Where Rush Was Wrong At CPAC

Of late, the Democrats have been working hard to publicly demonize Rush Limbaugh. They’re even running anti-Rush commercials, which admittedly could endanger the Senate seat he holds in Florida — oh wait, he’s not a senator. Come to think of it, he’s not a congressman or governor either. He’s a talk radio host who, despite the protestations of the Democrats to the contrary, quite regrettably has far less influence on the Republican Party than, say, MoveOn or the DailyKos appear to have on the Democratic Party.

That being said, Rush is extraordinarily influential with conservatives and he is a genuine danger to the Democratic Party because he is capable of doing things so many Republican politicians seem to have forgotten how to do. For example, in his CPAC speech this week-end, he did an excellent job of explaining conservatism,

“Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people. [Applause] When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government.

…We don’t want to tell anybody how to live. That’s up to you. If you want to make the best of yourself, feel free. If you want to ruin your life, we’ll try to stop it, but it’s a waste. We look over the country as it is today, we see so much waste, human potential that’s been destroyed by 50 years of a welfare state….”

Rush can also deliver punishingly effective criticism of the Democratic Party.

“(T)ake a look at all the constituency groups that for 50 years have been depending on the Democrat Party to improve their lives. And you tell me if you find any. They’re still complaining, still griping about the same problems. Their problems don’t get fixed by government.”

“What’s the longest war in American history? Did somebody say the war on poverty? Smart group. War on poverty. The war on poverty essentially started in the ’30s as part of the New Deal, but it really ramped up in the ’60s with Lyndon Johnson, part of the Great Society war on poverty. We have transferred something like 10 trillion, maybe close to 11 trillion, from producers and earners to nonproducers and nonearners since 1965. Yet, as I listen to the Democratic Party campaign, why, America is still a soup kitchen, the poor is still poor and they have no hope and they’re poor for what reason? They’re poor because of us, because we don’t care, and because we’ve gotten rich by taking from them, that’s what kids in school are taught today.”

Rush was also able to deliver a more deftly worded criticism of Barack Obama in his speech than any Republican politician has managed so far,

“Now, let me speak about President Obama for just a second. President Obama is one of the most gifted politicians, one of the most gifted men that I have ever witnessed. He has extraordinary talents. He has communication skills that hardly anyone can surpass. No, seriously. No, no, I’m being very serious about this. It just breaks my heart that he does not use these extraordinary talents and gifts to motivate and inspire the American people to be the best they can be. He’s doing just the opposite. And it’s a shame. [Applause] President Obama has the ability — he has the ability to inspire excellence in people’s pursuits. He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path, seeks a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners and punishes — and he speaks negatively of the country. Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill. Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night in a corner of America…”

All in all, Rush delivered a magnificent speech at CPAC. However, there is one area in which, put plainly, I think he was wrong.

“The American people may not all vote the way we wish them to, but more Americans than you now live their lives as conservatives in one degree or another. And they are waiting for leadership. We need conservative leadership. We can take this country back. All we need is to nominate the right candidate. It’s no more complicated than that.

…Well, the one thing, and there are many, but one thing that we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas right now. I don’t want to name any names. It’s not the point. But I talk to people about the Obama budget or the Obama Porkulous bill or whatever else TARP 2 whatever it’s going to be, and they start talking to me in the terms of process and policy. I say stop it. What do you mean? Who is setting the process or policy? They are. You want to tweak it? No. This is philosophy, folks. “

Now, if Rush were to elaborate on those remarks, he might not come across as black and white as he appears there. In fact, I suspect that those comments were largely pushback against the moderate Republicans who are foolishly declaring that the GOP needs to abandon conservative principles and become a big government party like the Democrats.

That being said, if Rush does believe that our policies are fine and that we just need the right candidate, there are two big problems with that.

First off, it abandons the whole field of “new ideas” to people who are not conservatives. Liberals are always coming up with new ways to spend our money and grow government. So, if all the prominent “idea men” on “our side” are people who hate social conservatives and love big government, then the conservative movement will have to choose between being forever frozen in amber or moving farther away from its roots with the adoption of each new idea. That path will lead to a long, slow slide into oblivion.

Conservative principles may not change, but political agendas can and should change fairly regularly based on events, circumstances, and the desires of the public. Having the best principles and philosophy is all well and good, but we’re not going to win future elections in this country if we spend all our time talking about the philosophies of Hayek, Burke, and Friedman while ignoring the day-to-day issues that voters care about.

That brings us to problem number two. We may be able to win future battles running on Reagan’s ideas, but we won’t win the long-term war for the future of our country by perpetually running on a nearly 30 year old political agenda.

Just to name one issue, it has gotten to the point where I cringe when a Republican starts talking about income tax cuts like they’re a powerhouse political issue. That sounds almost like conservative sacrilege, doesn’t it? Yet, as most of the conservatives reading this column know, more than 40% of Americans pay no income tax. So, how effective of an issue is that to those people compared to, say health care, an issue that we have allowed the Democrats to own because we’re still pretending that it’s 1980 when that wasn’t a hot topic?

Moreover, the reality is that conservatives have better ideas than liberals in every area. We want clean air, water, and soil, but oppose budget busting environmental extremism. We want to shift the power and the money in education from the federal government and the teachers’ unions to the states and the parents. We want to actually cut the cost of health care via tax credits and by giving consumers more choice in health care. We want real energy independence, not through investing billions in pie-in-the-sky solar and windmill technology, but by investing in shale oil drilling that could actually allow America to become the world’s biggest oil EXPORTER in 15 years. Conservatives have better solutions than the Left or the moderates in our own party can come up with — ready to go, ready to improve the lives of Americans — but, very few people on the Right are promoting those ideas.

Sure, it’s possible we’ll win in 2012 on the same old stale agenda. But, what if we don’t? What if we run a conservative like Sarah Palin and Barack Obama just manages to squeak out a victory, not over a mediocre squish like John McCain, but over a real conservative? It would create a crisis of confidence in our movement. That’s why we can’t afford to be complacent about our agenda, technology, or the grassroots. As Rush said, we do need the “right candidate.” However, we also need to improve our political agenda to show the American people that not only are we philosophically better than the Democrats, but we also have conservative policies that will make more of a positive difference in their day-to-day lives.

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