Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Room For One More?

"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?" - Abraham Lincoln

A little while ago, Colin Powell criticized Rush Limbaugh for "a kind of nastiness we would be better to do without." Limbaugh responded by calling Powell "just another liberal," and suggested that he do what Arlen Specter did, leave the GOP, and join the Democratic Party.

To which I say...we'll take him!

Let's look at the facts. Powell is pro-choice. He favors moderate gun control, but is not a Second Amendment wingnut. Most importantly, he has apparently opposed the Iraq War from the start and made repeated attempts to dissuade the Bush Administration from invading. In fact, until his stint as W's Secretary of State, he was best known to scholars of International Relations for his authorship of the Powell Doctrine, which states that the United States should under no circumstances initiate a foreign conflict unless a) clear and vital US interests are at stake, b) risk to US troops is minimal, and c) public opinion was firmly in favor of the foreign intervention. Partial application of this doctrine (under Powell's supervision, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) led to a First Gulf War that was short, decisive and concluded with very few American casualties (and certainly few civilian casualties compared to the Second Gulf War). This doctrine was hand-tailored to guarantee that the United States would never, under any circumstances, enter into another conflict that could be gainfully compared to Vietnam, in which Powell served. Cue violins.

(A brief digression: anyone who hasn't should watch this clip of Cheney explaining in 1994 why the US was right to avoid an invasion of Iraq after we'd swept up in Kuwait. He uses the word Quagmire. It is tragically priceless.)

The point I suppose I'm making is that I thought Rush Limbaugh was a better strategist than this. I thought he understood that we live in a republic, with a representative government, where the ferocity and zeal of your followers count for nothing unless you have more followers than the other guy. I thought he understood that the extreme poles of the political spectrum cannot hold a majority by definition, or they wouldn't be the extreme poles - that every modern election is essentially decided by moderates who need to be told, there's a place for you here.

Most of all, I thought he understood what started this country down the road to where it is now - the election of 1980, in which moderate (anti-torture, pro-compromise tax-and-spender) Republican Ronald Reagan took power with the help of his Big Tent concept: the notion that Reagan's Republican Party would take your moderates, your wishy-washers, the ones put off by the loopy fringe of the "loony left." Moderates are who he recruited to serve as the foot soldiers of his revolution. That's why he was able to win so handily in 1984. That's why he was able to create an America that would take twelve years to elect another Democrat, only to realize it had made a mistake and elect a Republican Congress to go after him. That's why he was able to create an America where "liberal" was an obscenity for almost thirty years, an America in which conservatives were powerful enough to drag the entire country to the right.

Well, guess what. Republicans think they're the party of Reagan, but the Democrats have his playbook. The Republicans have created a rallying image of Reagan - the folksy, fundamentalist Anti-Communist crusader - and forgotten the reality: the canny, intelligent, well-advised moderate who knew how to speak to the right and play to the middle, who believed in compromise when it would broaden his appeal and who had mastered the rhetoric of optimism. He told the majority that things were good, they could be great, and this was still the shining city on the hill, and the majority believed him.

Obama's speaking to the majority now; he's acting smart, taking good advice, and mastering the rhetoric of optimism. He'll take your moderates and anyone else he thinks he can work with, and worry later about dragging them to the left. Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans can burn all the bridges they want, throw out all the so-called "liberals" they want, and create the purest conservative movement the country has ever seen. The fringe is the fringe for a reason, and it might be our turn to make "conservative" a bad word for a while.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to whether you have any further comments on this topic in light of the hullabaloo being made (primarily by conservatives, I believe) over Wanda Sykes' jokes about Rush Limbaugh at the recent White House Correspondent's Association Dinner.

Free Radical said...

I dunno. Wanda Sykes kind of did what Wanda Sykes does, which I'm not sure anyone can get too upset about. I can also confess a certain desire to see Rush Limbaugh suffer from multiple system failure, and a certain joy at anyone who insults him. More seriously, I'm a guy whose decency line is many miles past ordinary peoples', and so unbothered by most types of insults categorically.

I think, though, that Wanda Sykes' sentiments are much less offensive to the majority than they would be if Rush were doing his job. Anybody who was successfully cultivating the kind of following Rush needs to maintain should be able to draw a lot more heat in his defense than Limbaugh has.