Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Not to be Missed: Rush at CPAC

Rush was both captivating and on-target in his analysis of the cowardice of conservatives: You can watch this in clips on Youtube, but it is much better viewed in full, on C-SPAN or, perhaps later, on the CPAC site . He pays homage to President Obama, arguing that he could destroy the GOP if he would use his talents to affirm the American character. Rush’s argument needs refining but is fundamentally correct.

UPDATE UPDATED: Rush’s speech is up on C-SPAN, here.

Discussions - 13 Comments

I dissent on this one. Rush gave a meandering speech, mixed up the Constitution and the Declaration, and generally gave a negative speech about how bad the Democrats are. It was low-brow.

If conservatives want to become a majority party, it seems that they are going to have to do more than be bombastic and negative; they are going to have to have a plan. There may be a place for his type of rhetoric, but if conservatives are going to figure out who they are and what they believe, Rush is no model.

I rather think Charles Kesler has it about right: conservatives need to think through things intelligently and connect them to timeless principles.

It is perhaps not too far off to say that conservatives need to rediscover conservatism again.

Obviously Rush delivered an amazing, heartfelt speech. If not, the Liberals/Democrats would be praising it instead of being critical of it. People think Obama is a great orator - that is true - he has the ability to speak as long as he has a teleprompter. Rush does it without the teleprompter and from the heart. Thus, Demos/Liberals are terrified of him. Even Obama gets his shots in at Rush - why - because he fears Rush.

Some thoughts on Limbaugh's big speech,

1. It was very disjointed and self referential but Limbaugh's speech did the job of flattering and reassuring his audience. And thats the problem. The speech was really only for the intitiates. One can only imagine what someone who is neither a conservative nor liberal would make of that speech. For all his Reagan idolatry, Limbaugh really has become a kind of anti-Reagan. Reagan worked really hard (as Kesler points out in the interview linked by Erik) to find ways to express his conservative principles in ways that appealed to the unconverted. Limbaugh has become closer to Howard Dean in his ability to get a rise out of his very large niche following by telling them how much wiser and better and righter they are but doesn't really do much (anymore) to expand the ranks.

2. His warning against policy thinking was amazingly silly. To the degree that he is warning against offering slightly less liberal versions of the Obama policies, sure but can you imagine giving that advice to conservatives circa 1965? "Don't listen to that across the board taxcut stuff, thats JFK, LBJ stuff. And who ever heard of floating exchange rates anyway? Just focus on cutting spending and balancing the budget." Or lets try that approach on welfare, "Just complain about the existence of welfare programs and fight like hell against the enactment of anymore. Sure you'll probably fail to get any real benefit cuts, but only a liberal would offer real alternative policies like block granting the program along with work requirements, and time limited benefits."

3. Its disgusting how much of this argument over the future shape of conservativism is driven by ego and the desire for personal recognition. Limbaugh's attack on the unnamed conservative Quislings who break bread with Obama (a list that includes Rich Lowry of NATIONAL REVIEW among others) is so clearly driven by the fear that he will lose his prominence as the "real" voice of populist American conservatism. Sadly I don't think he has to worry.

4.Speaking of populism - could we hear a little less about how people making over 250,000 are the "achievers" in society with the implication that the rest of the folks aren't. I'm as much against raising the marginal rate on earnings as anybody, but to the ideologically unconverted, that sounds like an excuse for special interest politics for the rich and especially when it is unpaired with any discussion of policies that might benefit anybody else (well other than the benefit that they would get if the taxes of the wealthy were cut). Obama's tax plan is in part a trap to get conservative to spend most of their time arguing about the INJUSTICE of tax increases on the wealthy while Obama talks about the BENEFITS that everybody else will get. Limbaugh walked right in and the audience hooting and hollering behind him.

5. It doesn't matter. Limbaugh was telling the people in the room what they were desperate to hear. Just replay the Reagan campaigns of the 1980s and everything will be okay, Doubting that is a sign of treason. I kept expecting to hear Journey "Don't stop believing, hold on to that feeling"

Pete, I think you miss the importance of the speech. No, he wasn't being a policy wonk. And, no, he did not raise the moral/social issues. Sure, Rush is full of himself, but he wasn't just flattering his audience for base ends--he was giving them both arguments and heart.

For example: his contrast between some conservatives giving up on Reagan and liberals never giving up on FDR; for his noted confusion between the two founding documents, he did emphasize their truth; and his focus on excellence (older term: virtue) as the standard of American greatness is positively Platonic. Did he overemphasize economic achievement? Well, this is a commercial republic--though too many conservatives forget the republic part!

We are agreed that the libertarian side of conservative/Republican arguments and policies has had the effect of making political virtue much too easy. We conservatives might never ask Rush to write a bill, but his presence reminds us that politics is as much about hearts as heads.

Ken: I understand your position here, and I do think that Rush is of some usefulness, but Republicans are a minority party. Did Rush do anything to change that? Is his speech really going to persuade people to the Republican side in 2010? 2012? I highly doubt it.

I think we give Rush too much credit to assert he is positively platonic. Dennis Prager fits that bill better.

Pete speaks some sense. Limbaugh came across as bizarre, almost fanatical, like a jowl-y Goebbels. I welcome Limbaugh on tv whenever he wants to speak, as it drives millions of people away from conservativism. His defense of the CEO’s was priceless – that alone ought to get youtube’d endlessly. The days of taking CPAC seriously are gone (not that they were ever here) - all you get are Coulter, Limbaugh, and some 12 year old kid.

If you disagreed with Rush coming in, an hour and a half of him would not change your mind!

Rush is Platonic in that he seeks to understand people in terms of their potential excellence. (In that regard, Obama is Rousseauean, understanding men as fundamentally malleable--as he himself is--sometimes displaying the sternness of Rousseau of the "First Discourse," at other times the compassion of the Rousseau of the "Second Discourse," and at others the political commitment of the General Will; he combines moralizing with sympathizing.)

True, Rush's path is more demanding, and throws responsibility on ourselves, while Obama's is in many ways more alluring. But would you surrender the self-evident truths of the American Founding for cosmopolitanism?

Did not disagree with him; used to listen to him a lot. But, he does not speak to the deepest need in man--his speech appealed to the passions, not to the reason of man. In fact, as Hugh Hewitt noted, his speech was passionate. That is not Platonic. It seems to me you have to read a lot in his speech and stretch his literal meaning to make him such.

I agree with you about Rousseau, but I was not talking about that and it sets up a false dichotomy, it seems to me, from what we are discussing here. I am not sure what you mean by cosmopolitanism, but I see someone like Jefferson and Buckley as Cosmopolitan. Not so much Rush.

I am all for self-evident truths and believe the path to successful statesmanship is through the Declaration, but Rush--after all this time with Claremont and Hillsdale--still does not articulate a view of those truths that understands, as Aquinas and Publius did, that self-evident does NOT mean obvious; it means understanding the terms.

Rush may have a sense of nature, but he does not articulate it like Lincoln or Jefferson. I agree with Hugh that he is important, but he is most like Oprah. That's not someone you want to lead your party into a majority--assuming his rhetoric does that, which is doesn't.

Just for clarification. The "Kid" was not 12 he is 14. You failed to mention that he has a web-site, blogs and wrote a book before the ripe-old age of 14. You also failed to mention that he is homeschooled. Which means that he, along with kids like my homeschooled kid, will be one of the "Kids" leading this country while kids taught by the liberal/kool-aid drinking teachers in the public school system are flipping hamburgers at Mickey D's at age 40. Compare this "KID" to the supposedly college Kid that swooned over Obama who has been working at Mickey D's for four years and hasn't managed to even be promoted to a Shift Supervisor at Mickey D's. Yet he wanted free medical care and free college education probably his rent paid and gasoline in his tank because he loves and voted for the Messiah. This liberal/Kool-aid drinking kid hasn't figured out that Obama does not have a money tree growing behind the White House and that his dreams of getting a free ride are probably null. The 12 year old "KID" you refer at least has it figured out that there is not a money tree growing behind the One's White House and that he is going to have to work to make a living. That idea is lost on the Mickey D's so-called college kid who obviously can't be promoted to a Shift Supervior at Mickey D's because he probably thinks that once he is promoted to Shift Supervisor he can laid down on the couch in the back office and sleep while the peons do the work.

Ken, great reply but several points,

1. You don't have to be a policy wonk to address the issues that people worry about in a positive way. When it came to the issues, I only remember two suggestions: Don't raise taxes on higher earners and cut taxes (though a little vague on whose or how they get cut).

2. Its not giving up on Reagan to apply his principles to the current situation. Its not like Reagan just replayed Goldwater's 1964 campaign in 1980. In 1980 Reagan ran a much more pro growth, tax cut oriented campaign. The situation today is different and a modern Kemp-Roth style across the board income tax cut makes less sense both as politics and policy. How well did running a slavish FDR style campaign work out for Mondale in 1984. We should respect Reagan's achievments and hold to his principles but we are rerunning his 1980s strategy without reflection on the changed circumstances (which is very near to what Limbaugh was demanding) isn't statesmanship its just nostalgia.

3. The test of persuasion isn't whether Limbaugh can convert hardcore liberals, its how his arguments and style work for people who are persuadable. I don't see someone on the fence responding postively to Saturday's performance even if they sat throguh all of it. This next part is more impresionistic on my part. I think Limbaugh really was alot better in the early 90s. He popularized the arguments for supply side economics to an audience that wasn't reading the Wall Street Journal. He defended powerfully Reagan's record to people who didn't read National Review and he spelled out the arguments against the then existing welfare system to people who had not read Losing Ground. All with his huge charisma (which he still has), and skills as a satirist (which have also gotten rusty). I don't think he does that anymore and conservatism is alot worse off for it.

Thanks, Pete. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Agreed, Rush et al. need to be clearer on what it means to embrace/go beyond/reject Reagan. Reagan's ideals allowed him to be practical in his approach to specific political issues. Under the Bush's the tax-cutting became a mechanical exercise, just as the pork-barrelling and the administrative state became non-issues for the Republicans.

I am sure we agree more than we disagree on many of these things. There does need to be more energy and imagination (Gingrich, as openers) here.

It is very difficult to defend the concept of "limited government" when billions of dollars are spoken of as if they were mere millions. It's not just adding up to big money, it's changing our conception of political economy and the meaning of a free society. In such a universe not to want to spend hundreds of billions is regarded as negativity and wanting to do nothing.


Nicely written. I was dashing off to class earlier today, and I meant to comment on your previous posts. I think you are spot on, especially in your last point #3, concerning Rush.

Ken: I think you are correct. We do have much more in common than not. Watching the proceedings at CPAC, Gingrich did very well. So I agree with you about Newt's thoughtfulness--which at least conservatives need. However, when he was speaking, most of those in attendance received him coolly. This is probably because he tied Obama and Bush #2 together on the economy. This made the audience very uncomfortable.

I get the sense that conservatives want to cheer for their side and reflexively criticize their opposition. This is where Rush does no good.

But, you are right about the argument vis-a-vis limited government. Rush does articulate that much; the question is does he persuade?

I also finally think I understand your Rousseau comments, which were unclear to me. But, someone sent me the post from Crunchy Con today. If that is what you are referring to, I think I understand your reaction. Dreher overplayed the connection to be sure.

Erik and Pete,

You two sound like a couple of blow hard academic policy wonks. You make Rush sound humble, and that is hard to do. If you don't get the lay of the land any better than this, if you don't see why Rush and his occasional conservative instincts (he is in fact a libertarian at heart) is SO much more important than some policy retort in health care for example, then I dare say you are irredeemable. You don't have clue as the heart of man and what drives him (despite your alleged learning).

My advice is that you never leave academia, as you will find the world outside it's walls a hard place...

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