The Commentariat Crack-up Is Nigh
Tuesday, October 24, 2006 :::
Or at least that's what Reason editor David Weigel believes. In a piece that could have used a good scrubbing from an editor somewhere at Reason (they once had them, but then Virginia left and, well, the kids just ran amok), Weigel says that GOP commentators -- whether they be bloggers, book writers, talking heads or radio jockeys -- will find the post-election world a cold and bitter place. He reserves an especially chilly corner for Hugh Hewitt:
Like a nervous parent or a once-bitten-twice-shy girlfriend, Hewitt is incapable of seeing the GOP's faults. He applauds Speaker Dennis Hastert's anemic response to the wave of congressional scandals because, well, Republicans are better than Democrats. ("You can trust the GOP to clean its own House.") He predicts the survival of crooked Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, whose profligate pork spending and ties to Jack Abramoff have convinced the party to cut him loose, because, well, Republicans are better than Democrats. (Burns "could pull it off with straight talk and help from Bush," as if that means anything.)
Hewitt, and many of the pro-Republican bloggers/pundits/radio jabberers that he cites, have taken such a long breather from justifying their party's policies that they've forgotten how to.
As I don't read Hewitt's blog, his books or listen to his radio show, I can't say whether this spluttering critique is accurate. But embedded within the invective are nuggets of general truth.
There are those who, for varying reasons, will either mute or omit criticisms of the GOP. There is certainly nothing unique about this and Lord knows the exact same behavior is displayed among those of the Democratic persuasion.
And, of course, when the votes are finally counted, one side or the other is going to go into a funk. But I think Weigel misses an important point: Whichever side comes out the loser this November will be that much more energized come 2008. The elections this year -- monumental as they are to the participants and their partisans -- will look like walks in the park compared to what will occur in 2008. The commentariat will not die -- it will become stronger because the stakes will have become greater in their eyes.
But I also think Weigel misses the mark in his conclusion, when he says:
The problem is their lack of ideas, their lack of a defense of the GOP, their lack of interest in justifying the party to its former faithful. They hate being told that the beloved party might need to be kicked into the minority to rediscover its reason for being. They hate it so much that they can provide scary pictures of Nancy Pelosi, nasty names for anti-PATRIOT Act Democrat Jon Tester, and even more evidence that they desperately need a little time back on the bench.
So close...but so far away. Yes, painting scary images of post-election world isn't exactly an intellectual exercise and it certainly isn't the sort of messaging that encourages people to cast a positive vote.
But the Democrats haven't done much positive messaging either. "We're not the GOP" may help get some people to pull the lever for a Democrat, but for the vast, mushy middle, it's not enough. Only lately have Virginia's Senate candidates started telling people why they should vote for them. Some of it has been good, some bad, some unintentionally revealing. But at least they got around to it. Eventually.
I still believe that it would do the GOP some good to return to the minority. Defeat can be clarifying. It can be cathartic. It can be long overdue. But Weigel's piece contains many of the same traits he damns in others: It tells us why the GOP is bad, but does not make a positive case for why change is needed. That's the case Reason's editors ought to be making, rather than scoring cheap points.
The Exchange Continues
In this post, Weigel responds to one blog's criticism of his piece and, in the process, gives a good, thumbnail critique of the GOP:
Serious conservatives (and serious boosters of the GOP) know that libertarians are leaving the GOP's electoral coalition in droves. They understand that libertarians are frustrated by the Republican party's (let's use neutral terms) policies on spending, education, health care, foreign policy and civil liberties in the Bush era. But how can the GOP change? If it wins another term in two weeks, will it understand that as a validation of Bush-style "conservatism"? Is the party interested in a debate on any of these issues? Not really; its boosters confront arguments by saying "Republicans are better than Democrats," so stop whining and enjoy Medicare Part D and Alberto Gonzales. No wondering why a Democrat who's only as bad on spending as Republicans, but better on civil liberties than they've been in years, is winning conservative hearts in Montana.
That's more like it.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 10/24/2006