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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Made Men

Republican “renewal” strategist Patrick Ruffini of The Next Right published a very revealing post late last night showing that even the most open and innovative of GOP tacticians don’t really favor an open and innovative discussion of the conservative movement’s ideological problems.
Reacting to the flak, some of it from fellow-Republicans, taken by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele and Bobby Jindal over the last couple weeks, Ruffini seems to want to designate all three as “made men” whom GOPers are not allowed to criticize. More generally, and dangerously, he wants to make evaluation of the words and deeds of fellow-Republicans strictly contingent on each person’s utility–not, you know, stuff like facts and truth:

Conservatives need to decide who we want to see succeed and who we want to see fail. We then need to calibrate our reactions to the inevitable missteps from either camp accordingly. If someone we want to succeed comes under attack, we hold our fire and close ranks — unless it’s clear they’ve become a long-term liability. If it’s someone we want to see fail — like Jim Bunning — we unload until they get off the stage.

Aside from the coldly instrumental nature of this judgement about wheat and chaff, Ruffini is engaging in some not-very-hidden circular reasoning about who “we want to succeed.” Is Bobby Jindal useful because he’s a smart young GOP politician? Or is he useful because he’s a smart young GOP politician with a strongly ideological background who’s just proven, in his quasi-idiotic response to Barack Obama’s address to Congress, that he’ll subordinate smart politics to the overriding imperative of Being a Real Conservative who will echo the True Faith like a cicada?
Now I know that some folks in the progressive netroots tend to similarly flirt with the feeling that politics is all about Teams and Noise, with not much room for objective reality, and the Team that makes the most Noise wins. Under that rather hammer-headed approach, what you most want to avoid is having anybody on Your Team making discordant Noises. Still, I think the pride in representing what we have often called the Reality-Based Community has kept nearly all progressives from a full surrender of their higher brain functions when it comes to political judgments.
But you will notice something glaring about Ruffini’s hard line against Republican self-criticism: it involves a very blatant double standard. For all the time Rush Limbaugh spends demonizing Barack Obama and Godless Liberals generally, what makes him distinctive is his activity as a commissar policing ideological conformity among fellow-Republicans. So the only rule against GOP self-criticism that Ruffini is really interested in enforcing is one against “moderates” or “centrists” or “reformers” who buck the pre-established party line. To adapt the old Popular Front slogan, there are “pas d’enemi a droite.,” which happens to reinforce the perpetual supremacy of the hard-core ideologues.
I hope progressives reflect on Ruffini’s “thinking” on this subject, and treat it as an object-lesson in the perils of the perennial temptation to idolize or demonize people on “Our Team” not in terms of the Democratic Party’s general principles and strategic needs, but in the pursuit of ideological conformity and “Noise.” Inevitably, this way lies suppression of open discussion and elevates the least thoughtful in our ranks to the status of “made men” who are happy to open up the guns on heretics but cannot be touched themselves.

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