Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Uncivil War

Media Matters totes up the number of Republicans and moderate conservatives who are worried that the public might get the wrong idea about them because of the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

As Eric Boehlert pointed out earlier today, a significant fissure is opening up on the Right. The increasing influence of extremists like Fox News’ Glenn Beck and radio host Rush Limbaugh has shaken more mainstream conservatives who are searching for a new set of leaders — and the conservative establishment is lashing out. Consider some of the recent comments from prominent conservative media personalities and elected officials:

* Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks describing Beck, Limbaugh, and radio talker Mark Levin as “loons” who are “harmful for America.”

* Former Bush and McCain adviser Mark McKinnon denouncing Levin’s “jaw-dropping hate language about the president.”

* MSNBC commentator and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough blasting Limbaugh’s cheers after Chicago lost its Olympic bid: “Republicans have gone off the deep end”

These are just a few examples of a serious trend. Right-wing media figures are now routinely attacking each other’s tactics and relevancy. On Friday, Brooks (nonsensically) dedicated an entire column to explaining why conservative media leaders like Beck and Limbaugh are not worthy of attention. He argued that we are once again witnessing “the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even of the Republican Party.” It’s a point he made several weeks earlier, when he said that “[i]f the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people.”

Much as I would like to agree, I think it’s a little much to describe this as a “serious trend” for the conservatives; not that they’re not over the top on their attacks on President Obama (and I’m still not buying Joe Scarborough’s usual tactic of saying that the Democrats were just as bad to President Bush), but that this sort of distancing by the more grown-up members of the conservative community of their misbehaving miscreants is a sign of a fissure in the right wing. It’s both a little tepid and a little late, and leaves the impression that they’re doing it more out of a sense of obligation rather than a real sense of revulsion for some of the more hateful stuff that gets out there. Of course they’re going to say that neither Mr. Beck nor Mr. Limbaugh speak for the party; that would affirm that they don’t have anyone in the party that does. But they were all too happy to welcome Rush Limbaugh as an honorary Member of Congress when it suited them.

What I think is really going on here is typical CYA so that when either Glenn Beck goes completely off the deep end or some viewer of his takes up the notion that it is his God-given duty to do something evil to the first black man elected as president, they will be able to say “Hey, we warned you about this and we had nothing to do with it.” It’s not that they really care about how rotten and uncivil the discourse has gotten; they just don’t want to get blamed for it when it leads to an inevitable and tragic climax.