It isn't hard to understand why so many Democrats, liberals and even some independents and moderates get up in arms over Rush Limbaugh's incendiary comments, the most recent being his remarks that he hoped President Obama would fail.
But many of those folks then take the next, seemingly logical, step and suggest that the Republican Party is making a mistake in allowing Limbaugh to become the effective face of the GOP and the conservative movement, as if Republicans could stop it.
Many of the Democrats, liberals, independents and moderates who see Limbaugh as a political Neanderthal who projects a face of intolerance argue that his prominence feeds into the image of a Republican Party that is growing increasingly narrow and monolithic.
Without taking sides as to the content and tone of what Limbaugh says, arguably what he is doing is important and helpful to the Republican Party and the conservative movement, even if a majority of Americans disagree with much of what he says and often find him offensive.
The Republican Party and the conservative movement have just sustained back-to-back crippling losses. Their morale is somewhere below the bottom of the Grand Canyon now. This isn't unique in American history; we have certainly seen Republicans and, yes, Democrats at this ebb before.
With morale among Republicans and conservatives so low, somebody needs to say the provocative and even outlandish things that will get their blood moving.
The Republican Party is a brand that has grown stale and obsolete and is in real need of retooling and repositioning. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," many Republican elected officials seem to think that by clicking their heels and saying the magic words "Ronald Reagan," everything will be better. But a president born 98 years ago is hardly relevant today, regardless of how great he was. Republicans' wishful thinking won't fix that.
The Republican message of small government and self-reliance is completely out of sync now when people are seeing half of their life savings wiped out in the stock market, experiencing home value losses, losing jobs and fearing for their future.
It is a message that worked well for the better part of the last 30 years and will, someday, work well again.
Many have trashed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's response to Obama's speech to Congress a week ago, making fun of his style. But ultimately the messenger wasn't the problem; it was the message that was out of place given the economic times.
It's easy to say what Republicans should not be saying these days and harder to say exactly what they should be saying.
My guess is they should seek to identify a handful of issues where a majority of the American people are actually closer to historic Republican positions, and where Democratic constituencies prevent that party from moving to co-opt the GOP. Energy is certainly one example.
To listen to Democrats, wind, solar and conservation will cure everything, but most Americans know that while those can provide part of the solution, they can't do it all. Arguably the last major issue faux pas committed by Democrats was their opposition last summer to offshore -- but out of sight -- oil and gas drilling, even when gasoline was selling for $4 a gallon.
Although gas is back down below $2 a gallon in most places, Americans know that this is undoubtedly temporary. America needs more sources of oil and gas, and it would be better if they were domestically produced. We need nuclear power and clean coal as well.
Wind and solar are fine, when and where it is practical to implement them, but they are not the solution. Nor can conservation do it alone.
Calling Democrats out on energy production that is anathema to the party's interest groups is one example of something Republicans can be saying and pushing while they try to reposition their party for the future. Certainly there are others.
But in the meantime, Limbaugh serves a purpose. With morale among Republicans and conservatives so low, somebody needs to say the provocative and even outlandish things that will get their blood moving and give them some incentive to get out of bed in the morning.
While the American people might not know who House Minority Leader John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are, they are smart enough to know Limbaugh is not the leader of the Republican Party.
So Limbaugh can say outrageous things that Boehner and McConnell can't or maybe wouldn't want to say but which will energize and motivate Republicans and conservatives. Plus, with him as the mouthpiece, the GOP doesn't pay a price or have to apologize. If they have to say anything, they should say, "Rush is just being Rush."
Limbaugh doesn't solve the problems of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, but he certainly can put some starch in the drawers of Republicans and conservatives who lately have had very little to get excited about.
Until an overarching message can be constructed and the party repositioned to compete in this vastly different and challenging world we are in today, Limbaugh is a tonic badly needed in the party and the movement.
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