The ideological rigidity of the Republican party has become unbearable. It refuses to compromise on anything. It says no to everything. GOP politicians are afraid to even have a photograph taken shaking President Obama’s hand.
Part of this is driven by right-wing media, particularly the radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, whose millions of listeners form the diehard primary voters that are pushing the party further and further to the right. These radio hosts do a good job of publicizing and publicizing Republican ideas, but they also demand ideological purity. Cross the line with them, and they will crush you. You’ll face a tea party opponent in you next primary.
Limbaugh in particular reminds me Jabba the Hutt. Republican politicians are terrified of him. So many times we’ve seen a Republican say something critical of Limbaugh, only to appear on his radio show a few days later to apologize or disavow his statements. He’s like a crime boss. You cross him and you sleep with the proverbial fishes.
But what if Republicans collectively stood up to these guys? What if they presented an alternative point of view that was less extreme, more flexible? Could they make the party more reasonable and pull the base of their party away from the fringe? We’ll never know until they show some courage and do something about it.
Frank Luntz displayed a profound lack of courage recently. He is the master of GOP messaging. He finds a way to change how people about something by changing the language associated with it. Does oil drilling sound dirty and destructive? Change it to “energy exploration.” Does the estate tax seems too benign? Tell Republican operatives to call it a “death tax.”
But when it comes to right-wing radio, Luntz has very little to say on the record. While speaking to a small group of students recently at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, a student asked him about the problem of political polarization in the United States. Luntz said he had something to say about the subject, but he wanted to go off the record. A student reporter in the room turned off a tape recorder, but one student decided to record what happened next on his iPhone. That recording then made its way to Mother Jones. Luntz complained about right-wing radio’s corrosive effect on civic discourse and its hold on Republican leadership.
[T]hey get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it’s really problematic… If you take—Marco Rubio’s getting his ass kicked… He’s getting destroyed! By Mark Levin, by Rush Limbaugh, and a few others. He’s trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn’t the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him. That’s what’s causing this thing underneath. And too many politicians in Washington are playing coy.
“Coy” isn’t the word that I would use. Cringing might be more appropriate. Republican leaders need to stand up and push back against these media types. Too many Americans see Limbaugh and others as the real faces of the Republican party. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the supposed leaders of the GOP caucus on Capitol Hill, are little more than political operators whose profile barely extends beyond the Beltway. Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin. These guys call the shots because millions listen to them every day. It should be the other way around. But no one will take a stand. It’s painful to see a hateful, ignorant creature like Limbaugh wielding so much power over our country’s leaders. How much better off would be as a country if the people who were voted into office were courageous enough to call the shots.