Susan Estrich is worried. Very worried. She believes that the current coordinated Democrat strategy of attacking Rush Limbaugh is completely counterproductive. And she's right:
He talks for hours every day. He gets paid to talk. Just talk. Doing it well is no small thing; witness the number of people who have tried to be him, or be the NOT-him, and failed. But he doesn't have to build a coalition. He doesn't need the votes of the other side to earn his check. He doesn't have to write the legislation, convince Olympia Snowe, raise money to keep the lights on, put his name on the ballot. All the things he doesn't have to do give him the freedom to be as effective as he is at what he does.
Trying to beat him at his own game when your own game is played by a different set of rules is a losing proposition. He knows that.
The Republican Party's chairman and even some of my Democratic friends need to remember that.
When I first started doing talk radio, I listened to Rush Limbaugh in the morning to figure out how to do it. I don't mean, obviously, that I studied Rush to figure out my positions on issues; I've been doing issues my whole life. I studied him to figure out how to do radio — how to talk about issues in a way that engages people, creates a community of the audience, makes them want to hear more, connect, join the club. Rush is wrong on almost everything, by my lights, but the lessons I took from him weren't about substance, but about craft. By my lights, no one is better at it.
To dismiss Rush as mere "entertainment," as Michael Steele, the Republican Party's chairman, did this weekend, understates his abilities and influence. To a very large extent, all of us who do television news or politics are in the business of entertainment. President Barack Obama's speech craft is a form of entertainment. Fox News (for whom I work) has mastered a sort of lively and engaging approach to delivering news that, regardless of the content or what you think of the perspective, is quite simply more fun to watch than many of its competitors. The best and most successful news-oriented Web sites are also, frankly, creative and engaging and, yes, entertaining.
Susan Estrich must be thinking of NewsBusters here. :-)
But he is not the leader of the Republican Party. He may be the guru; he is certainly a powerful voice. But his job is not to write the opposing bill, to decide when to compromise and when not to, to participate in the process of making the sausage. He doesn't need to reach out to the middle, the way politicians do. Calling him "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party," as Rahm Emanuel did, only gets him more attention and more power, and it makes it more difficult, not less, for the Republicans, whose votes the president ultimately needs, to defy his naysaying.
...But the fact that Steele felt the need to apologize to Rush attests to the fact that it was a mistake to attack him in the first place. The attention Rush is getting right now from the White House chief of staff and the chairman of the Republican Party will increase Rush's ratings, but it is far from clear to me that it will make it any easier for Republicans to cross the line and vote with the president. Harder, I would think. Rush wins this game, which is why those who play on a different field should stay away from his.
Echoing Estrich's views is Peter Daou, a Democrat political strategist who worked on the campaigns of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Daou posted his worries about the attack Rush strategy on his Huffington Post blog nervously titled, "Why on Earth Are Democrats Legitimizing and Empowering Rush Limbaugh?"
I don't buy into this 'brilliant' strategy of elevating Rush Limbaugh in the hopes that it will tarnish Republicans.
...There's precious little benefit in making Limbaugh more of a central player, in engaging him directly from the White House podium, in raising his stature, in stamping, sealing and approving the years he's spent bashing his political opponents. There was a moment, a brief moment, after Barack Obama was elected president, a moment long gone, where the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity could have become marginalized, bit players rather than media movers and shakers, the detritus of a sorry era. But instead, they have been granted more power -- out of some contrived political calculus. This, at a time when we don't need political calculus, we need single-minded determination to get us out of this economic calamity and to restore sanity to our government.
...Empowering Limbaugh in the hopes of a bank-shot against Republicans will yield the opposite result: Limbaugh will become more powerful, Republicans will relish his increased influence and allow him to do their dirty work.
...The idea that making him more powerful in the hopes that it somehow illustrates the weakness of GOP ideas is too Rube Golbergy for me.
Note to George Stephanopoulos: Please ignore all the above advice and continue to recite the attack Rush talking points on your Sunday show dictated to you at your morning conference calls with Rahm, James, and Paul.