Conservative pundits and intellectuals have spent the past week or two—ever since the publication in Commentary magazine of Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson’s “How to Save the Republican Party”—talking about, well, how to save the Republican Party. They have lots of ideas—some good, some not so good, most very sober-minded policy prescriptions. I wrote a short blog post about this on Thursday. But then I reflected: This topic needs a longer treatment. The party they purport to support and care about has been engaged in burning down the house of American politics for three or four years now, and they are saying nothing about it; and until they say something about it, everything else they say is close to meaningless.
As I’ve written many times, the conventional view of what’s wrong with the GOP gets at only a portion of the truth. When The New York Times or Politico does such a story, the story inevitably focuses on policy positions. Immigration. Same-sex marriage. Climate change. Tinker with these positions, several sages are quoted as saying, and the GOP will be back in the game.
God knows, policy positions are a problem. But they are not the problem. The problem is that the party is fanatical—a machine of rage, hate, and resentment. People are free to scoff and pretend it isn’t so, but I don’t think honest people can deny that we’ve never seen anything like this in the modern history of our country. There’s a symbiosis of malevolence between the extreme parts of the GOP base and Washington lawmakers, and it is destroying the Republican Party. That’s fine with me, although I am constantly mystified as to why it’s all right with the people I’m talking about. But it’s also destroying the country and our democratic institutions and processes, which is not fine with me.
The party can change all the positions it wants, but until people stand up and yell “Stop!” to this fanaticism, it won’t mean anything. In fact, the problems feed into each other, because the idea that today’s Republican Party can change its stripes on same-sex marriage or immigration is absurd, and it is absurd precisely because of the rage and fanaticism I’m talking about, much of which is directed at brown people and gay people. Such a party cannot change its stripes on these issues until the mindset and world view are changed.
Immigration, you say? I’ll believe it when I see it. In fact, I’ll make a prediction now: I bet the House is likely to break immigration reform into two pieces, enforcement and path-to-citizenship. Maybe more, but for now let’s say two. A big majority of Republicans will support the former. The latter will pass, if it does, with a small number of Republicans joining nearly all Democrats, and therefore only with John Boehner breaking the Hastert Rule once again. And the haters will go on hating.
And the following people will write nothing about it: David Brooks; Ross Douthat; the aforementioned Wehner and Gerson; Reihan Salam; Yuval Levin; Ramesh Ponnuru. Now I know most of these gentlemen, and I like them. But they’ve been participants to varying degrees in these recent conversations I’m talking about, and frankly, they are wasting their own and their readers’ time. They’re like a family in deep denial at the Thanksgiving table. Guys, debating the best way to cook brussels sprouts is of marginal utility. Whether Cousin Ruthie wears her hair this way or that way is not worth dwelling on. The overwhelming fact at hand is that Uncle Ralph is drunk again, and he’s being a belligerent racist homophobic ass again, and he is preventing any civility and progress from taking place, and it’s been this way for four Thanksgivings in a row, and you are intentionally choosing to say nothing about it.
I do not understand how they can watch this and let it happen—to their party!—without saying anything. This past week, we have had four Republican senators—Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Rand Paul—in essence demand that a cabinet nominee, Chuck Hagel, disprove rumors against him. It’s one thing for Breitbart bloggers to do that. But senators? Using tactics that are straightforward McCarthyism? If one of the above named or some other prominent conservative pundit criticized that quartet, then good for them. But I sure didn’t see it, and I think I would have.
Like me, I’m sure many of you were aghast at those people who cheered John McCain when he lectured the parent of the son who was killed in the Colorado shooting. There was blood lust in that cheer, just like the blood lust in the boos back in the presidential primary season of that gay soldier. Are any conservative thinkers writing that this kind of thing makes them sick and ashamed?
We all know the problem. It’s Rush Limbaugh and his imitators and Roger Ailes and his network. They drive this hatred daily, and they intentionally misinform and lie; you think it’s an accident that polls always find Fox viewers the least connected to empirical reality? Pushing this fury and constructing this alternate reality is great for business. But it’s horrible for America. And the “serious” conservative pundits by and large try to pretend it doesn’t exist, or it’s not that bad, or MSNBC does the same thing in reverse. Well, it does exist, it is that bad, and no, MSNBC does not do the same thing in reverse. MSNBC has an agenda, but it doesn’t craft its messages in such a way as to make it viewers hate half the country.
This is the poison in our politics. Nothing changes until it changes. Somebody has to initiate it, and the people I named are the only people who can. Of conservative thinkers—and I apologize to him in advance for naming him, because I’m sure praise from me in this context will make him wince—only David Frum has addressed this problem. His 2011 New York magazine essay “When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?” said it well. He understands that this problem is one of the central facts of our current historical moment.
If that were my party or movement, I promise you I would criticize it (and I did, in a book in 1996, as Brooks and others know). I sure wouldn’t be wearing blinders and pretending that my side could solve its problems with the right kind of EITC expansion. I’d be glowering at Uncle Ralph as he poured himself another, getting surlier and surlier, and I’d be scheming to take the bottle away.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 23, 2013
I suppose I should have weighed in on this already, given that it’s been an entire day, but in case you were wondering, here’s what I think about Fox News’ decision to finally give Dick Morris the boot. Erik Wemple probably spoke for many people when he said, “this is a time to celebrate Fox News. It has seen the lunacy of Dick Morris, and it’s taking the appropriate step to inoculate itself against the ravages.” This comes fast on the heels of Sarah Palin being shown the door, some post-election house-cleaning that thankfully has left sage contributors like Karl Rove standing.
So what does this show? It doesn’t, alas, indicate that real accountability is coming to the pundit industry. I’ve always thought it’s too simplistic to view Fox News as nothing more than a partisan organization, as many people on the left do. Since he started the network in 1996, Roger Ailes’ genius has lied in a careful melding of business and ideology, in which neither one ever moves too far ahead of the other and each serves the other’s needs. Fox is extremely valuable to the Republican party and the conservative movement, and it’s also a huge money-maker for Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Anyone who appears on the channel has to satisfy both strands of that ideological/financial double helix.
And as Morris shows, satisfying the ideological needs of Fox’s viewers is more complicated than just telling them what you think they want to hear. Morris was so laughably wrong in almost everything he said that even many die-hard conservatives no doubt found him to be a buffoon. When he tells you over and over again that there’s no way your side can lose, and then they do, his credibility suffers even with people who want to believe him. But what really did him in, I think, was when it came out in December that he was, in all probability, running a scam on the Fox News viewers whom he implored to contribute to his super PAC to defeat Barack Obama. None of the money went to that cause, instead probably finding its way back into Morris’s pocket. It’s one thing to treat Fox viewers like fools—most of the network’s personalities do that every day. But it’s quite another to treat them like marks. If you do it as blatantly as Morris did, the entire brand is threatened.
In the end, it became too obvious that Dick Morris wasn’t working for the betterment of the conservative movement, or the Republican party, or Fox News. He was working for the betterment of Dick Morris. Once that became all too obvious, I’m sure Ailes had no qualms about showing him the door. After all, there’s plenty more where he came from.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 6, 2013
“The Real ‘60 Minutes’ Revelation”: Democrats Are Now The Regular Guys, Conservatives Are The Weirdos
I can actually see, to some extent, the point of conservatives’ complaints about the Obama-Hillary 60 Minutes interview. It was softbally, and Steve Kroft’s one real question—to Clinton, about whether she felt any guilt or remorse over Benghazi—she totally didn’t answer. But here, conservatives, is what you are missing and what you need to reckon with. Americans—except you—like these two people. Most Americans look at the pair of them—this black man who is still remote in some ways and this so-familiar woman who is now aging before us and allowing herself to look just a little frumpy—and feel reassured. Most Americans are cheering for them, and hence, most Americans probably wanted a softball interview. We have thus passed an important portal in American politics: Democrats are now the regular guys. Conservatives are the weirdos.
First, about the interview. These are not two of your more forthcoming interview subjects. I’ve never sat with Obama, but I have interviewed Clinton on a number of occasions, including one big 90-minute-or-so sit-down back in 2000. She told me some very interesting things: she likes Thomas Hardy, she was overwhelmed by her visit to the Olduvai Gorge, she takes a keen interest in ancient civilizations, she loves the Three Stooges, and she knows the theme song to The Flintstones. But on policy, she gave me nothing. A total Heisman. My heart sank to the floor as I listened back over the tape and realized that answer after answer wasn’t going to make news after all. Obama is no different. Rare is the interview that finds him saying anything genuinely arresting.
But he did say something interesting to Kroft, and she did too, which was this: they were both wholly believable and ingenuous when they were talking about their own political relationship. When Obama said, in reference to repairing the ruptures of 2008, “I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable, because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t,” I thought: that rings really true. And I’d bet most Americans did too.
Obama and Clinton talked, in other words, like mature adults, and they sold it as genuine because it was genuine. And I’d contend that it made most people watching feel something like: Well, these are very smart and self-assured people, and they’re mostly pretty likable, too, and agree or disagree with this or that decision they make or action they take, I feel like my country is in pretty good hands with them. And yes, to invoke the hackneyed litmus-test question—I’d drink a beer, or a pinot, or in HRC’s case a shot of Crown Royal, with them. To everyone but right-wingers, that was the vibe Sunday night—a victory lap, and a victory lap that no one begrudged them.
They’re the real Americans now. It’s not that they have changed, but that America has. The measures for real Americanism are no longer clearing brush, hunting elk, hopping on top of various animals, dropping one’s g’s (in speech, I mean), and speaking in intentionally ungrammatical apothegmatic frontier “wisdom.” The new measures? Not completely sure yet. But we do have now the collective realization that those were fake measures—some Harvey Mansfield–inspired Potemkin Village of “real America.” Also, the collective realization that it’s probably on balance not at all a bad idea for the president not to be “just like us,” which was the folk wisdom of a decade ago, but in fact a little smarter than most of us.
The Republicans? It’s not just the extreme ideology. Of course it’s that, but it’s more. The whole shtick is old. Where once the Middle American ear may have been soothed by that low Cheney rumble belching out its grave assessments of the world situation, today it is accosted by all those caliginous Southern accents warning of socialism and collapse, and thinks: will these people ever shut up? Georgia Congressman Paul Broun told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that Obama “upholds … the Soviet Constitution.” On any given week, I could fill a whole column, or two, with such nuggets. Enough already.
While Obama and Clinton were speaking, so was Paul Ryan, to a conservative gathering, where he said: “There are two ways to respond to defeat: Either you can deny it, or you can learn from it. I choose to learn from it. The way I see it, our defeat is all the more reason to lay out our vision with even more specifics—and with a broader appeal.”
What he’s saying there, and throughout the speech, is that the GOP isn’t going to change its stripes a bit. “Broader appeal” means I suppose better (read: more dishonest) packaging for a bunch of reactionary policies that Americans don’t want.
Conservatives, you can call me and others like me all the names you want, and you can whine about the evil CBS all you want. But Kroft and his network were actually in touch here with the pulse of the country, which wants Obama to succeed and Hillary to go have a nice long rest (and, maybe, get ready for 2016). Meanwhile, even Roger Ailes has gotten sick of Sarah Palin. Get the picture?
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 29, 2013
Wasn’t it fitting that Sarah Palin’s exit from Fox News was made official the same week President Obama celebrated his second inauguration? Didn’t it just seem apt that the once-future star of Fox News and the Tea Party movement lost her national media platform just days after the president she tried to demonize for four years basked in the glow of his easy reelection victory?
Palin’s breakup with Fox was expected, but it’s still significant. A “milestone,” is how former Bush speechwriter David Frum put it.
The move represents the end of a brief, ill-conceived era within the conservative media movement, and specifically at Fox, where in the wake of Obama’s first White House win Palin, along with preposterous cohort Glenn Beck, was irresponsibly tapped to become a high-priced pundit who trafficked in hate.
At Fox, Palin represented a particularly angry and juvenile wing of the conservative movement. It’s the part that appears deeply obsessed with Obama as a person; an unhealthy obsession that seemed to surpass any interest in his policies. With lazy name-calling as her weapon of choice, Palin served as Fox News’ point person for misguided snark and sophomoric put-downs. Palin also epitomized the uber-aggressive anti-intellectual push that coincided with Obama’s swearing in four years ago.
And for a while, it looked like the push might work. In 2010, it seemed like Palin and Beck might just succeed in helping Fox change the face of American politics with their signature calling cards of continuous conspiracies (Beck) and perpetual victimization (Palin).
But it never happened.
In the wake of Beck’s cable TV departure in 2011, Obama’s reelection win in 2012, and now Palin’s farewell from Fox last week, it’s obvious the blueprint drawn up by Fox chief Roger Ailes was a programming and political failure. Yes, the name-calling and conspiratorial chatter remains at Fox, but it’s no longer delivered by Palin who was going to be the star some loyalist thought the channel could ride all the way to the White House.
Let’s also note that Fox’s Palin era was marked by how the Beltway press often did everything in its power to prop her up as a “star” reaching new heights, when with each passing month Palin’s standing with the public seemed to register new lows.
Belying claims of liberal bias, the political press seemed desperate for Palin to succeed and to become a lasting presence in American politics; a permanent TV foil during the Obama era. Can you think of another time when the press so enthusiastically heralded the losing vice presidential candidate as a political and media “phenomena”?
– ABC’s The Note: “There is precisely one superstar in the Republican Party.”
–Time’s Mark Halperin: Palin’s “operating on a different plane, hovering higher than a mere celebrity, more buoyant than an average politician.”
–Washington Post’s David Broder: “A public figure at the top of her game.”
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Whatever success and momentum Palin enjoyed on Fox in terms of influencing the national conversation (i.e. “death panels”), it slowed in January 2011. That’s when, responding to an Arizona shopping center shooting spree that nearly claimed the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Palin cast herself as a victim, and condemned the press for manufacturing a “blood libel.” (Palin appeared to not understand that historically, “blood libel” relates to the anti-Semitic charge that Jews murder children and use their blood for religious rituals.)
The Beltway press seemed truly aghast by Palin’s performance. And so did Roger Ailes. When Palin bowed out of the 2012 presidential race and did so on a right-wing talk show instead of on Fox, thereby robbing the channel of the spotlight, her star seemed to fade precipitously, to the point where her views and commentary were irrelevant to last year’s presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, Palin’s departure is also significant because it comes at a time when Fox is still reeling from Obama’s reelection. (A reelection Palin was supposed to help derail.) Where the channel spent the previous four years with a laser-like focus rallying right-wing believers in an effort to drive Obama from the White House, while simultaneously, we were told, saving liberty and countless freedoms, Fox today seems utterly lost knowing it won’t ever defeat Obama at the polls.
Clinging ever tighter to the gears on its phony outrage machine, Fox talkers take turns taking umbrage. Last week’s relentless sobbing over Obama’s inauguration speech (too partisan!) was a perfect example of how the channel can’t stop lashing out at imaginary slights.
Writing for Esquire‘s website, Tom Junod noticed the same pervasive sense of bewilderment. A student of Fox who wrote a lengthy profile of Ailes two years ago, Junod labeled the Fox incarnation on display early in Obama’s second term to be a “freak show” wallowing in defeat and an over-sized “sense of injury”:
The question, of course, is whether [Ailes] knows what anyone else in the United States might like, or whether his network, even as it holds its captive audience, will descend further into political irrelevance. For all his instinctive showmanship, and for all his purported populist genius, Ailes saw Obama cobble together his new majority right under his nose, and knew neither what to call it or how to stop it.
In other words, Fox News got steamrolled by Obama’s reelection. Palin’s departure from the Fox payroll serves as a useful exclamation point to that fact.
By: Eric Boehlert, The Huffington Post, January 28, 2013
Suffering an election hangover after having been told by Fox News that Mitt Romney’s victory was a sure thing (a “landslide” predicted by Dick Morris), some Republicans have promised to break their addiction to the right-wing news channel in the coming year. Vowing to venture beyond the comforts of the Fox News bubble, strategists insist it’s crucial that the party address its “choir-preaching problem.”
This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there’s little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox’s firm grip on branding the party.
For Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the network’s slash-and-burn formula worked wonders in terms of catering a hardcore, hard-right audience of several million viewers. (Fox News is poised to post $1 billion in profits this year.) But in terms of supporting a national campaign and hosting a nationwide conversation about the country’s future, Fox’s work this year was a marked failure.
And that failure helped sink any hopes the GOP had of winning the White House.
From the farcical, underwhelming GOP primary that Fox News sponsored, through the general election campaign, it seemed that at every juncture where Romney suffered a major misstep, Fox misinformation hovered nearby. Again and again, Romney damaged his presidential hopes when he embraced the Fox News rhetoric; when he ran as the Fox News candidate.
Whether it was botching the facts surrounding the terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, parroting the Fox talking point about lazy, shiftless voters who make up “47 percent” of the electorate, or Romney’s baffling embrace of reality TV show host-turned Fox News pontificator Donald Trump, the Republican candidate did damage to his chances whenever he let Fox News act as his chief campaign adviser.
Fox viewers didn’t fare much better. Fed a year’s worth of misinformation about the candidates, and completely misled about the state of the race (all the polls are skewed!), Fox faithful were left crushed on Election Night when Romney’s fictitious landslide failed to materialize.
“On the biggest political story of the year,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, “the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media.”
Indeed, Fox’s coverage of the campaign has been widely panned as an editorial and political fiasco. The coverage failed to move the needle in the direction of its favored Republican candidate, and the coverage remained detached from campaign reality for months at a time. (Megyn Kelly in July: The Obama campaign is “starting to panic.” That was false.)
Following another lopsided loss to Obama, Republican strategist Mike Murphy urged Republicans to embrace a view of America that’s not lifted from “Rush Limbaugh’s dream journal.” (The Fox News dream journal looks nearly identical to Limbaugh’s.)
And San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll wondered if Romney’s defeat marked the end of a Fox News era:
You had to wonder about Fox. This is the third presidential election in which Fox has been a major player, and the Democrats have won two of them. A combination of big money and big propaganda was supposed to carry the day for Romney and the Republicans, but it didn’t. Could it be that the Fox model has played out?
Is the Fox model of a cable paranoia played out in terms of ratings? It is not. Is the Fox model of cable paranoia played out as an electoral blueprint? It sure looks that way.
Of course, conservatives should have thought that through before handing over the control of a political movement to Ailes and his misinformation minions. They should have thought twice about the long-term implication of having irresponsible media outlets like Fox supersede leadership within the Republican Party, and should have figured out first if Fox News had an off switch to use in case of emergencies.
Yet as Fox News segued into the de facto leader of the Republican Party, becoming the driving electoral force, and with Ailes entrenched in his kingmaker role, candidates had to bow down to Fox in search of votes and the channel’s coveted free airtime.
And Andrew Sullivan noted in January:
The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP’s own “news” channel, Fox.
There’s a reason New York magazine labeled Ailes “the head of the Republican Party.” And that’s why a GOP source told the magazine, “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.”
That meant campaigns were forced to become part of the channel’s culture of personal destruction, as well as to blanket itself in Fox’s signature self-pity. (Here was Mitt Romney adopting the right-wing whine that the conspiratorial press was out to sink his campaign.)
Still, the right-wing bubble was a comfortable place to inhabit if you thought of Obama as an historic monster, or if you required to be reminded of that fact many time a day, every day of the year. The bubble is the place where followers for four years were fed the feel-good GOP narrative about how Obama’s presidency was a fiasco, that the Americans suffered a severe case of 2008 buyer’s remorse, and that the president’s re-election defeat was all but pre-ordained.
The one-part-panic, one-part-denial message may have cheered obsessive Obama-haters, but it didn’t prepare conservatives for the reality of the campaign season. And it cost the GOP a lost year in the Fox News bubble.
By: Eric Boehlert, The Hufington Post Blog, December 30, 2012