Republicans rush to RushIn her 1996 hit “Me Without You,” Christian pop-rock singer Rebecca St. James compared her dreary existence to being “like a band without a drummer ... like a foot without a shoe ... like a sleuth without a clue ... like a ship without a rudder.”
By: Bill Press, The Dickinson Press
In her 1996 hit “Me Without You,” Christian pop-rock singer Rebecca St. James compared her dreary existence to being “like a band without a drummer ... like a foot without a shoe ... like a sleuth without a clue ... like a ship without a rudder.”
“Like a ship without a rudder.” St. James was singing about the state of her life without God, but she could have been singing about the state of the Republican Party today. Not since Barry Goldwater crashed and burned in 1964 have Republicans been in such disarray: drifting apart with no agenda, no message and no leader.
Clearly, even though he was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele is not the leader of the Republican Party. As he found out the hard way. After Steele dismissed Rush Limbaugh as an “entertainer” with an “incendiary” and “ugly” style, Limbaugh fired back, reminding him: “Michael Steele, you are head of the Republican National Committee. You are not head of the Republican Party.” And Steele was forced to apologize, insisting he was not trying to diminish Limbaugh’s “voice or his leadership.”
Which just proves that Limbaugh is right. Steele’s not the top-dog Republican. The de facto head of the Republican Party is Limbaugh himself — and there’s no doubt what Limbaugh’s agenda is. He laid it out on Jan. 16, four days before Barack Obama took the oath of office. Asked by a major publication to submit 400 words on his hopes for the Obama presidency, the nation’s No. 1 talker said he needed only four words: “I hope he fails.”
Forget bipartisanship. The Republicans’ goal, preaches Limbaugh, is to frustrate Obama at every turn and oppose everything he stands for. That’s the agenda already adopted by House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and now, apparently, Michael Steele. All three are taking their marching orders right from the radio.
The fact that Republicans have hitched their wagon to Rush Limbaugh’s star makes Democrats deliriously happy, and rightfully so. The latest Gallup poll (February) shows Limbaugh with a “favorable” rating of only 28 percent: lower than George W. Bush’s final approval rating. That’s only slighter better than an October Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey in which Limbaugh scored a 21 percent approval rating, lower than that of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former weatherman Bill Ayers. For Democrats, the more Republicans swear allegiance, the better.
But anointing El Rushbo as their leader also makes thoughtful Republicans nervous, and rightfully so. They recognize, for starters, that with this country in such dire economic straits, the phrase “I hope he fails” is not what most Americans, Democrat or Republican, want to hear. This is one time when blind party loyalty has zero appeal, because people realize that if Obama fails, the economy fails, and the country fails.
The other reason some Republicans are nervous is because hosting a radio show is not the same as leading a political party. They’re two totally different jobs. Take it from me: I have my own show. A radio talk show host is accountable to no one. Our mission is not to support any political party. We have only two goals: To make noise and to make money. In order to stir things up and keep our shows lively, we can say or do all kinds of things on the radio that we wouldn’t dare attempt if we had any real responsibility.
In Rush’s case, there’s no doubt that his now oft-repeated wish for Obama to fail is vastly popular with the Republican Party’s conservative base. But that’s not the message the party should be putting out there if it really wants to reach beyond its base and return from the political wilderness. As former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote on his Web site, NewMajority.com: “If you’re a talk radio host and you have 5 million people who listen and there are 50 million people who hate you, you can make a nice living. If you’re a Republican Party, you’re marginalized.”
As entertaining as it is, the entire, embarrassing Limbaugh/Steele slap-down reflects a serious identity crisis for Republicans. And it forces every Republican to answer two simple questions. Do they agree with Rush Limbaugh, yes or no? Do they want President Obama to fail, yes or no?
By answering “yes,” Republicans will choose to follow a radio talk show host — right over the cliff.
— Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show and author of a new book, “Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon).”