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BOOTLEG REPUBLICANISM

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Headlined to H4 6/23/09

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Party Boss Rush Limbaugh's
GOP Slouches Toward Irrelevancy
 

Rush Limbaugh
 
 
"The best way to convince a fool that he is wrong is to let him have his way." -- Josh Billings
 
The potential long-term political implications of fustian talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's current stranglehold on the Republican Party and by proxy, the conservative movement, should perhaps be viewed by thoughtful progressives as a tragic-comedy in that it is both sad and amusing.  Progressives for the most part, understand that the megalomaniacal Limbaugh's obvious compulsion to be acknowledged of his significance, and his chronic need to feel relevant both politically and socially -- traits that are obviously rooted in his past experiences -- are currently fed by and derived from his comparatively vast listening audience of millions of "ditto heads."

The area where some progressives perhaps find their cheekiest gratification lay in the knowledge that the underlying reason both rank and file and leadership Republicans fear Limbaugh is because they themselves are fully aware that nearly all those ditto heads are in lockstep behind an irrational, insecure powder keg.  Indeed, the image of hip-hop lingo slinging Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele begging forgiveness for "dissing" -- by describing as an "entertainer" -- the GOP’s Big Boss Man and his millions-deep following of ditto heads, provides a splendid example of what many progressives find smirkingly amusing about the level of post-rational behavior within the base of the GOP.  Behavior which has at this point, elevated a talk-show host to a status of influence within the GOP above that of the party's own National Chairman.  

Who knows?  Maybe the shock and awe of George W. Bush's decimation of their party has driven many Republicans to conclude that compared to G-Dub, Limbaugh actually represents a step up for their party in the leadership department.

It is something worth pondering.  Right now, other than Limbaugh, who could more easily convince the base that it is objectionable for much of the world to now view the U.S. with respect rather than hold it in contempt, or, more successfully argue that a forceful repudiation of torture by the current Administration somehow makes this country more vulnerable to acts of terrorism?  

In any event, Steele, who (like Limbaugh) has always struck me as somewhat of a buffoon, has usually managed to stop just short of ignorant.  As such, the party's incongruous  new chairman certainly understands the significance of this month's Gallup poll showing that not only do just 50 percent of  Republican voters have any idea whatsoever as to who leads his party, but that among those who went ahead and ventured a wild guess, Limbaugh was tied with Newt Gingrich for the top spot.  Rush Limbaugh?  For old-school Republicans, this may qualify as one of their party's "Reagan is rolling in his grave" moments.

Nevertheless, recent events clearly indicate, as syndicated columnist Peggy Noonan forthrightly pointed out in the Wall Street Journal recently, that it is Limbaugh's, not Steele's words on which the Republican base cling these days.  "Mr. Steele was forced to grovel in apology because Rush is more powerful than he is." asserted Noonan.  "When Michael Steele gets up in the morning ... people don't want to hear his opinion."

Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is, Steele's characterization of Rush was essentially spot on.  Although technically, Rush would be defined as a pundit, his presentation is far too tabloid to construe him as anything more than an entertainer. In fact, that tag has always been Rush and his followers' cover in situations where his comments have been particularly outlandish or incendiary. The fact of the matter is, the word "pundit" is a terrible mis-calculation -- made many years ago by the GOP -- of what Limbaugh, in essence, truly is.

Perhaps Republicans need to be reminded that those umbrellaed under the category of “entertainer” include, among others, circus clowns.  This brings us to one of the many takeaways here, which is:  If you are part of a political party that, in essence, takes its cues from individuals whose primary responsibility is to enrich themselves by generating high ratings and boosting advertising revenue, you are clearly not part of a viable political party. This is what I find saddening; the far-reaching political ramifications of the descent of a hapless GOP into benighted irrelevancy, pulled there by the weight of, among all things, a churlish and rapacious, radio personality.

Limbaugh-Republicanism

From the perspective of a progressive who relishes authentic deliberation on the pros and cons of new ideas and/or opposing political points of view, and who loathes the legitimate apathy that (at least prior to 2008) has engulfed local and national politics, the scope of the GOP's stunning decline into self-inflicted political irrelevancy -- hastened by its tighter embrace of Limbaugh-Republicanism resulting in a further exodus (or, in some cases, a purging) of its moderate conservative base -- is a truly sad turn of events. 

It is also certainly something that should have been easily foreseen.  The effect that the Party's harebrained choice of Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain's running mate had in sparking a defection of untold millions of Republican moderates into the Obama camp came relatively late in the game.  What's puzzling is how the GOP failed to recognize and appropriately adjust to the stagnant fallaciousness of the Limbaugh-Republicanist political calculus when, prior to its colossal Palin error, Rush, for all his supposed influence on the body politic, had failed in his campaign to prevent McCain from capturing the nomination in the first place. But, here we are.  It is, as the saying goes, so ironic that it's un-ironic; yet so un-ironic, it is!

In other words, once again, the GOP proves that it rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  Politically speaking, it seems clear that during a time in which the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole is experiencing its first black president and the unique perspective that he brings, there is also an unprecedented opportunity for a truly viable Republican Party that authentically promotes genuine core conservative fiscal and social values to re-emerge.  

It's an opportunity that could help achieve an outcome -- resulting from a bona fide philosophical debate with the Obama Administration -- that could potentially embody aspects of both progressive liberal and enlightened conservative philosophies in finding solutions to our current, multi-layered national crisis. In addition to possibly sparking a social and economic revival, such an achievement could also become the point at which the restoration of the credibility of this country's political process begins.

Indeed what could be any more ideal -- politically speaking-- than having at least two vibrant and viable political parties from which solutions to the challenges facing America can be intellectually fleshed out by means of legitimate analysis of each party's philosophical approach, followed by spirited, honest debate by all sides eventually leading to a workable consensus?  There's no telling where such an exercise would lead, but as far as the process goes, from its zealous followers to full-blown wonks, it would amount to political utopia. 

Yet, this potential for a sustained political rush (no pun intended) and some real solutions to the nation's ills is now seriously undermined due to the mindless pandering in which Republicans have indulged their party's grandiloquent de facto leader, Rush Limbaugh.  If the presumption is that it's unthinkable that the Grand Old Party would be willing to commit political suicide rather than risk offending a few million politically and socially out-of-step ditto heads, think again.  It's happening right now.  

Misguided Populism

Examples abound of a politically and socially off-kilter contemporary Republican Party intent on communicating its ideals in a manner that appeal only to its base.  This intense focus by the GOP to manage and maintain a dwindling (for them) voter demographic, seems to have resulted in an approach to politics that in no way represents what mainstream conservative Republicans recognize  as their party's traditional core values. Even those outside the party may not find it difficult to conclude that what we have today is a sort of vapid, out-of-step, often ugly and somewhat bootleg form of Republicanism.

Setting the standard of course, is Limbaugh, whose pronouncements on all things Republican serve as a sort of rhetorical template for what eventually become generalized Republican talking points.  The problem is, most often, they simply don't make much political sense.  

For example, Limbaugh, whose Operation Chaos campaign during the Democratic primary was -- from the perspective of one who believes that gender issues ingrain the Right's longstanding philosophical issues with Hillary Clinton -- a gender-divisive campaign targeting  Mrs. Clinton.  Today, Republicans, perhaps most notably, Newt Gingrich, are channeling Limbaugh's latest attempt to bring down yet another (potentially) powerful female, Sonia Sotomayor, this time via fairly easily refutable charges  of incompetence and racism.  Thus, in one fell swoop, Limbaugh-Republicanism manages to alienate both women and Latin-Americans.  Newt eventually saw the handwriting. Within days he recanted the racism charge.

Earlier this year, there was a similar mis-step surrounding the Wall Street stimulus package.  Many Republicans were fairly tripping over themselves to join Limbaugh in criticizing the Obama Administration over the president's opposition to attempts by CEOs of some corporate receivers of stimulus funding --  your and my tax dollars --  to use some of that money to award themselves millions in bonuses.  Thus, in the midst of a deep middle-class recession the GOP finds itself essentially advocating CEO bailouts.  How populist is that?  

As if alienating the voter mainstream through misguided populism isn't enough, the GOP has generated even further estrangement from the mainstream as a result of its refusal to flatly repudiate Limbaugh's rhetorical excesses.  Asked to submit a 400-word statement describing what his hope is for the Obama administration, Rush's response included the following: "I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails."

It's perhaps fair to presume that the patriotic Americans whom the Republicans claim to represent could argue that Rush, in essence, is rooting against America. What's missing? Only a familiar chant:  Death to America!  From this perspective, it is also an indication that in rooting for Obama's failure, Rush and his Republican followers endorse the notion that it is preferable for America to fail than to acknowledge and move on from the failure of the previous eight years of Limbaugh-Republicanism.  In any event, the absence of widespread Republican repudiation of Rush for essentially trying to popularize the the idea that America should fail in it's recovery efforts is quite revealing.

Of course it is possible that for many die-hard Republicans, the price to be paid for refuting Limbaugh-Republicanism is far too high. Enlightened conservatives such as Colin Powell, have found themselves essentially written out of the Party by the likes of Limbaugh-Republicanists such as former vice-President Dick Cheney, or as in the case of moderates like Olympia Snowe and Charlie Crist, have been marginalized.

As Snowe, noted in Salon this April: "You certainly haven't heard warm encouraging words about how (Limbaugh-Republicans) view moderates. Ultimately, we're heading to having the smallest political tent in history."

Even the repulsive Arlen Specter --  whom one might assume has amassed sufficient party cred given his role in securing the Supreme Court seat for the even more repulsive Clarence Thomas -- has fallen off with the GOP's Limbaugh-Republicans.  After having garnered little support for re-election from fellow Republicans who favored Club for Growth conservative Pat Toomey, Specter switched to the Democratic Party in April, a defection that further weakens the GOP since it  gives the Democrats in congress a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority.

But it goes even further.  Moderate party members like Snowe acknowledge that convincing the voting public that the Republican brand remains viable after eight harrowing years of the Bush Administration is an ever-increasing hard sell. Yet rather than attempt to re-brand itself into something it once was; a big tent Party, not of circus clowns, but of Abe Lincoln, the RNC -- still led of course, by the now appropriately humbled Steele -- took into consideration a resolution to re-brand the Democratic Party into something it is not; Socialist.  To its credit, the RNC eventually voted down their resolution to begin formerly calling the Democratic Party the Democrat Socialist Party, but still managed to chump itself by going on to pass a resolution condemning the Democrats for leading the country into "socialism."

Cult-like Rhetoric

But, other than engage in childish political tantrums, the question that must be raised is where, from these Limbaugh-Republicans, are the traditional Republican ideas for resolving problems in the housing, health care, or financial market sectors? In fact, where are the ideas, period? Substance has been substituted with either a steady mantra of "NO!" from the GOP to literally every Obama Administration proposal designed to address such issues, or, has been submitted in the form of comically absurd proposals such as the four-pages long "solution" to the nation's health care crisis (containing no numbers) announced by House Republicans in mid-June this year.  

That move followed an earlier GOP fiasco involving an alternative federal budget plan hastily assembled by Republicans amidst charges that the GOP had become the "Party of No" and as a response to challenges from critics to either put up or shut up.  The result?  A plan so anemic not just in numbers but overall substance, that the 19-page document, presented in March, was likened to a "glossy pamphlet" which, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs pointed out, "took me several minutes to read."  

The GOP's enormously insipid responses and actions on these and other issues appear to extend beyond what might be considered "normal" political dis-ingenuousness.  They seem to reveal an almost feckless insouciance about issues ordinary Americans consider acutely important.

Dan Gurley, who was the Party's national field director until 2006, laments what he sees as the Party base's willingness to allow the GOP to devolve from a national to a "regional" political entity.

"It seems like the base of the Republican Party is doing everything it can to drive everyone away from the party who is not in 100 percent agreement with them" Gurley asserts in an article recently published in Salon.

"It's not a party," concludes Bob Herbert in a New York Times column he wrote last month titled Out of Touch.  "It's a cult." According to Herbert, as a party, the GOP "doesn't seem to care about anything other than devotion to a set of so-called principles that never amounted to more than cult-like rhetoric."

On the subject of cults, a parallel could be arguably drawn between the GOP's seemingly fratricidal behavior of today and that of the People's Temple back in 1978.  That religious cult was led, of course, by Rev. Jim Jones, whose image of himself as a leader/savior seemed rooted, as appears the case with Limbaugh, in an axiological sense of paranoia and insecurity.  

Not surprisingly, Jones, who perished along with hundreds of his followers in a mass suicide in 1978, shares other similarities with Limbaugh. Both shamelessly covet unthinking devotion; were/are extraordinarily ego-centric; and known to be heavy narcotics users. The People's Temple began as a small church of altruists who, after having become slavishly swept up into what became a cult of personality involving Jones, reached its zenith as an independent colony in Guyana, named of course, "Jonestown" after its leader. Today, all that's left of Jonestown is a legacy of the cadaverous consequences blind idolatry can bring.  

"Half-Brained" Republicanism

Could Rush Limbaugh be the Rev. Jim Jones of the Republican Party?  That's arguably far-fetched.  But certainly, a continued hearty embrace of Limbaugh-Republicanism by GOP politicians can't possibly bode well for the party's long-term survival.  Undoubtedly, to hard-core ditto heads, be they GOP leaders or the party's Rush Republican voter base, Limbaugh's current media omnipresence debunks this notion.  For them, the current back and forth between their leader and the Obama Administration provides further proof of the self-sustaining relevancy of Limbaugh and his ideas.  

Perhaps they overlook the possibility that at this particular juncture in history, it's Limbaugh's sheer irrelevancy -- indicated by the absence of actual data showing mainstream support for the "principles" which constitute Limbaugh-Republicanism -- that generates for someone of Rush's stature as a politically-involved entertainer, one last fleeting moment of relevancy as the living contrast to a changed political landscape.  

Whether that analysis is correct or not, based on present trends, it is clear: unless the Republican Party weans itself from its attachment to Limbaugh-Republicanism very soon, by the end of President Obama's first term, there will be no Republican Party as it was known during, for example, the Reagan era. Just a Lyndon LaRouche-type outfit consisting of Limbaugh, Gingrich, Cheney, Palin and a bizarre collection of a few million socially-regressed ditto heads.

Certainly Ronald Reagan, the GOP's sainted "Great Communicator" no longer speaks from the Oval Office or from anywhere for that matter.  The "Gipper's" apparent linear replacement now speaks from a broadcast studio awash in the ostentatious glow of a gold microphone -- his own personal Guyana.  From there the suddenly stale Kool-Aid of half-brained, bootleg Republicanism is ladled out to what's left of the party's base by a talk show host who has no qualms about letting his ditto head followers know that when he communicates with them he does so with "half my brain tied behind my back."

 

Anthony Barnes, of Boston, Massachusetts, is a free-lance writer who leans toward the progressive end of the political spectrum. "When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to (more...)
 
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Writing about Republicanism, if there is such a th... by Mad Jayhawk on Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009 at 8:32:00 PM
Thanks for the comment and I get it.  However... by Anthony Barnes on Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 at 11:04:45 AM