenty elevated these past few days. And if Limbaugh acts like an ass and disrespects the president then all the more fodder for the idea that conservatives are nasty sore losers, which is a political winner for the White House. Hell, Obama might even win over some dittoheads. It would be an amazing political-cultural moment, that’s for sure.
Matthew Yglesias argues that would be foolish:
It’s worth saying that it would actually be unusual for a President of the United States to debate the formal leader of the opposition. George Bush didn’t debate Harry Reid when the Democratic Senate minority was the main obstacle to his legislation in 2005-6 and he didn’t debate Nancy Pelosi when the Democratic House majority was the main locus of opposition to his administration. Bill Clinton didn’t debate Newt Gingrich. In our system, presidents usually affect quasi-monarchical disdain for direct engagement with the enemy.
And the cost-benefit ratio is all wrong:
If they went at it, and 25 percent of people came away impressed by Rush while 40 percent were impressed by Obama and the remaining 35 percent deemed the whole thing dumb, that would be a net benefit for Rush (who’s just a radio host, happy to have the allegiance of a large-and-impassioned minority) and a net loss for Obama (who’s a national politician who needs a broad base of support) notwithstanding the fact that Obama would have “won” in a strict sense.
So it’s all talk now, which is wise, for the Republicans:
Actual GOP elected officials are, like Obama, dependent on a broad base of support. Rush isn’t, anymore than I am – so making him the public face of opposition winds up making the real opposition look bad. But the point is to win the fight with the real opposition – the folks who need to stand for re-election – not with the radio host.
At Limbaugh’s site you can read the debate challenge here. It’s quite long, but a few things stand out:
If these guys are so impressed with themselves, and if they are so sure of their correctness, why doesn’t President Obama come on my show? We will do a one-on-one debate of ideas and policies. … So let’s have the debate! I am offering President Obama to come on this program – without staffers, without a teleprompter, without note cards – to debate me on the issues. Let’s talk about free markets versus government control. Let’s talk about nationalizing health care and raising taxes on small business.
Let’s talk about the New Deal versus Reaganomics. Let’s talk about closing Guantanamo Bay, and let’s talk about sending $900 million to Hamas. Let’s talk about illegal immigration and the lawlessness on the borders. Let’s talk about massive deficits and the destroying of opportunities of future generations. Let’s talk about ACORN, community agitators, and the unions that represent the government employees which pour millions of dollars into your campaign, President Obama. Let’s talk about your elimination of school choice for minority students in the District of Columbia. Let’s talk about your efforts to further reduce domestic drilling and refining of oil. Let’s talk about your stock market.
You see where this is going – “I would rather have an intelligent, open discussion with you where you lay out your philosophy and policies and I lay out mine – and we can question each other, in a real debate.”
There are only two important men in America. They need to have a showdown, so the best man wins. And Rush argues he has America on his side.
Of course Jon Stewart has his take on Rush – but Stewart is a comedian. Ross Douthat, with his new book on repairing and reviving the Republican Party is not – Douthat is one of the intellectuals on the right. And he is not happy at all:
Just imagine, for a moment, how conservatives would react if four months after the worst defeat liberalism had suffered in a generation, an Olbermann (or a Moyers or a Michael Moore or a Bill Maher or whomever) showed up to deliver the keynote address at a liberal equivalent of CPAC, and during the course of his speech he blasted every Democrat who disagrees with him as a miserable sell-out, suggested that conservatives are fascists and conservatism a psychosis, lectured the crowd on the irrelevance of policy ideas to liberalism’s political prospects, and insisted that the only blueprint liberals need to win elections is the one that Lyndon Johnson used to rout Barry Goldwater.
And then further imagine that, both before and after this speech, a series of left-of-center politicians ventured criticisms of Olbermann, only to beat a hasty and apologetic retreat as soon as he turned his fire on them. Conservatives would be chortling – and rightly so! Not because liberalism needs to purge or marginalize its Keith Olbermanns, or because impassioned liberal entertainers don’t have a place in left-of-center discourse – but because when your political persuasion faces a leadership vacuum, you don’t want to have it filled by someone who appeals to an impassioned but narrow range of voters, and whose central incentive is to maximize his own ratings.
James Wolcott says it’s a bit more difficult than that:
During its Rovian/Fox News heyday, the right tried to make Michael Moore’s mug the face of the Democratic Party, to hold Democrats responsible for every egregious thing Moore said or did. It only partially succeeded because Moore was too independent an operator to be seamlessly morphed with Al Gore and John Kerry. But Limbaugh bleeds Republican red. He has been glorified and embraced as the perfect Ganesh by Newt Gingrich, CPAC, and the Bush family. He is the face and mouth of the conservative movement – a mouth that has swallowed Michael Steele whole, and has room for plenty more.
John Cole used to be a Bush Republican, suggests, looking back at when Bush was first elected, now some line has been crossed:
I also remember what was going on at the time. There was a mild economic downturn, but the country overall was in pretty good shape. The big crises in the first couple of months in the Bush administration was the story about “W” keys on the White House keyboards (since debunked), the continuing fallout of the Marc Rich pardon, the sad case of the US submarine that t-boned a Japanese fishing ship, and I remember an Air Force plane being forced to land in China. That was the “big stuff” in the early months, if my memory serves correctly.
Other than that, the big issue was the tax cuts. Our surplus was going to be too big, and we had to return the money to the people. I remember Alan Greenspan concern trolling the country about too much government ownership of private companies. I know, I know. We got the government ownership of companies anyway, Alan, and this all sounds like the history of an alien universe considering the mess we are in right now. And I remember a lot of Democrats were really opposed to the tax cuts, and called them irresponsible and said they would lead to real financial problems (how did that prediction work out?) and that we had a lot of stuff to pay for (like the national debt). I remember them repeatedly saying it was bad policy and it should be stopped.
But here is what I don’t remember. I don’t remember one single Democrat standing up on national television and loudly proclaiming “I hope George Bush fails.” I simply do not remember it happening at all.
So until Michael Scherer and others can show me the clips or transcripts of Democrats sitting around rooting for Bush and this country to fail, I think he and everyone else defending the Republicans and Limbaugh, who are explicitly stating they want President Obama to fail and stating it at a time of FAR greater consequence than we had in 2001, can quite simply just shut up.
And he remembers this:
Also, when a real crisis happened on 9/11, I remember the Democrats rushing to do whatever Bush wanted. I remember hand-holding and singing on the Capitol Steps. I don’t remember them hoping Bush’s response would fail.
In the New Yorker, George Packer looks bask too, from the other side:
Just substitute “free-market capitalism” for “big government,” “the New Deal” for “the era of Reagan,” and everything else – the defensive contempt toward popular rule, the retreat into the comfort of a purified “philosophy,” the denunciations of unnamed appeasers within the ranks, the call to “stamp out” middle-way weaklings – is the same. I attended some of those conferences. With each year they became more righteous and more insular, and I remember exactly what it felt like to know that my side was going to be the losing side for years to come. I remember looking around at my fellow democratic socialists and wondering whether I really even belonged there.
So if there were any quietly doubting conservatives at the CPAC conference, they have my sympathy, and a bit of unsolicited advice: the biggest obstacle to your eventual return to power is the kind of resistant and intolerant politics embodied so amply in the man at the podium.
My prediction is that, in the short term – between now and at least 2012 – this spirit will dominate the Republican Party, until the doubters become numerous and brave enough to make trouble.
Packer argues this is not time to be the “fanatical and self-isolating opposition” – he’s been there, and it’s just depressing.
As for the apologies to Rush from those in office who sense they could lose their rabid base, Christopher Orr offers the ultimate apology to Rush:
When I described Rush Limbaugh as the “clown prince of the GOP” I intended my words to be understood entirely as a compliment. Mr. Limbaugh is self-evidently royalty in the deepest, most God-given sense of the word – yet he is still approachable, a wise and kindly jester beloved by children and animals. Not like those Kennedys.
I am filled with shame that my words may have been misunderstood, or worse, twisted by those jealous of Mr. Limbaugh. I have been unable to eat or sleep or laugh or enjoy prescription medication, and the hours that my unintended calumny was allowed to stand will weigh heavily on my conscience in the years to come. So let me set the record straight: I formally retract, for the record and without exception, any negative implication that might be inferred from anything I have said about Mr. Limbaugh, and from anything I might say at any time in the future. Indeed, I strongly recommend such “pretractions” to anyone who worries they might inadvertently slander Mr. Limbaugh – especially, though not exclusively, those who hope to work in Republican politics in the next several years.
Orr offers what you are supposed to say now:
Rush Limbaugh is the physical embodiment of otherwise irreconcilable gifts: puppies and war eagles, moonbeams and space-based lasers, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and Eddie Murphy pre-Golden Child. He is chocolate cake, bacon, and a stiff shot of rye rolled into one, but not fattening. He is a leader not only of his party and this nation, but of the entire Milky Way, which spins reverently about his lordly axis. He is the alpha and omega, the ne plus ultra, the capo di tutti capi. He is America, minus any of the bad stuff.
Forgive me for ever implying otherwise.
Actually, a lot of the apologies sound like that, and Limbaugh loves it – the whole debate is about him.
Here you will find the Republicans’ official talking point on Rush Limbaugh, from John Boehner, from an article that went up on Politico at 4:46 EST, Wednesday, March 04, 2009:
“It’s a huge distraction created by the White House” to avoid talking about components of the budget, Boehner complained. “You would think the White House would have more important things to do.”
At Daily Kos, the comment:
And about 20 minutes later, Pat Buchanan was on Hardball, sighing over the White House creating this controversy when they should be worried about saving the economy.
And then on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, former Bush mouthpiece Ari Fleischer complained that he was very disappointed in the President for starting a childish fight when the economy is in such terrible shape.
So there you have it.
Never mind the Chairman of the Republican National Committee crawling to beg forgiveness for daring to criticize Limbaugh. Ignore the fact that no Republican has been willing to say that Limbaugh was wrong for not only hoping that President Obama fails, but for claiming that every Republican feels the same way but is too afraid to say so. It’s all the White House’s fault.
They know that will play well, given the polls:
Obama’s favorability rating is at 68% (an all-time high in our survey), 67% say they feel more hopeful about his leadership, 60% approve of his job in the White House, and 49% have a positive view of the Democratic Party (which is also near a high).
On the other hand, just 26% view the GOP positively (an all-time low in the poll), respondents blame Bush and congressional Republicans for most of the partisanship in DC, 56% think the GOP’s opposition to Obama is based on politics, and Republicans lose by nearly 30 percentage points on the question about which party would do a better job of leading the country out of recession.
No, wait – that cannot be. Perhaps they haven’t figured out they lost the election, and for a reason.
Perhaps the key thing is to act as if they had won the election, and as if everyone agrees with them, really. You just keep saying everyone agrees with you, and America is a center-right nation, and that people just hate what Obama is up to. Say it often enough and you make it so. It’s worked before.
Of course that is a tad insane, in the divorced from reality way, but that explains this item from People for the American Way:
In a letter released [Monday], all 41 Senate Republicans threatened to filibuster President Obama’s judicial nominees unless they were given veto power over judges from their states. The letter also demanded that President Obama re-nominate ultra-conservative Bush nominees like Peter Keisler, Glen Conrad and Paul Diamond.
That’s the demand, that Obama give America what it wants – judges who will overturn Roe v Wade, who will rule against consumers and unions and in favor of corporations, and who will bring Jesus back into government. They think they have a winner there.
Kathryn Kolbert, the president of People for the American Way, finds that curious:
“The Senate has an important role in the confirmation process, and in extreme cases when the President has refused to consult with the Senate, the minority has tools to obstruct nominees who are obviously unfit for the bench. Obama looks to be clearing that standard easily,” said Kolbert. “But it was only a few years ago that the GOP was willing to blow up the Senate in order to eliminate the filibuster entirely. They told anyone who would listen that every judicial nominee deserved an up-or-down vote without exception. Apparently, the Senate Republicans have the collective memory of a goldfish.”
No – not exactly. The Senate Republicans believe the rest of us have the collective memory of a goldfish.
The Chairman of the Republican National Committee believes no one remembers what he said the day before, or shouldn’t:
Michael Steele, who previously threatened to cut off RNC funds from Republicans who backed the stimulus – before walking back that threat – has now told right-wing talk radio host Laura Ingraham that the threats are “absolutely on the table” and “I’m not backing down from that.”
Which is it? Does it matter?
But the party is unhappy with Steele and he must do something, then undo it, then redo it. Only Limbaugh is steady in the eye of the storm, and Steele was always pretty much of a token, the odd black Republican.
Jack Turner offers some unsolicited advice on this matter:
Dear GOP, you can’t grab just any woman. You can’t grab just any brown guy. You can’t grab just any black guy. Your house is in all kinds of disarray, and in this time of chaos, when America has clearly voted for the more thoughtful, energetic, positive and analytical president, your party is lining up behind Rush Limbaugh, a loud hack and a drug addict who’s never lead anything, never organized anybody, never been held accountable for the words he’s said much less the actions he’s taken as a representative of anyone other than himself.
Good luck with that. Get at me when you grow up.
But the loud hack and drug addict who’s never lead anything, never organized anybody, never been held accountable for the words he’s said much less the actions he’s taken as a representative of anyone other than himself, has taken over the party, extracted groveling apologies from any current so-called leaders of the party who questioned his awesome wisdom and natural authority, and is demanding the current president debate him, or be shown to be a coward and a sloppy thinker who cannot defend his shallow and dangerous ideas, such as they are. And Limbaugh will claim a great victory if the president chooses not to come on his show and debate him, perhaps saying he’s too busy or some such thing.
Well, that’s how it will be read out here, except here in the few square miles that is Hollywood. People are strange.
It’s painful to watch people who are coming to grips with the fact that they lost, of course – all those stages of grief – shock, anger, denial, bargaining and whatever. They say acceptance comes last.
But sometimes it never comes, and what is painful to watch becomes rather boring. There will be no debate.