David Frum: President Obama and Rush Limbaugh do not agree on much, but they share at least one thing: Both wish to see Rush anointed as the leader of the Republican party. Here’s Rahm Emanuel on Face the Nation yesterday: “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican party.”
What a great endorsement for Rush! (And we know Rush is fond of compliments – listen to his loving account in his CPAC speech of the birthday lunch given him by President Bush just before Inauguration Day.)
But what about the rest of the party? Here’s the duel that Obama and Limbaugh are jointly arranging:
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” 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. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.
But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise – and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.