A Final Word On Rush

Ruffini writes:

My overall sense is that the Frums and the Douthats of the world would be well served by staying away from this argument. As Ross himself has written, the grassroots needs elites -- and the elites need the grassroots. By trying to isolate Rush, the elites break down this elegant separation and veer into micromanaging the grassroots -- a losing proposition, particularly against a brand as sticky as Rush.

I take the point: I originally only meant to take a mild and passing swipe at Rush's CPAC speech, and I somewhat regret wading in deeper. (Such are the perils of blogging ...) But it's also worth remembering that Limbaugh's critics have ended up having this fight in part because Limbaugh has come after them. Rush was attacking David Frum as a sell-out and a surrender monkey before Frum was attacking him, and the CPAC speech was just the latest blast in Rush's long-running campaign to isolate would-be conservative reformers - a campaign that's seen him go after everyone from Jim Manzi to Newt Gingrich to yours truly.

Now obviously we're all big boys and we can take it, and Ruffini has a good point about discretion being the better part of valor in these kind of debates: Reformist takes on conservatism will survive even if Rush's attacks go unrebutted, and reformers might even win a few more converts if they aren't perceived as locked in a death-struggle with talk radio. But the deeper problem here isn't that a few conservative pointy-heads are getting their egos bruised by Rush's broadsides; it's that conservative politicians seem to be spending an awful lot of time looking over their shoulders these days, worried about what Limbaugh and company have to say about them. (Bobby Jindal's much-panned response to Obama, for instance, could have been ghost-written by Rush, and sure enough, Rush was the only one who liked it.) And this is something that reformers should be worried about: The GOP's leaders desperately need some space in which to experiment a little, on policy and otherwise, and they don't seem to have it at the moment. Maybe criticizing Limbaugh isn't the best way to open up that space - but at the very least you can see where the impulse comes from.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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