3.02.2009

Mistaking the cheerleaders for leaders

I've been wondering lately why a movement would fete a plumber who can't sell books, why an anti-intellectual moose-hunting mayor is still a rallying point for a movement, and why a party leader cowtows to a radio blowhard.

I realized the reason is very simple, and it's the same reason the GOP has been going nowhere fast lately.

Via Saul Anuzis's Twitter feed a while back, I came across this not altogether friendly take on what Joe the Plumber means for the Republican Party:
If you want to get a sense of how unserious and ungrounded most Americans think the Republican Party is, look no further than how conservatives elevate Joe the Plumber as a spokesman. The movement has become so gimmick-driven that Wurzelbacher will be a conservative hero long after people have forgotten what his legitimate policy beef with Obama was.


Michael Steel had a unique opportunity to put a few things in their proper place when he picked a fight with Limbaugh. Limbaugh is not a party leader, or a movement leader. He's not an ideas guy. He doesn't come up with intelligent ways in which the GOP should deal with the issues of the day. At his most innocuous, he's a political cheerleader: a guy who gets the fans riled up, ready to go. Most of the time, though, he's a paid bomb-thrower -- tossing out incendiary one-liners about whom he hopes to see fail. Joe the Plumber is an illustrative example, not a leader. Sarah Palin, although an actual holder of political office, gained notice for her ability to draw crowds and not really know where Russia is; not even her fans, I suspect, really believe she will be coming up with real solutions.

That Steele, ostensibly an ideas guy -- indeed, if he isn't coming up with coherent ideas on where the GOP needs to go, we may as well abandon the entire endeavor -- caved to the radio host shows a terrible lack of spine.

And it's symptomatic of a larger problem: the party can no longer tell its leaders from its cheerleaders. And a movement that doesn't know the coach from the prom queen is in serious trouble.

The GOP has largely forsaken its intellectuals. So instead of knowing that Joe and Sarah and Rush are useful, that they certainly have their place, but that they certainly can't lead the party, can't come up with real ideas, the party elevates its anti-intellectuals to cult status. The religious right, which hasn't had a new idea in 30 years, and which is losing relevance faster every year, is the core of the party; meanwhile, the libertarian wing is the only wing that has something to say about an actual issue right now (and has been a motivator and uniter for national conservatives).

But instead of working on actual ideas, or trying to reinvigorate the think-tanks and intellectual magazines that brought the GOP to power, conservatives cheer when Rush scapegoats "the media." Joe and Rush and Sarah represent the "working-man" anti-intellectualism of the GOP.

The media is not the GOP's problems: it's the lack of leadership -- it's the lack of ideas. Conservatives with ideas get media time.

Conservatives who are doing things are not ignored. The trouble is, there is a decided lack of either of these types of conservatives at the moment.

Instead, we're all focused on the cheerleaders.