The Bush administration was famous for enforcing loyalty among its people (while Junior was hanging out at the Bush 41 White House between jobs, his job was loyalty enforcer; ask former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu). The sight of someone going off the reservation on Friday, usually by telling the truth about inner administration goings-on, only to have them groveling back to apologize by Monday, was pretty common.
And as unpleasant as it was to watch, it's still arguably legitimate for a sitting president to zealously enforce his code of personal loyalty among his people--it's sick, but even carried to Bush's extremes at least it makes a kind of sick sense. It's not the sort of environment I (or most sane people, I'd think) would want to work in, but certainly everyone involved knew the rules going in.
But when the elected (sort of) head of the party has to apologize to a radio host for calling him out--on charges that no one really disputes--that's something else altogether.
I had emailed longtime p3 correspondent Doctor TV yesterday about the ongoing spat between RNC head Michael Steele and radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, shortly after Limbaugh called for the former's head (or other body parts) at CPAC. If Steele actually apologizes, I wrote, I'll be dumbfounded.
Exactly 10 minutes later, Doctor TV wrote me back with the words, "Prepare to be dumbfounded."
Twenty-four hours later, my jaw is still sagging on that one. I realize that Steele became head of the RNC much the way Claw-Claw-Claudius became emperor of Rome (i.e., less because of acknowledged talent than because all the more likely candidates were dead, by their own hand or someone else's). But wasn't there one person around Steele smart enough to remind him that Limbaugh, for whatever commercial clout he still has, does not sign Steele's paychecks?
Whatever else it proves, this sorry incident demonstrates that "Republican" and "conservative" were never equivalent terms--at least not in the sense of "movement conservative." It's more like: "Conservative" is to "Republican Party" as "Parasite" is to "Host."
I’m reminded of that great story told by Richard ("Nixonland") Perlstein:
Republicans are different from conservatives: that was one of the first lessons I learned when I started interviewing YAFers. I learned it making small talk with conservative publisher Jameson Campaigne, in Ottawa, Illinois, when I asked him if he golfed. He said something like: "Are you kidding? I'm a conservative, not a Republican."
Of course, this handed the Democratic leadership another free shot that they're happily taking advantage of (although not everyone on the left agrees with the wisdom of making Rush the face of the GOP). Still, when 95% of the participants at CPAC are against something that 67% of Americans support--and that something is Obama's job performance so far--it's hard not to conclude that the Republican party went to bed with conservatives and woke up with fleas.
There are rumors that some highly-placed Republicans have attacked Steele for caving to Limbaugh but, significantly, none of them wants their name printed.
At this point, if the federal election laws and Congressional rules that lock our two-party system in place disappeared tonight, the national Republican Party as it now stands would probably be gone by lunch tomorrow. It wouldn't even be a regional party dug in throughout the old Confederacy. At best it would be scattered remnants working out a deal to share office space with the LaRouche party or the Constitution Party.
Thanks to its partnership with radical right, the GOP is well on its way to becoming just a notional legal entity that the movement conservatives have co-opted for their political convenience--if it's not already there.
How quickly we arrived at this point from Rove's "permanent Republican majority," and what a sad spectacle it has become.