Our political Quote of the Day comes from the Daily Beast’s Christopher Buckley, son of the late non-talk-show-political-culture Republican conservative Willliam F. Buckley, writing about the news that former Bush speech writer David Frum was basically fired by the American Enterprise Institute after criticizing the GOP’s “No no no!” stance on healthcare reform plus the influence of talk show hosts on the party’s direction and strategy.
Buckley’s piece must be read in full. It recounts the Frum firing and notes that some have said there were other reasons for Frum being “let go” (I always love that phrase..it’s like “pre-owned cars” or “progressive” instead of “liberal”) besides his deviation from the Republican talk show political culture and strong criticism of it in recent months.
Here is our Quote of the Day:
It was a grand mistake to fire David Frum. Dad would agree….
But David is a brilliant writer and a brilliant thinker. Further, he is what the [conservative] movement needs now more than ever–the contrarian.
There are two, stand-out original conservative thinkers in my generation, both, as it happened, named David—Frum and Brooks. Both got their start at National Review. Both deeply admired William F. Buckley, Jr., and not just because he gave them their start; but because of what he stood for, and how he went about making the arguments….
And his conclusion:
It is not for the likes of me — non-intellectual, and post-partisan — to tell AEI how to handle its resident scholars. But the teapot having been heated, let me now drop in my leaves and say that it strikes me that AEI has not burnished its reputation as a center of right-intellectual thought….
Another conservative banishee to hear the sound of accumulating oyster shells clacking around his feet was Bruce Bartlett. A comment of his goes, I think, to the heart of the whole mess.
“I have always,” he said, “hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind.” (Emphasis mine.)
As Dan Quayle once put it so well, “What a terrible thing to have lost one’s mind. Or not to have a mind at all. How true that is.”
Indeed, how sad.
Buckley’s comments underscore a point. There are solid, thoughtful partisans in BOTH parties (liberals and conservatives) who can lay out why they believe what they do, aggressively and passionately plead their case, and then mercilessly attack and take apart the other side for what they see as holes in their arguments.
But today’s Republican party increasingly seems dominated in terms of tactics, strategy and rhetoric by the 24/7-rage-required talk radio political culture which puts a premium on personal attacks, over the top polemics, cherry picking or misrepresenting facts, demonizing and defining those with whom they disagree, and above all trying to discredit those who have different ideas and solutions rather than focusing relentlessly on the ideas and solultions they considered flawed.
Talk show hosts need to gather and saw off a particular demographic, keep it, and then deliver this audience to advertisers (Rush Limbaugh is a superb broadcaster who knows how to do this quite well). Traditionally political parties have had to try to keep their base and then expand on it to broaden their vote pull beyond their normal demographic. A talk radio host needs to keep his/her demographic and work to make it grow; political parties have traditionally aggregated interests to make the coalitions they need to get a majority of the votes grow.
The phrase now used is “I want my country back!” which raises this question:
Will thoughtful conservatives who don’t like the tenor of the party’s dominant talk radio political culture work to take their party back?
If not, if Americans in the politically important middle are turned off by what they hear, how it is phrased (particularly if doom and gloom rhetoric later proves to have been just that), and get an image of angry conservative demonizing opposition without specific affirmative proposals, then it’s unlikely that the Republican party in an America with quickly changing demographics that upset some of its members will get the kind of power it wants back.
Frum or no Frum.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.