Since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have thought of themselves as residing on a three-legged stool. In Reagan’s day it was free-market economics, a strong defense, and family values. More recently it has been free-market economics, a liberationist foreign policy, and religion. But however formulated, the ascendancy of Rush Limbaugh points to the collapse of the latter two legs.
Limbaugh covers a variety of subjects, but at the end of the day, the only policy issue that ring his chimes are economic. As in the following, from Zev Chafets’ NYT Magazine profile last July:
Recently, I sent Limbaugh an e-mail message, his preferred means of
long-distance communication, asking what his own presidential agenda
would look like. His answer reflects his actual concerns. A Limbaugh
administration would seek to:
1. Open the continental shelf to drilling. Ditto the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
2. Establish a 17 percent flat tax.
3. Privatize Social Security.
4. Give parents school vouchers to break the monopoly of public education.
5. Revoke Jimmy Carter‘s passport while he is out of the country.
6. Abandon all government policies based on the hoax of man-made global warming.
No. 5 was a joke. I think.
In the wake of Bushian adventurism, the defense/foreign policy leg of Republicanism has more or less disappeared. And, pace Dionne, the party seems to have little interest in family values/religion. (Where’s the senatorial movement to block the Sebelius nomination?) What remains is the old standby, free-market economics. In the midst of the economic distress of the moment, it is not hard to understand how the Republicans got here. The point is, however, that Limbaughism is all they have left.