At last Thursday night’s Media Research Center dinner, Rush Limbaugh quipped that he never stays overnight in Washington for fear of catching the virus that affects the minds of everyone who lives here. Couple that with the undercurrent of rebellion against some conservative media that seems to be growing daily. When I asked a friend about it, he reminded me that William F. Buckley, Jr. once said of conservatives that we don’t retrieve our wounded. Rush’s quip and my pal’s recollection add up to a real problem for conservatives. But we can turn it into a winning strategy for 2008.
Trick question of the week: what news source was Tim Russert quoting from on Sunday when he read, “Time to Go. We have never seen evidence that [Attorney General Gonzales] has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability. Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence. His claim not to have been involved in the firings suggests that he was either deceptive or inexcusably detached from the operations of his own department. …What little credibility Gonzales had is gone. … He cannot defend the administration and its policies even when they deserve defense. Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start.”? No, not the Washington Post or, for that matter, the Huffington Post. He was quoting an editorial from National Review.
If you live in Washington, and become immersed in the banter of government, think tanks and other sources, it’s hard to remember that there is a world beyond them. Those of us who heard Rush say he didn’t want to be affected by that virus chuckled. We would have done better to think hard about it. The press has the constitutionally protected function of reporting the actions of government, puncturing politicians’ balloons and exposing their faults and foibles. But when your life consists of talking to the pols, their staffers and the rest of the Washington in crowd you can fall prey — as Rush refuses to do — to their herd mentality. Have some in the conservative media fallen in with the herd?
Perhaps. But more importantly, others are unwittingly accepting and promoting a new media narrative that is key to the Democrats’ game plan for 2008. That narrative — which will dominate the news from now through the election — says that Republicans are the only politicians who will be vulnerable in the next election. No matter how irresponsibly the Pelosicrats behave, the snake oil salesmen in the media will excuse them because it fits with the narrative: if Republicans behave like Republicans (and don’t that behave like Chuck Hagel), Congress will be lost not for two years but for generations. In the immortal words of MASH’s fictional Col. Potter, “horse puckey.”
Republicans should not escape criticism. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, it’s hard to apply President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment to Sen. Chuck Hagel. But shouldn’t we concentrate our energies on the liberals assault on the war, the economy and our individual liberties rather than joining in calls for one resignation after another? Isn’t it more important to rebuild conservative strength than to vie for another invitation to Meet the Press by concentrating fire on Republicans? This is the “maverick Republican” virus Sen. John McCain fell prey to, earning him the adulation of the press when it was convenient for them to use him against the President. This is what Rush was talking about. It’s another form of the Washington virus. But unlike most viruses, these are treatable.
Start with the facts. Post-election polls in November 2006 showed that voters rejected President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war. But they also showed that voters rejection of Bush was not — repeat not — an endorsement of the Democrats’ plan to cut and run by a date certain regardless of the consequences. Americans want strong leadership in war, not indecision. When Chris Matthews and the rest of the hyper-liberal media say that the war will destroy Republicans’ chances in 2008, they are writing a new narrative for the next election that isn’t true. That narrative will dominate the media for the next 18 months and any facts that don’t fit into it won’t be reported unless we of the conservative media do it.
If you believe the new media narrative, presidential aspirant McCain — once the darling of the Washington Post and New York Times — is overseeing his candidacy’s demise solely because he has stood with the President on the war. The media want you — and everyone else, especially the other presidential wannabes — to understand that that undefinable criterion, “electability,” is defined by opposition to the war. McCain has a pile of problems, but his stance on the war isn’t one of them. The fact that he’s being bashed by his old media pals results from the fact that his stance on the war doesn’t fit their campaign narrative.
This new media narrative can only control the 2008 campaign if the conservative media fall for it. In politics you can’t beat something with nothing. We need our own narrative. And we have it.
Every day, from now until the election is over, we have to keep faith with conservative principles. To do that, we have to expose the liberals in Congress and the media for what they are. The vulnerability voters know, but now do not read or hear or see, is in the liberals.
As Bob Novak wrote last week, the “tax and spend” core of the Democratic Party is alive and well. And that same core of the Democratic Party is still what the late Jeane Kirkpatrick called the “blame America first” party. They believe that America is responsible for the terrorists’ anger with us, for everything from the Tehran embassy siege in 1979 to the taking of the British hostages on March 23. No matter what is wrong with the world, these liberals believe it is our fault and we should spend our time making amends with our enemies rather than defeating them.
That’s the conservative narrative for 2008. It can form the basis for electing a conservative to the White House in 2008 if we — all of us — stick to it. Ours has a considerable advantage over the new media narrative. Ours is based in fact.