Rush Limbaugh

I think it is very interesting that the President has decided to make Rush Limbaugh the face of the republican party. Obama got it started when he said that the Republicans could not just listen to Limbaugh and expect to get things done. Emanuel comes out today on Meet the Press and says,
He's asked for President Obama and called for President Obama to fail. That's his view. And that's what he has enunciated. And whenever a Republican criticize him, they have to run back and apologize to him, and say they were misunderstood.

This is a deliberate strategy. I remember back in 94 when everyone seemed to think that the Republicans were the greatest force on earth. Rush was held up as part of a movement of very very angry white men. Falling Down was discussed as an important movie. A movie where a bespectacled flat topped middle manager in his too short tie finally snapping deciding that because he couldn't get what he wanted at the fast food joint, well he just needed to shoot some shit. Or something like that.

Then, this was all seen as part of the zeitgeist, we were rushing with a wave. Now? Well the world is a little different. Not as liberal as I'd like. Not as pulled back from the time when the nightly news talked about a rising men's rights movement as if it were something that included all men rather than really a bunch of middle class white men who just didn't feel that they had enough power in this world. Not as far from the necessity of pleasing the bankers, traders, and other masters of universe who "create the wealth of the world". But this isn't an era when the Democratic Speaker of the House loses his race because people are afraid that their guns are going to get taken away.

But Rush Limbaugh is nothing if not consistent.

The most curious part of his speech is when he says that "a couple of prominent conservative but Beltway establishment media types . . . [have begun] to write on the concept that the era of Reagan is over" and the crowd booed.

You can take that statement to mean a couple different things. The best way, in my mind, is that the political coalition that Reagan built does not exist anymore. Union workers tired of people telling them how the live are not a large enough cohort to decide elections. The movement of white southerners into the Republican column has been completed and the movement of white northerners in the Democratic column has begun. The rise of Hispanics as an election deciding cohort is rising. Just as the there is no reason to believe that FDR's coalition could exist for 30 years, Union members, southerners and urban workers, there is no reason to think that a coalition that Reagan built in 1984 would continue to be relevant in 2008.

Or you could take it mean that the timeless wisdom of cartoon Reagan will never die. Which is what Limbaugh and the crowd decided. That is what I find fascinating. Generally a political movement is built on two things. Solutions to temporal problems and a large enough group of people who think that those solutions fit their view of the problems. Reagan beat Carter because the democratic party was split and because Reagan promised that the world would be better if government got off of everyone's backs. What that meant to people, I think is this, taxes where indexed to inflation and so had risen by a bit during the seventies in nominal terms even though their real burden probably hadn't. The economy sucked because Paul Volcker killed it. There is a very good argument to be made that he needed to in order to kill inflation but that doesn't help the average person who lost their job.

Second the social order was changing. Black people were not being kept from sight and mind. Median wages hadn't increased since 1973; all of a sudden there were all of these women in the work place who you couldn't hit on; and horror of horrors some of them made more money. Wives came home and said that maybe they shouldn't do all the work around the house after coming home from work, and even worse some of them said that maybe they should go their separate ways. Who had infected the world and made this topsy turvy mileu? Liberals, damn liberals. They kept saying this and that. Them and the damn lawyers always suing good people.

Then, the economy improved, somewhat. Tax cuts worked. (This irrespective of the fact that Volcker lowered the interest rates and that that had a much more profound influence on the economy.) The temporal problem was solved. Women and Black people kept being visible but it didn't hurt as much.

But really, this was only a portion of the electorate who felt this way and feels that way. Most people just try and muddle through. They don't hold very strong political views, and will vote for whoever they feel will make things better. I don't believe that we can say that the totality of Reagan's victory or the republican's victory in 94 can be generated from this view. But we can about the base.

The people who man the phone banks and show up every election including the primaries. These people believe. Tax cuts solves all. Smaller government, which can't have a root other than "God damn civil rights act" is the key. (It may for particular individuals, idea's can become unmoored from their root, but the genesis, if we are to believe conservatives themselves, who root their movement in Barry Goldwater's 1964 election, was anti civil rights. Of course it could also be said that the true root of small government is 19th century robber barons, but I'm not sure that has as much salience to the electoral cohort that elected Reagan and the modern Republicans.) But that is madness for a political party to act this way. A group, if it wants, can languish, writing in obscure journals hoping that someday the world will return to them but they guarantee then that their views will have only a mild chance to gain actual influence. Hell, look at the libertarians.

This is now not the time when the body politic views tax cuts as the solution to a problem. People are not so stupid as to not remember the last round of tax cuts. That sure didn't seem to help. There has actually never been a large cohort for genuinely smaller government. People might say that they agree with the phrase "smaller government is good" but they don't mean it. If there has never been a large voting cohort for getting rid of the army, getting rid of medicare, getting rid of medicaid and social security, then there has never been a large voting cohort in support of smaller government. There was a cohort for that message at a particular time but no actual cohort for that reality.

So for the folks at CPAC and Limbaugh to believe that the solution to today's problems are the same as the solutions to yesterdays problems, I say have fun. And please Limbaugh embrace your role as leader of the Republican Party. It'll be a good day for the Democrats.

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