A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The petulance. . .

. . .that overcomes so many conservative observers of the Republican primaries is a telling phenomenon on many levels. And, eventually, it will prove to be the undoing of the petulant. Debra Saunders noted it in her recent column, "Old Warrior, Go Home", though I think she misdiagnosed the malady afflicting the observers.
"I have to think that what really sticks in the Limbaugh/Ingraham/Hewitt collective craw is the fact that McCain has been a darling of the media. And some Democrats and independents say they could vote for him."

Actually, what Limbaugh, et al find so objectionable about the prospect of a McCain nomination is the threat of declining influence on the Republican party and conservatism as a whole. After all, the three of them, among countless others, have made a show of deriding the Arizona senator ever since the 2000 elections, when he mounted a credible, though ultimately unsuccessful challenge to George W. Bush for the nomination. You have to wonder how much of the stepped-up slandering is a reflection of their recognizance that, should he become the nominee, it will be in spite of their efforts, rather than because of them. And, as such, he would feel no need to curry their favor while in office.

Of course, if one were to point out this possibility to any one of them, they would dismiss it out-of-hand. "Balderdash!" they would say, "I oppose John McCain because he is a liberal who has kicked dirt in the face of conservatives time and time again! It is an honest, heartfelt statement of principle, and I will never back away from that!" But that misses the point. There's little doubt that those who oppose McCain do so because of legitimate disagreements with the positions he's taken on various issues that conservatives find discomforting, to say the least.

In fact, it's not their opposition in and of itself that causes me to question their motives. It's the vehemence with which they've expressed it. Rush Limbaugh recently made the sweeping claim that, if John McCain is the nominee, "it will DEE-STROY the Republican Party!" Really, Rush? Will the entire party go into a complete meltdown simply because the majority of Republican primary participants chose to vote for someone who hasn't toed the party line to your satisfaction? Will the Republican National Convention dissolve into blue-blazer-and-khaki-clad melee reminiscent of the Democratic convention of 1968? Will the teargas flow and the holding cells of Minneapolis-St. Paul burst with overcrowding?

If the GOP is to heal the fissures among its base, it's going to require that those who command the attention of many of its members dial down the rage and stop issuing self-fulfilling prophecies that lay the groundwork for cataclysm. They must face the fact that, while they do influence many conservative voters, they do not influence all of them. Every time they make these sort of dire pronouncements on the state of conservatism, it has two separate and dangerously contentious effects on the party faithful. Those who put a great deal of stock in the opinions of talk radio luminaries like Hewitt, Ingraham, and Limbaugh and look to them for guidance grow angrier with every McCain (or Huckabee) victory and blame the "party establishment" (as absurd as that may sound) and media for supposedly "ramming them down our throats!" Those who support one of these two obviously anti-establishment candidates come away with the sense that they're being effectively written out of the conservative movement and are unwelcome within the party.

The ultimate result of all of this hair-raising rhetoric is to heighten discord among the Republican faithful toward one another, rather than those who truly do pose a threat to the things that all conservatives hold dear -- the Democrats. This leads to talk of third-party threats by McCain among those who so viscerally despise him, carrying the implication that he is not just a senator with an, at times, maddening independent streak, but an outright liberal Democrat using the Republican party nomination process as a means of subverting conservatism itself. In turn, accusations such as these serve to further alienate those who do support him, while confirming the sense of unwelcome they sense within the party they've called home throughout their political lives, as though the talk radio establishment is essentially asking them to leave without trying to seem rude or cause a scene.

It's hard for a conservative who supports McCain to come away from a talk radio broadcast like Limbaugh's without feeling personally insulted. There is very little incentive for paying heed to the pronouncements of a man who considers you to be nothing more than a bowl of ideological Jell-O. And, when that view takes hold among the talk radio audience, and gets repeated often enough, it has the effect of more deeply entrenching both sides. One side becomes more convinced of its own ideological rectitude, the other of its status as party pariah. The ultimate result of this is to have the "true believers" planting their flag atop a pile of ashes, while their counterparts stand outside the caution tape, looking on in bewilderment as to how it all constitutes a victory.

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