Monday, March 09, 2009


This morning I finally got around to reading David Frum's denunciation of Limbaugh and Limbaughism in Newsweek. Frum writes:

Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise -- and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

I have a number of serious problems with that analogy, but I'll accept that in one sense it's true: swing voters didn't approve of Jackson then or Limbaugh now.

But it was always relatively easy for Democrats to keep Jackson at arm's length. Sure, Democratic politicians treated him with a bit of deference at key moments, and he seemed to get a lot of respect at the conventions of 1984 and especially 1988, but even after he joined Dukakis and Bentsen onstage in '88 in an arm-raising tableau, he was essentially ignored by the party (and that wasn't why Dukakis lost).

The reason? The press didn't like Jackson very much, except as a scary cartoon useful for scaring suburban whites, and didn't like what he stood for -- either his race-consciousness or his progressiveness. In '92, when Bill Clinton had his Sister Souljah moment -- in a speech to Jackson's Rainbow Coalition -- he was doing just what the press wanted: going DLC and refusing to "kowtow" to "Democratic special interests."

By contrast, while the press in recent years has essentially ignored Limbaugh, it has enthusiastically embraced mainstream Republicans who toe the Limbaugh line. Even as recently as last month, Republican politicians preaching what was essentially Limbaughism were practically the only people on TV discussing the stimulus bill.

Yes, the press has lavished praise on Republicans -- McCain, Powell, Schwarzenegger -- who've talked centrism. But the press has never wagged fingers and urged the GOP to run a Colin Powell-Christie Whitman ticket or risk a slide into irrelevance. (Even now, the liberal media's idea of a "sensible" alternative to Limbaugh seems to be Newt Gingrich.) And when Republican non-ideologues have gotten into ideological battles with Republican ideologues (McCain vs. Bush and the fundies in 2000, Paul O'Neill or Colin Powell vs. Bush), the press hasn't decried the ideological side as extreme -- and, in fact, the press has gone on to embrace the ideologue winner.

Yes, David Frum and David Brooks and a few others are calling for the Republican Party's own version of a DLC. But that idea has never been part of Beltway pundit groupthink, because Beltway elite pundits like Limbaugh thinking in a way they never liked Jesse Jackson thinking. That's a big reason why most Republicans won't shun Limbaughism anytime soon.

No comments: