Smart v. Stupid
Should liberals fear Kevin McCullough?
The conservative media activist offers a strategy for permanent right-wing dominance
The CPAC event, Engaging America through Pop Culture, was in one of the big rooms and it was full. Most attendees had probably come to see the actor Steven Baldwin, but he didn't bother to show. (In case you can't remember Steven is the B-List Baldwin brother, the one who is loud about his religion.) I was there on a tip from TucsonSentinel.com editor Dylan Smith to see another panelist, comedian Steven Kruiser, who turned out to be tragically uninteresting.
Then Christian radio broadcaster Kevin McCullough stepped to the podium. After making the perfunctory, lame apology for Baldwin (a Mark Burnett name-dropper that would only impress in Hollywood) McCullough succinctly laid out a point-by-point plan aimed at altering the balance between conservatives and liberals. He was convincing and his idea sounded like it could lead to permanent conservative rule. No kidding.
You see, McCullough is the first Republican to identify the tragic flaw of conservative marketing. He's figured out (excuse the language) that behaving like an asshole hurts recruitment. The very notion – a kinder, gentler sounding right winger, should scare any committed progressive.
"We're kind of on the wrong track…There are some well-known icons in the conservative movement who've made great kingdoms for themselves. They've called John Edwards a 'faggot,' and it's made their book sales skyrocket though the roof. They've called Arabs 'towelheads' and it's done the same thing."
Of course, he's talking about Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, two of the more popular bomb-throwers on the right. But McCullough didn't quite have the stones to name those he shamed. Nobody in Republican circles seems to want to attract the attention of Limbaugh, lest they later be forced to kiss his EEE shoe.
Mr. McCullough went on to argue that people who haven't settled on a belief system find these kinds of comments repugnant. He says it makes it hard for them to cuddle up to the conservative movement.
"See, I don't really care about the icons, they can sell their books and make their money and they can throw flames and they can scorch everything they want in their path and they can completely incinerate it – ad hominem," he said.
"But I don't think that conservatives have any business being part of that if we want to win the hearts and minds of those who aren't convinced. Because when you call a presidential candidate a gay slur, those that are in the middle… you're making it harder for them to want to come and embrace your common sense idea."
Liberals are frequently appalled by ethnic and social slurs like these. Sometimes it is easy to feel alone in that regard, what with the never-ending carpet bombing of insult from the right.
But McCullough believes that most undecided voters feel the same way – at least the younger voters he meets most frequently. I hope he's right. It would be nice if bigotry really does die in this generation, as I once believed it would in mine.
But take one more step into McCullough's ideology and things begin to get murky. Regular Republicans generally applaud the shameful attacks that McCullough calls for ending. They praise them as "free speech," or as well-earned shots at political correctness. "Political correctness" is the pejorative term a conservative uses for what your mom used to call "good manners."
This is hardly an indication of a crowd looking to chart a more civil course.
Conservative celebrities are responding to market forces when they lob rhetorical bombs. The unwashed right both celebrates and venerates the ridicule of others. When Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh demeans, she and he are following their acolytes, not leading them. They do so with the full support—no, the full encouragement—of their cranky admirers.
So Kevin McCullough proposes that conservatives stop chasing away the undecided before they peek inside the tent.
I can't help but believe that his idea would only delay the moment when seekers see the ugly circus inside. Kevin argues for putting down the repulsive sign, but that won't launder the repulsive heart.
Beyond that, almost all who claim to be independent actually vote consistently for one party or the other. So hearts and minds waiting to be won may be mythical anyway.
Still, you have to applaud Kevin McCullough's call for civility.
Our politics would probably be better if conservatives rose to his challenge to "argue the issues, not the people." The jury is still out on whether more conservative civility would lead to more conservatives. But it would mean a new, more ethical and more respectable kind of party leadership.
And isn't what all of these hate merchants are supposed to be doing? Leading, that is.
Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”