Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Personal Aside: McCains Biggest Problem and the GOPs Lies With One Man. He Can Determine Whether the Base is United for Next November.
John McCains smashing victory in Florida certifies that he is the front-runnerbut his biggest opposition one which can lose him the presidency is Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh is an institution in this country and holds a definite hold over conservatives. Unlike some, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Rush. He has contributed enormously to the upbuilding of a conservative consensus in this country. He is far more than a phrasemaker but a thoughtful, wittyeven erudite at timesanalyst of the conservative mood. As one who got into the talk radio business late in life, I have a fascination and deep admiration for the man who has transformed talk radio into an invaluable educational device for conservatism. There is a snide, smirking view among the intelligentsia in this country that anyone who purveys conservative ideas on talk radio is wafer-thin shallow. Such is not the case. Rush Limbaugh is not only resourceful but he has been at times stunningly ahead of other so-called pundits. And he has produced a legion of talented associates who are very effective on their ownSean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin: anyone but Michael Savage.
But all the same, Rush Limbaugh as good as he is, has a distinct liability which carries over, I think, to some of his listeners who tend to echo his refrains, sometimes quite mindlessly. Limbaugh like many communicators has not had any first-hand experience with politics on his own. Which means that he hasnt faced the necessity to lobby for legislation, to do what it takes to build coalitions. He is solely a microphone practitioner (assuredly an extraordinary one). But there is a difference between people who have been in the political game and those who comment on it. People who have been in the political game, either as a candidate or even a failed candidate, a campaign manager or lobbyist or fund-raiser are not as brittle as commentators. Commentators tend to view politics through only one lens: issues. Politics are more than issuesfar more.
To a commentator like Limbaugh who has assailed McCain repeatedly, he could be disastrous for the Republican party because of his more recent recordsupporter of immigration reform, global warming, McCain-Feingold, a key formulator of the Gang of 14. They have such a high regard for issues that they cannot imagine how one can turn his back on past issue stands and formulate an entirely new platform based on the necessities of the present. To them this is lack of character. But as I have tried to point out many timesto no avail with some readerspolitics is more than a fistful of issue cards. It is not a science but an art. Aside from Calvin Coolidge no presidential candidate or president has approached his task with a boilerplate of issues not subject to instant revision. I know whereof Im speaking, as an architect of getting legislative programs passed in the Minnesota legislature, as a corporate lobbyist, as an assistant Commerce secretary charged with winning support for my program, as number three in the Peace Corps charged with galvanizing conservative support for my agency.
To rule out John McCain because of his past flirtation with liberalism is not to understand the dynamics of public policy. It is nigh unto impossible for radio talk show hosts who are interested in building listener numbers to dwell on the grey areas. The name of the game is to project black and white attitudes: chiaroscuro. I am still for Romney but I can tell you that with McCain you will not have any of the old liberal nonsense that was born of frustration when he sought to even up the score with the George W. Bush who defeated and humiliated him in 2000. All this McCain liberal stuff was generated from that attitude of misgiving. Times have changed and you will now have a McCain who has reverted back to his old stance of Reagan Republicanism, the Republicanism he signed up for when he first ran for office.
Trust me. I am only worried about one thing. Rush Limbaugh will not understand it because he has never had to get a bill or piece of legislation passed but simply has to sound good over the microphone. As one who has tried to do bothserve as a legislative strategist, lobbyist, publicitor and radio talk show hostI can tell you that they are vastly different disciplines. And Rush can determine whether the Republicans win or lose by the way he handles McCain in the future. Sometimes it does no good to ask a radio talk show host on the right if he would rather have a President Barack Obama or President Hillary Clinton than a President John McCain. Maybe in a commercial sense the answer is yesrailing against a liberal president can build great numbers. But I am confident Rush is more sensible than that and more responsible.
He should set himself to the task of understanding how complicated the presidency is understand that McCain may well be the nominee and ask himself if he feels the nation can afford the luxury of him beating up on McCain from the standpoint of McCains past stancesstances which now are on the way to being obsolete.