KERNS: Obama must avoid GOP infighting



Bryan Kerns

There was no loss of affection between President Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh after the bloviating demagogue (calling him a provocateur would confer too much intellectual credit) declared that he would be glad to see Obama’s economic recovery plans fail. There he was, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, decked out in black, something of a caricature of Danny DeVito’s Penguin from “Batman Returns” fused with the remnants of slothful indulgence and excess.

The didactic moment here is this: no matter what, Limbaugh remains a preening, self-aggrandizing fool whose decline will only be hastened if his beloved brand of conservatism continues deeper and deeper into its death spiral. Limbaugh’s vitriol is reminiscent of Charles Coughlin, the virulently anti-Semitic Catholic priest, circa 1938.

In the end, though, Limbaugh doesn’t matter. Casting him as the Antichrist, as Obama and his strategists seem to want to do, distracts from the president’s agenda. The political benefits, however, are clear.

Obama needs an enemy – someone who personifies everything there is to loathe about the Republican Party in 2009 in order to align public opinion behind the wide swath of programs that Obama intends to enact. If he is successful in assigning Limbaugh to lead that nefarious force, he stands to gain a great deal from voters under 40 (the future of the country), whom polls indicate despise Limbaugh. That’s where political realignment begins to take shape.

Limbaugh, whose favorability ratings among that key demographic are below those of Obama’s controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright, is all too happy to leap into character and denounce Obama as a socialist hell-bent on destroying all that is right and good with free market capitalism, liberty, justice, truth, baseball, John Mellencamp songs, the American way, mothers, the flag and perhaps even apple pie.

Obama has his nemesis. And the Republicans have internecine fighting over just who is leading their party. Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the current chairman of the Republican National Committee, has declared himself the leader of the party – and so he should be.

Lurking just offstage with a great deal of influence, according to a recent New York Times Magazine profile, is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich himself declared on CBS’s Face the Nation that “you’re irrational if you don’t want the president to succeed,” an obvious shot at Limbaugh’s remarks to CPAC a few weeks ago and the ensuing grapple between the White House and the GOP.

Quickly, the GOP officialdom sought to distance itself from Limbaugh’s bloodlust, but Steele found himself rebuked from conservative circles, leading to an interesting tête-à-tête which revealed how fractured the Republican Party remains in the wake of the electoral losses of 2006 and 2008.

Unfortunately, the White House may have gotten ahead of itself in engaging the personification of stupidity in talk radio – Limbaugh is quickly ostracizing himself from what surely will be a moderate resurgence within the ranks of the Republican Party.

If Bobby Jindal’s widely panned speech in response to Obama’s address to Congress two weeks ago is any indication, the Reagan-era tropes about government being bad in all cases aren’t likely to hold – especially in the current economic conditions.

People may not want the government’s help, but only a certain effete Republican elite – most of them don’t live the day in, day out experience of normal Americans and bear more cultural resemblance to the liberal media elite they roundly criticize than they do to anyone in the Midwest or the South – wants unregulated commerce to continue.

The White House would be wise to remove itself from internal Republican conflict, as surely it will be able to sink its own ship much quicker than the Democrats would be able to. After all, the Republicans know where all of their own holes are and still haven’t managed to come up with a decent way to fix them.


Bryan Kerns is a sophomore honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].