An essay collection by William F. Buckley, Jr. rests on my nightstand, a constant reminder of a time when conservative voices were intelligent and thoughtful.
Not so today. Replacing the erudite conservative voices of the past are those of Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and others. They’ve managed to downshift conservative thinking from the intelligent to the emotional, trading logic and reason for anger and bile. Beck constantly invokes Nazi references, and Limbaugh recently suggested that feminist activist Sandra Fluke post sex videos online “so we can all watch.”
These anger-driven and anger-inducing pundits, driven by ratings to ever greater outrageousness, now have an outsized influence that casts the Republican Party as cruel and petulant. Their success in shifting the national mood with their hard-line attitudes emboldens and empowers others such as Grover Norquist.
Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, is best known for his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a few facile sentences which sound something like Frankenstein’s monster grunting, “Taxes—BAD!!!” Norquist wields this pledge like a sword at the throat of every Republican, whether candidate or incumbent. “Sign it,” he seems to be saying, “or else.” By holding our elected officials hostage, Norquist reminds me less of a political activist and more of a schoolyard bully demanding that people play the game by his rules or he’s taking his ball and going home.
The game is the Republican message and who gets to build and control it. Norquist wants an author’s credit, and he’s worked hard to make that happen. But the cracks in his overly rigid narrative are starting to show.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush recently riled up Norquist and the pundits when he told conservative leaders that they shouldn’t “outsource [their] principles and convictions.…” Jeb then compounded his error by suggesting that the GOP’s overly mythologized icon, Ronald Reagan, wouldn’t pass muster with the crafters of today’s unwritten Republican manifesto.
Bush now suffers daily trips to the woodshed for stepping out of line, and writer Dana Milbank recently referred to Jeb’s predicament as, “[t]his week’s featured entree in the Republicans’ auto-da-fe.…” Newt Gingrich disagreed with Bush’s comments. Bill O’Reilly recently asked his guest Charles Krauthammer, “Does Jeb Bush have a point that some Republicans simply will not compromise…?” to which Krauthammer responded, “I don’t think so,” before adding that “rigidity is a virtue.”
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