Missing the Forest for Some Shrubs

Dave Weigel of The Washington Independent suggests that Republicans are undermining the effectiveness of their case against the Obama White House and congressional Democrats by focusing on the controversial views of staffers and left-wing pressure groups rather than massive job losses and lingering outrage over the Wall Street bailouts.  

This isn’t to say Republicans have been distracted or unsuccessful in Congress. They’ve certainly scored victories during this period. And by paying attention to these conservative witch hunts, they’ve definitely kept their base revved up. But in the current political context, it seems like they’re missing the forest for some shrubs. It’s as if Democrats tried to press their advantages in 2005 not by going after the Iraq War or the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, but by spending weeks attacking mid-ranking members of his administration and claiming that President George W. Bush was driving the nation toward fascism. And remember, one of the huge political mistakes of 2005 was the Republican decision to do a full-court press on an issue that had come from conservative activists and pundits: the fate of Terri Schiavo.

Because Weigel is a reporter for The Independent, a left-of-center media outlet, my guess is that many conservatives will be inclined to dismiss Weigel’s analysis. That’s a shame. It parallels David Brooks’s argument that conservative news anchors and radio hosts don’t always reflect the concerns of Republicans and right-leaning independents, and it makes a great deal of sense. This isn’t to say that Glenn Beck doesn’t have the right to speak his mind, or that he doesn’t raise very important philosophical questions about the progressive legacy and much else. But it’s not obvious that voters are more interested in these questions than job creation. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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