There is perhaps no more disturbing theme to come out of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) than the undercurrent of elitist commentary leaking out on some blogs and on Tweeter. The reactions of the establishment and the establishment wannabes to such people as Sarah Palin, Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, and other personalities within the party who appeal to the base have been remarkable. The criticism of Sarah and Joe was fairly mild by most political standards. But the message was clear: such people are in ill favor with the establishment.
One such respondent placed his objections within the framework of the Republican Party being the middle-class party and therefore not needing “gimmicks” to prove their middle-class bona fides. The problem, of course, is that once those middle-class symbols are removed, or limited in their impact and exposure, the Republican Party leadership tends to forget the values of the middle class that they claim to represent. The results are predictable:
- In election seasons, such omissions lead to the near suicidal nomination of people like John McCain for president. McCain tried to sell us on the idea that he was a “maverick” when it came to bucking the party establishment. All too often, however, he was a very public rebel against true conservative values. Back in the day, the description we used for such people was “Rockefeller Republicans.” These days, the most apt description is RINO (“Republican in Name Only”). The nomination of McCain resulted in the spectacle of Palin and Wurzelbacher gathering more people at their appearances than John McCain drew to his.
- Under these conditions, when Republicans are in power they tend to spend more time in “go along to get along” mode than they do governing on conservative principles, essentially guaranteeing a loss at the next electoral opportunity.
In both situations, forgetting the grassroots is destructive and — as with the most recent election cycle — downright suicidal. It amazes me that this lesson has yet to be learned.
There is another factor, which I mentioned in a previous Pajamas Media article:
Those Americans traditionally supporting Republican candidates tend not to let their entire beings get wrapped up in letting one politician or another be the answer to all their problems — or the cause of them.
By that same token, Republicans tend not to need an elite leadership to do their thinking for them. Rush Limbaugh (who spoke so eloquently of conservative values at CPAC) and the hosts of conservative talk shows across this country are extremely popular because they manage to articulate what ordinary voters are already thinking and, all too often, what the Republican Party leadership is ignoring. It comes as no shock then that Republican Party leaders find it harder, if not impossible, to maintain the “leader walks on water” meme that the Democrats promoted with Obama and Clinton.
I agree that Joe Wurzelbacher’s personae has been somewhat overblown by his supporters, and it seems logical to ask why that’s so. I submit to you the reason that Joe the Plumber is elevated by conservatives to the degree that he has been is because the rank and file of the party have been ignored for too long by the leadership. The base is latching on to Joe as a drowning man does to a life preserver. Joe’s instant celebrity should have been a red flag waving in the face of the Republican leadership, warning them that something was seriously wrong with the direction of the party. Alas, that warning has been ignored thus far. And at CPAC, we saw people reacting negatively to those waving that flag.
One respondent at CPAC, writing from the convention floor, spoke of a need to update the intellectual platform to accommodate a “changed era.” He complains that “it’s as if Jimmy Carter is still in the White House and Roe v. Wade was just handed down.”
The reference to Roe ignores the concept that conservative principles do not change. You do not check your principles at the door.
What’s happening here is a call from the rank and file for representation within the party — and within a government that actually reflects their conservative principles.
The GOP does need to return to its roots. Of this there is no question in my mind. There’s little public argument about this even from the outspoken establishment types at CPAC. Yet we still see a lot of derision of Wurzelbacher and Palin from those same establishment types. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to disrespect the people whose values you claim to share, does it?
The main reason for the objections to many grassroots heroes is not that people like Wurzelbacher lack forceful, clear articulation. Rather, it’s that they espouse traditional conservative positions. The suggestion by the elites is that those principles need to be ditched if Republicans want to regain power. The major critique is not whether they are effective spokesmen for the cause.
Sadly, what I’ve been seeing the last couple of days in a lot of the anti-grassroots traffic coming out of CPAC is that we’re about to repeat the history of the pre-Reagan years. Then, Republicans lost sight of their principles and ended up aping the Democrats in promoting the worst aspects of the welfare state.