Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 5, 2009

Limbaugh Spinach

… on our Teeth


From a distance, it looks like David Frum’s “New Conservative Majority” is distinguished primarily by its dislike of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

Perhaps it looks different up close.  This passage comes across as pretty pointed, however:

With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party.

Don’t nothin’ make this guy happy.  Sarah Palin, with her linear and circumspect marital history, her philoprogenitive blue-collar family, her, well, opposite of personal bulk, her penchant for working out, her Everywoman charm – Frum didn’t like her either.

Now, I can’t say that there is a long line-up of Democrats coming across as more attractive, in terms of embodying the personal-as-political characteristics so prized by The New Yorker.  It’s not like we have that to worry about.  Joe Biden?  Nancy Pelosi?  Harry Reid?  John Kerry?  Ted Kennedy?  (Try mentally rewriting Frum’s sentence on Rush, above, for Kennedy.)  And of course, Rush is a pundit, not a politician.  Keith Olbermann is less embarrassing than Rush Limbaugh, in terms of how he comes across to the political opposition?  James Carville?  Bill Maher?  Michael Moore?  Al Franken?

Frum laments:  “Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.”  So much concern for image and images.  Yet on the matter of substance – what we say, what we believe in, what we plan to do, what we think is right – Frum’s whole argument, if there is one in this post, is obliquely encapsulated in the adjective “rancorous,” used to describe what Rush Limbaugh’s audience was applauding.  Nowhere is there evident on his website a more substantive treatment of Rush’s speech at the CPAC conference.  What was rancorous about it?  Did it deviate from what conservatives should be saying?  Was it bad philosophy?  Bad politics?  Bad advice?

(I confess, didn’t actually think it was a very good speech, in terms of tightness of presentation or oratorical professionalism.  It was rambling and a bit self-indulgent, frankly – and I say that as one who agrees with Rush Limbaugh on issues nine times out of ten, and enjoys his radio program whenever I get to listen to it.  But I found the substance of the speech sound.  It was a folksy communication to a group of like-minded activists, after all – not a policy speech by an elected political leader.  And, clearly, the right tone for CPAC this year was that of an infectious optimist, rather than someone with an extreme case of Political Other-Directedness, checking speakers’ images at the door.)

It really appears that Frum is much more concerned that there will be video footage played of CPAC conferees applauding Rush Limbaugh, than about anything else.  This can’t help seeming to boil down to social embarrassment, as opposed to political principle.  It can’t help evoking the reaction by Frum and other conservative pundits to Sarah Palin last fall.  And it can’t help coming across as an emphasis on social distaste for a whole group of conservatives, over specific disagreements with their policy positions.

How much does David Frum actually disagree with Rush Limbaugh?  He may not even know.  His posture reminds me of people I hear lamenting the influence of the “Christian Right” on the Republican party, and on conservatism in general, when such critics often have no idea what Christian conservatives really want (and certainly have no idea that they don’t all want exactly the same thing).  Very often these critics of Christian conservatives have simply accepted the picture of them presented by the mainstream media – and end up making absurd arguments like the one that says voters were too disgusted with Christian groups’ advocacy of “Creationism” in public education (a politically slanted caricature to begin with), to vote for John McCain for president.  I’m still waiting to hear from the independent, centrist swing voter for whom that sort of revulsion was the deciding factor.  If they’ve located one, perhaps readers will let me know.

Since David Frum’s avowed concern is to build a political, electoral majority, one thing worth pointing out here is that a finicking social divisiveness, with attendant concern about how the political opposition will see their associations, is not a problem the Democratic left labors under.  I have yet to hear left-wing pundits bemoan the unsightliness or off-putting eccentricity of some of their constituencies – or of their leaders or spokesmen, for that matter.  If they are worried that their conference speakers – who often indulge in startlingly contumacious speech – might repel the centrist or right-wing onlooker, we never hear about that.  Whatever their other faults, the leftists do better, in the game of politics, at deemphasizing the points of difference among themselves.

Conservatives, by contrast, if they are not railing against each other for being insufficiently monetarist, or too boresighted on Roe v. Wade, are throwing spitballs at each other for being portly, having regional accents, suffering from galloping Manhattanism, being blue-collar rubes with unfashionable ideas of fun and virtue, or, in general, possessing any distinguishing human characteristics whatsoever, as opposed to embodying an idealized “type.”  Perhaps some would say this fractiousness is a symptom of great political honesty; I don’t know.  I do think we can confidently pronounce it to be politically counterproductive.

I vote that we concentrate more on what matters – principles – and less on what irritates us about each other.  My guess, from having read Frum in the past, is that he and Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh would agree more than 80% of the time on principles and policy issues.  Perhaps more.  That Palin and Limbaugh appeal to constituencies Frum himself doesn’t reach, and vice versa, is not an indictment of any of them.  It’s even something to be welcomed.

Interestingly, I’ve heard stories from people of how such disparate personalities as Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn, Victor Davis Hanson, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich “got them interested” in conservatism – resonated with them – got them to listen.  If you have been a conservative for a long time, you don’t consider these people to all be the same type of conservative at all.  They seem very different in background and approach.  I know one is not even a Republican.  If you asked them about a “litmus-test” issue – say, abortion – they would give somewhat different answers: answers that would reflect the public roles they have carved out for themselves, as much as anything else.

But I would bet this.  They would all agree to the following proposition:  that it is legitimate for the people to question whether the Constitution is properly interpreted as denying them the right to vote on the issue.  That the people, in the fifty states, are likely, if they have the opportunity to have their votes determine the outcome, to impose some restrictions on abortion, but not outlaw it absolutely.  And that, of this list of conservatives, even those who would like to see abortion entirely prohibited would abide by that result, and not seek to overturn it by recourse to the court system.  Finally, I expect there would be agreement that those who remained unhappy with partial restrictions would be free to keep trying to get the law changed, working through the electoral and legislative processes – and that that may or may not, by such a point in time, be a core issue for conservatives or the Republican Party.

This is an awful lot to agree on.  It doesn’t represent perfect agreement between those who want to prohibit abortion entirely, and those whose concern is to get the decision back in the hands of the people, even if they don’t vote as everyone would desire.  But both positions are in opposition to the united front of the left on abortion, which admits no prospect of the people getting any more cracks at its disposition in law.  It is a bemusing thing that so many conservatives let the left define their fellow conservatives for them in this matter, and let the left’s definition of the issue discourage them from looking for common ground with voters of their own stripe.  It’s even more bemusing that letting the left define the issues so that they divide the right isn’t enough for conservatives.  No, they also have to worry about being seen in public with their fellow conservatives, and to wonder, not so secretly, If the other conservatives are making them look fat.

I am getting tired of conservative pundits denigrating other conservatives as metaphorical bad comb-overs, muffin-tops, and VPL.*  The criteria by which such criticisms are made are shallow and narcissistic to begin with.  With all due respect to David Frum:  in turning on Rush Limbaugh – with whom Frum is in far greater agreement on principle than he is with Barack Obama – because Limbaugh is flamboyant and middle-aged, he – Frum — is the one who is cooperating with the left.  Not CPAC.


* Visible panty line.


  1. I note from David Frum’s Wikipedia biography that he went to Yale for undergraduate and Harvard for his law degree.

    Rush, of course, went to neither. Sarah Palin went to some small college in Idaho.

    Perhaps, like Chris Buckley, Frum is so enamored of Ivy League credentials that they color his perceptions more than he realizes.

    As for me, I used to think a Harvard law degree was a big deal, until I got to law school (University of Cincinnati) and met professors that had Harvard law degrees.

    They’re all smart, in the sense of being able to succeed in school. Most are quite good at what they do in life–one of the best professors I’ve ever had (“The Murph,” who taught contracts and employment law) was a Harvard law grad. However, more than a few are fatally handicapped by arrogance and a sense of entitlement–they went to The Best Law School On Earth and they know it and expect that the rest of us are going to genuflect to them because of it. (Our dean was the worst offender.) They also have a tendency to embrace whacked-out ideologies (e.g., Marx) and stick rigidly to them despite empirical evidence to the contrary, and to travel in cultural and political herds, adopting whatever fads and fashions (NPR, Seinfeld, Obama, Whole Foods, the Toyota Prius, Keith Olbermann, particular vintages of chardonnay) the group around them do.

    I’m not the guy in my office who’s charged with hiring, but if I were and a Harvard grad applied, I’d be spring-loaded not to hire him. I’d rather have a decent, smart kid from a “lesser” university than G. Percivals Fullovhimself IV from Harvard, because the kid from flyover country (e.g., Rush, Sarah) is probably more mature and more fun to hang out with.

  2. Hey, Jen. I thought it was funny that Stephen asked his history teacher if they could watch the Limbaugh speech in class like they did the Obama inauguration speech and she said no because they KNEW what he would say. like they didn’t know what BO would say?? Please…I suppose if he read the speech in class without saying who spoke it, she would like it!

  3. Ann Coulter has the goods on David Frum, and so does Rush Limbaugh. They both recognize that what the left says about conservatives, they’re going to say no matter what conservatives do. Frum still hopes for a good report card from the left, so he’s trying to drum up enthusiasm for behavior that comports with what he imagines the left wants to see.

    Apparently he has not yet noticed that their demands are not only insincere, but utterly hypocritical; they don’t live up to their own standards. Nor could they; the whole matter of criticizing conservatives is one, huge game of “move the goalposts.” Mr. Frum is still haplessly chasing all over the field trying to hit the ever-moving target. Coulter and Limbaugh, having recognized the game for the no-win that it is, have abandoned the attempt, and are actually trying to move the ball down the field.

  4. Baby M — credentialism has been deceiving the human race for a long time, hasn’t it? One of the things we can easily forget is that today, the graduate of Columbia and Harvard probably LEARNED his bad intellectual habits there. We’ve gone right past our educational institutions being ineffective, to them being harmful.

    Liz — classic! Interesting that this teacher’s thinking didn’t apply to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” video in so many schools. After all, everyone really, really knew what Gore was going to say.

    philwynk — Great to see you here, Plumbbob. It’s funny, I had a similar thought about David Frum, and some of the other columnists with the social self-consciousness issues. They remind me of Charlie Brown, with the left being Lucy holding the football for him to kick. No matter how often she pulls it away, Charlie Brown never learns.

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