Frum's Right on Limbaugh and GOP: Conservatives, Republicans Must Evolve

Time to move past Limbaugh and bring the party into the 21st century

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

I read David Frum's cover piece in this week's Newsweek magazine, "Why Rush is Wrong: A Conservative's case against Limbaugh," and I've been thinking about it ever since. Frum is a former Bush #43 speechwriter, and has started a great website, newmajority.com, that I found on Michael Barone's recommendation a few weeks back. Frum's article is the must-read of the week for Republicans. I agree with most of what he says, and here's the part that makes the most sense to me:

Look at America's public-policy problems, look at voting trends, and it's inescapably obvious that the Republican Party needs to evolve. We need to put free-market health-care reform, not tax cuts, at the core of our economic message. It's health-care costs that are crushing middle-class incomes. Between 2000 and 2006, the amount that employers paid for labor rose substantially. Employees got none of that money; all of it was absorbed by rising health-care costs. Meanwhile, the income-tax cuts offered by Republicans interest fewer and fewer people: before the recession, two thirds of American workers paid more in payroll taxes than in income taxes.

We need to modulate our social conservatism (not jettison—modulate). The GOP will remain a predominantly conservative party and a predominantly pro-life party. But especially on gay-rights issues, the under-30 generation has arrived at a new consensus. Our party seems to be running to govern a country that no longer exists. The rule that both our presidential and vice presidential candidates must always be pro-life has become counterproductive: McCain's only hope of winning the presidency in 2008 was to carry Pennsylvania, and yet Pennsylvania's most successful Republican vote winner, former governor Tom Ridge, was barred from the ticket because he's pro-choice ...

Above all, we need to take governing seriously again. Voters have long associated Democrats with corrupt urban machines, Republicans with personal integrity and fiscal responsibility ... After Iraq, Katrina and Harriet Miers, Democrats surged to a five-to-three advantage on the competence and ethics questions. And that was before we put Sarah Palin on our national ticket.

Every day, Rush Limbaugh reassures millions of core Republican voters that no change is needed: if people don't appreciate what we are saying, then say it louder. Isn't that what happened in 1994? Certainly this is a good approach for Rush himself. He claims 20 million listeners per week, and that suffices to make him a very wealthy man. And if another 100 million people cannot stand him, what does he care? What can they do to him other than ... not listen? It's not as if they can vote against him.

But they can vote against Republican candidates for Congress. They can vote against Republican nominees for president. And if we allow ourselves to be overidentified with somebody who earns his fortune by giving offense, they will vote against us. Two months into 2009, President Obama and the Democratic Congress have already enacted into law the most ambitious liberal program since the mid-1960s. More, much more is to come. Through this burst of activism, the Republican Party has been flat on its back. 

I couldn't agree more on that last point. It's time to move past Rush Limbaugh, on many levels, and I think there are a lot of conservatives who feel the same way. For Republicans, it's time to evolve.

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