Ever so slowly, sane Republicans and conservatives are finally marshaling the courage to confront the unhinged broadcasters in their midst — and not a moment too soon, given the fact that these loons now seem to be running the asylum.
The GOP has lately made gains with its anti-Obama incantations, but the fact remains that the party has no affirmative unifying message and no national leader. As a result, various warlords — Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and other marketers of venom — continue to fill the breach, in ways that are profoundly unhelpful to the Republican image.
Most prominent Republicans are still too cowed to call out Beck for what he truly is — a demagogue who is nurturing paranoia — because they confuse microphone power with political power. (Can the talk jocks deliver votes? They probably can’t deliver a pizza.) Nevertheless, some are speaking out. They don’t want the conservative cause to be hijacked by tinfoil-hatted broadcasters who believe, for instance, that the symbol on the back of the dime was a fascist plot hatched by Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
Some speaking up
David Frum, the ex-Bush speechwriter who helped coin the term “Axis of Evil,” got fed up with Beck not long ago when the Fox News superstar sought to defame an Obama nominee by insisting on the air that this nominee — in real life, a free-market economist — favors the execution of retarded children and wants to give monkeys the right to sue. (I kid you not.) Frum assailed Beck for “recklessness and political cowardice,” but he was only warming up.
“We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life,” Frum wrote on his blog. “... It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to ... emancipate ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless.”
Peter Wehner, another ex-Bush speechwriter, seconded Frum earlier this fall: “At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”
Former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon recently denounced radio host Mark Levin for “spewing streams of hate-filled venom at Obama that were jaw-dropping.” Charles Murray, an eminent conservative author and scholar, lamented recently that these broadcasters have become “far too much of the public face of the right today — crudely sarcastic when they are not being angry, mean-spirited, and often embarrassingly ignorant.”
Not just tone
But it’s not just the tone that worries these conservative critics.
Far worse is the fact that Beck and some of his brethren are just as capable of skewering the GOP, and inspiring fans to do the same. A few weeks back, he stunned many Republicans by declaring in an interview, “I think John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama.” Why? Because “I think McCain is a weird progressive, like Theodore Roosevelt was.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, defended his pal McCain, telling Fox News that Beck “doesn’t represent the Republican Party. ... When a person says he represents conservatism and that the country’s better off with Barack Obama than John McCain, that sort of ends the debate for me as to how much more I’m going to listen.”
Graham was seconded the other day by a fellow South Carolina Republican, Rep. Bob Inglis. At a town-hall meeting, one of the usual screamers invoked Beck’s TV show — whereupon Inglis replied, “Here’s what I suggest: Turn that television off.” He later added, “I’ve come away just so disappointed with (his) negativity. The America that Glenn Beck seems to see is a place where we should all be fearful. ... It sure does sell soap, but it sure does a disservice to America.”
Still a minority
But these conservative critics are still in the minority. More typical is commentator Jonah Goldberg, who recently insisted that Beck, Limbaugh, and the others are good for the cause because they’re lots of fun; as he explained, “making conservatism popular means making it less stuffy and intellectual and more accessible.”
Sen. Joe McCarthy made conservatism seem less stuffy and intellectual back in the early ’50s — until the red-baiter went too far and launched smears against the U.S Army. And radio host Charles Coughlin popularized anti-Roosevelt sentiment in the late ’30s — until he labeled FDR’s agenda “the Jew Deal” and voiced sympathy for the Nazis.
Few conservatives challenged either of those demagogues in their day. And few conservatives today have uttered a peep about ascendant radio jock Alex Jones, whose post-Beck shtick is that Obama is fronting for a global totalitarian conspiracy. Jones’ pitch has gotten more than four million hits on YouTube. Will conservatives brave these numbers and stand up for sanity?
Those who refuse to police their own cause may well be advised to remember the 18th-century words of British conservative Edmund Burke, who said, “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”