Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 2, 2009

OPPOSING THE IDEA OF IDEAS.... It's one thing to propose bad ideas. It's something else altogether to insist that proposing ideas is itself a bad idea.

One the one hand we have former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's pushing a 12-point "American Solutions Winning the Future" agenda. It is, to be sure, weak tea. The policies are little more than a warmed over conservative wish-list that could have been written years ago: tax cuts, more tax cuts, undermining unions, financial deregulation, and drill the coasts for oil.

Gingrich is, however, at least trying to be taken seriously on public policy. It's not working, but he's giving it his best shot. To hear Rush Limbaugh tell it, that's the problem -- the right needs to stop being so substantive.

"Everybody asks me, and I'm sure it's been a focal point of your convention, 'Well, what do we do, as conservatives? What do we do? How do we overcome this?' ... One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas. [...]

"Our own movement has members trying to throw Reagan out while the Democrats know they can't accomplish what they want unless they appeal to Reagan voters. We have got to stamp this out within this movement because it will tear us apart. It will guarantee we lose elections."

So, what are we left with? A far-right Republican with bad policy ideas, and another far-right Republican who wants to give up on policy ideas altogether. One is failing to win a debate on the merits, and the other believes debating the merits is itself pointless.

These are the perspectives of the two of the most influential conservative "leaders" in the country.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Since Limbaugh gets a "Rush" from political performance-enhancing substances, he may want to push such use on Republicans to come up with better policy ideas than the Democrats. (Remember Timothy Leary and LSD?)

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on March 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

You're basically right, but Rush wouldn't say that he's throwing policy aside. He's only saying that the pinnacle of policy making was reached under Reagan and no innovation is necessary. In other words, Republicans should start debating policy as a theological discipline.

Posted by: tom on March 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

The only difference between Gingrich and Limbaugh is that Gingrich wants to market old ideas as "new" and Limbaugh wants to market them as "old". Whether the bow is red or gold, the box is still empty.

Posted by: Danp on March 2, 2009 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

It's like a really bad restaurant menu, isn't it? On the one hand, we have "Column A" --- the meatloaf that would not die -- and "Column B" --- a greasy, gnat-encrusted plate where the meatloaf that would not die used to be.

If those are the only two options available on their menu, then I think we can anticipate many more American voters walking out of the restaurant in disgust ---never to return. It'll make for a good fairy-tale someday, though --- The Newt and the Toad....

Posted by: Steve W. on March 2, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

The problem with Reaganism is it really achieved very little substantively of the 1980 Republican platform. He lower taxes but he also raised them. He reformed the Income tax code but he let it get complicated again. He didn't get rid of either the Energy or the Education departments. He certainly did not end abortion...

... and he added enormously to the U.S. debt through is deficits.

He did 'defeat' the Soviet Union, but is that really only a 'conservative' policy?

So what is Rush defending, muddled failure?

Posted by: Lance on March 2, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Since "Ben" Gingrich really is in love with the idea of ideas, rather than ideas themselves, I'd say Limbaugh's comment is strangely apt.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on March 2, 2009 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

I love waking up to good news.

Posted by: anandine on March 2, 2009 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

That these two are battling for the conservative 'leadership' says a lot. Do they have anyone less popular with moderates and independents? And where does Joe the plumber weigh in? Is he a dittohead or a Newtster?

Posted by: JoeW on March 2, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

I have been watching the Republican party train wreck and so far I can't find a valid reason to think they are going to make a comeback. The first thing a person digging a hole he can't climb out of needs to do is stop digging. So far conservatives are still digging. Neither Newt nor Limbaugh ask how they got into this mess and whether something they proposed or endorsed might be responsible.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 2, 2009 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

He did 'defeat' the Soviet Union

Actually the Soviet Union fell because of its own economy, and that even came as a surprise to the CIA. Rock and roll music probably had more to do with the USSR's decline as Reagan.

Posted by: Danp on March 2, 2009 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

I take it Rush means they should just scream that Obama is a Communist terrorist illegal alien who wants to force us into mandatory gay abortions.

Of course the blobular one is against ideas. The only time he's good at coming up with ideas is when it involves scoring pain meds. I wouldn't be surprised if he's trying to position himself as some sort of official political adviser a la Karl Rove.


Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on March 2, 2009 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

That's not quite what Limbaugh said, nor what he meant. Give the man his due -- the perversity of his genius has metastasized.

He praised Gingrich, but then said Newt has changed, because (Limbaugh argued) he seems to want to 'figure out what the country needs', as a way to return to American leadership.

Limbaugh is having none of it: ""Figure out what the country needs" and then do it? We know what the country needs already! That's our ace-in-the-hole."

He went on to bitch that energy consumption isn't subsidized (I suppose that's news to all those folks in uniform): "...it is capitalism that forces genuine change throughout culture and throughout society. Newt could have just as easily said here that conservative principles don't change, that the Reagan coalition is simply looking for leadership and that we need to bring more creative policy alternatives to the table than we have in the recent past. But that's not what he said. He said, "The era of Reagan is over. ... It's the end of the Reagan era." It is not. If the Reagan era is over, if the Reagan coalition is dead, what replaced it? "

As goofy as Limbaugh is, he's not nuts -- what he means by "the Reagan coalition", after all, is essentially the FDR coalition 45 years later, which may well become the Obama coalition, 30 years after Reagan's first election.

What made all of these winning coalitions isn't the base -- each more or less stays put: conservatives have generally voted Republican, at least since Goldwater; liberals have voted Democratic (except for the idiots who voted for Nader and gave us W) since LBJ. What made FDR, and Reagan, and Clinton, and Obama winners is that they won the middle.

And that's where Limbaugh is just fracking glorious, cuz his boffo conclusion is: "What happens if [any named Republican] happen(s) to win, attracting the votes of independents, moderates, the Jell-Os, and Democrats? Does that not equal the demise of the Republican Party?"


There he is, the intellectual and political head of the Opposition. I hope he gets to nominate each and every Republican candidate from the Presidency in 2012 (and 2016, and 2020....) on down to governors, Senators, US representatives, mayors, county commissioners.....

Posted by: anonymous on March 2, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Neither of those clowns could win a circle jerk of just the two of them.

Posted by: Angela on March 2, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

The only difference between these two is the hair!

Where they are alike:

Insecure, misogynistic, pompous, over weight (though Newtie is trying to stay within budget), tin-eared, and not so good for us law abiding, decent, small d democrats here in America.

Each, now, could only be loved by their mothers! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 2, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

"Our own movement has members trying to throw Reagan out while the Democrats know they can't accomplish what they want unless they appeal to Reagan voters."

Are we there already? I'm intrigued. What are we doing that has Rush concerned we appeal to Reagan voters?

To add to Danp's observation. Reagan didn't crush the USSR when Leonid Brezhnev was in power. He bided his time through Yrui Andropov. He chose not to make his move during the term of Konstantin Chernenko.

Finally... in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev comes into power and Reagan commands him to tear down the Berlin Wall and Mikhail, like a frightened schoolgirl does so.

Any schmuck who buys this line of bull should take just one minute on Wikipedia and compare Gorbachev to any of the other men Reagan faced.

Gorbachev brought down the USSR. Quite deliberately.

Finally, if useful idiots hadn't voted for Nader, would we have a progressive president right now?
Were Nader's claims that Democrats had to hit rock bottom before they could rise again THAT far off the mark? Gore 2000 was not the same man who brought us "Inconvenient Truth."

I'm not thrilled with the costs associated with the last eight years, but it's darn nice to be hopeful as a Democrat again after 28 years of pretenders and milksops. (Now if Pelosi and Reid would be kind enough to step aside....)

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 2, 2009 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

"Whether the bow is red or gold, the box is still empty."

Indeed. The GOP is ALWAYS trying to either recapture/recycle the glory days or mimic the success of democrats. I'm thinking George W recycled from George HW, Fred Thompson recycled from Reagan, Sarah P mimicked from Hillary, Mike Steele (black) and Jindal (youth/minority) mimicked from Barack.

For the GOP it's never about policy OR personnel. Just about a 'package' so they can sell the same megacorp.USA crap to the masses. Latching on to a large part of the Jesus 'pie' was what got them to thinking they could rule the U.S. forever in a permanent majority.

Posted by: palinoscopy on March 2, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Gingrich's attempt at "ideas" should be constantly referenced against his Contract with America. It's the Jindal speech: the theory of small government, tax cuts and individualism vs the, well, the theory of (insert appropriately repellent theory).
Unfortunately, the Villagers won't bother to point to the most recent application of the theory. Newt's last set of ideas resulted in the very programs targeted for elimination growing faster than the rest. It resulted in government under Republicans growing faster and larger than ever before.

Gore 2000 was not the same man who brought us "Inconvenient Truth."
Yes, yes he was and is. The Nader votes didn't help, but the chattering class elected GwB. You seem to believe what the media told you about Gore. They hated him not apologizing for Clinton.

Posted by: mickscotty on March 2, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Newt's and Rush's belief that they are the hottest items in a RepuG singles bar, reminds me of some clowns walking into a Beverly Hills watering hole in the early '70s. Greying and balding, tum tums being held in by poly white belts, chesty seas of grey, with gold chains and medallions dangling, they cried out, "Hey, we're going to Palm Springs for the weekend. Who wants to get lucky?"

Posted by: berttheclock on March 2, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Remarkable stuff. How can one be against ideas? The answer is that this is now a war against a distinct type of person, that threat to civilization called "the liberal." The Right's loathing for these people goes far beyond any specific policies that anyone might advocate, but extends to a whole human sub-species. In other places, such venom is reserved for other races and religions.

Posted by: davidp on March 2, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas.

It seems to me that he is admitting that there are no better policy ideas than the Democrats are already proposing.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on March 2, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, I pay as little attention to Limbaugh is possible, so maybe there's something here I'm missing. But wasn't the Republican party, under Reagan, the self-styled 'party of ideas'? And so isn't Limbaugh's argument 180 degrees off? If the Republicans want to become Reaganesque once more, then shouldn't Limbaugh be urging the GOP to propose new, better ideas, rather than criticizing Gingrich for having any ideas at all?

Or am I completely in the weeds here because I'm expecting Limbaugh's rants to be at least mildly coherent?

And one other thing (I almost forgot): Limbaugh is a dick.

Posted by: David Bailey on March 2, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Dunno... it's almost like I can't blame Republicans for assuming that American voters don't need much in the way of ideas. The tendency to avoid evaluation of public policies--stemming from bored irritation when times are good and all-out panic when times are bad-- has been a pretty consistent winner for the GOP, after all. Right now they're rooting for failure because they expect the public to eventually say 'I don't care what you do, just fix things!' which would of course sweep them back into power. Newt's just trying to provide the traditional serious-men cover that voters historically have trusted enough to go back to ignoring actual governance.

Posted by: latts on March 2, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

I think Rush has honestly faced up to what it means to be a conservative: to reject any and all "ideas" for improving government. Conservatives can't have any ideas about government, since they believe that besides the military, the police force and the justice system, all other functions of society should be handled by the private sector. There is not much room there for any innovative ideas about government. Government was perfected at the time of the founding fathers and it's been downhill ever since.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on March 2, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Has the republican party effectively spilt into two parties,the "rinos" and the "wingnuts"?

Posted by: stuart on March 2, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

I think there is a kernel of truth in lardass's argument. The democrats have ALWAYS had superior policies. And yet we got steamrolled for years by the Rove-Cheney-Delay forces until they collapsed of their own incompetence and greed.

I am concerned that many Americans' dedication to Obama's policies are not all that deep - and that the lardasses of the world will sooner or later turn the tide with their hate, lies, and greed masked in a new slogan.

I actually wish someone in the conservative world really did have some policy ideas worth discussing. Otherwise, history suggests liberalism may collapse itself almost as quickly as Bush faux-conservatism did - even if we actually do care about the governing.

Posted by: short fuse on March 2, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Reagan is a huge curse for Republicans, primarily because they've created such a cartoonish myth around the guy that never approached reality. By taking their most popular leader and instilling him with hardcore conservativism that he never had, they essentially have created an unattainable goal.

They now seriously believe that he was a small government tax-cutter with balls of steel who defeated America's enemies with unwavering strength. So they naturally assume they just need to find the right guy who can embody the principles of Reagan and be their knight in shining armor. But Reagan wasn't that guy. He raised taxes, had huge deficits, negotiated with terrorists and communists, cut-and-ran from terror attacks, supported evil dictators, and perhaps worst of all, worked with Democrats to pass legislation. It was really only after he died that he became this bigger-than-life conservative caricature that they hold up as their ideal.

And had Reagan been the hardcore conservative they pretend he was, he'd never have been as popular as he was. By using him as the ideal leader, they've created a false god that will continually mislead them.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on March 2, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

"Gorbachev brought down the USSR. Quite deliberately."

To assume that events in the USSR would have unfolded exactly as they occured, regardless of what sort of policy or leadership existed in the United States is a pretty amazing assumption.


Posted by: MBunge on March 2, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Reagan believed in lowering income taxes and despised the Communists. He was indifferent to other so-called conservative ideas, especially on social issues. Lowering income taxes came from not having the money to compete with that of his Kitchen Cabinet. Anti-communism came from battles during his tenure of heading the actor's union.

Yes, he has been inflated far more than his real persona.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 2, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

berttheclock - It should be remembered that Reagan ended up liking the Soviets and taking back his "Evil Empire" comment. He realized they were humans too, and weren't trying to take over the world, and even had a touristy trip to Russia in his final year as president.

The neo-cons were outraged at his friendliness and one of the big reasons this isn't mentioned more is because both the liberals who hated Reagan and conservatives preferred to see him as a hardliner. And while Reagan might have gone into the Whitehouse as one, that's definitely not how he left.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on March 2, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat them is with better policy ideas.

This is actually really important.

He's not throwing in the towel, he's trying to remind Republicans who they really are and what they're really all about,

they have never had better policy ideas, never!

His Holiness Rush knows this, it's simply unique to hear one of these people come right out and admit it.

Posted by: alan on March 2, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

As Michael Medved put it, in another thread,

"It makes us look weird. It makes us look crazy. It makes us look demented. It makes us look sick, troubled, and not suitable for civilized company."

It's the Naked Lunchtime of the Republicans.

Posted by: alan on March 2, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

I think this Republican 'debate' is a lot more legitimate than what we had when the Bush family dynasty was in charge.

Incidentally, I have to agree with both of them to some extent. Gingrich is a man of the House and obviously sees policy issues as critical. Rush is a spokesman and outsider and obviously sees winning elections as more of a show. Clearly both of these points are correct: one needs to grab the public's attention and then to somehow convince them to vote for you (or your candidate).

But, what 'show' and what 'policy ideas'?

Posted by: MarkH on March 2, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of the old joke about the two ladies staying at a Catskill resort hotel:

"Helen, the food here is absolutely terrible.!"

"Oh, Audrey, I know. And the portions are so small."

Posted by: Mandy Cat on March 2, 2009 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Dave Miller on March 3, 2009 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK



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