While scanning the AM band on an otherwise lovely fall evening’s drive, we found ourselves being screamed at by one of the more prominent right-wing radio talkers. The fellow has always been prone to screaming — or, as he prefers to call it, “passion” — but of course in this crazy election year the tendency has been more pronounced. Usually he’s screaming at the sorts of people who vote for Democratic presidential candidates, which makes it somewhat more tolerable, as we would never do such a damned fool thing as that anyway, but in this case he was screaming at such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves who won’t go so far as to cast a vote for this crazy election year’s Grand Old Party nominee.
He made a completely convincing case about how very awful the Democratic nominee is, but he didn’t even attempt to argue that the Republican isn’t also very awful, and his screaming somehow didn’t make his screed any more persuasive. The guy with the preceding time slot on our local right-wing talk radio station’s line-up has lately been talking about how he’s going to “even the score” with all us old-fashioned Republicans who aren’t fully on board with this crazy election’s year GOP nominee, but such idle threats are also unlikely to sway us. That more highly-rated guy on the mid-day shift and the rest of the right-wing radio talkers are for the most part on too early for our nocturnal selves to pay full attention, but so far as we can tell while the coffee’s brewing they’re all making pretty much the same arguments with the same level of unpersuasive acrimony.
Should all those “rigged-by-the-Democrats polls” and the Republican nominee’s own prediction of a “rigged election” election prove true in less than a couple of weeks, we don’t expect that the rhetoric of the internecine Republican war will become any more civil. Which is a shame, because no matter how this crazy election year turns out the Republican Party is going to need to have a long, hard talk with itself about why it came up with such an awful nominee, and the undeniable and arguably even worse awfulness of the Democratic nominee will provide no satisfactory excuses. Screaming and schoolyard taunts and threats of evening the score won’t help at all, no matter how much faith the right-wing radio talkers put in such tactics, and it require a more introspective sort of discussion that that too many Republicans now seem to consider sissified.
For those sorts of old-fashioned Republicans who occasionally turn off the radio and start reading print publications there was a commendably smart essay recently over at the formerly venerated and now-reviled National Review about the coming conversation, and it linked to a video of an old “Firing Line” debate that featured the publication’s founder William Buckley and and its senior editor James Burnham along with columnist George F. Will and Admiral Elmo Zumwalt squaring off against former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and columnist Pat Buchanan and Latin American expert Roger Fontaine and Admiral John McCain Jr. on the matter of handing over control of the Panama Canal. Although the matter is now largely forgotten it was a hot button issue back in 1978, contentious enough that such conservative grandees as the aforementioned found themselves on opposite sides of the debate, but it’s still worth watching to see how they argued with such collegiality, intellectual depth, and a lack of schoolyard-taunting or screaming or threats of evening the score. They all came together a couple of years later to elect Reagan to the presidency, which led to a pretty good 12 years for the Republican Party and the country, and it would be nice to see that happen again.
It’s hard to envision that happening again, and impossible to imagine the Republican nominee of the crazy election year sounding so soft-spoken and reasonable as Reagan did, but when we turn the AM dial to that old folks’ station that still plays Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee or the country oldies station that has Buck Owens and the Buckaroos singing “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” anything seems possible.
— Bud Norman</