There are signs that the grasp of money-driven talk show hosts and "independent" political groups over Republican elected officials may be loosening. Not ending; there always will be those who are willing to use extreme rhetoric to capture attention, drive up book sales, and pocket consulting fees. But the evidence of weakening is there.
Example number one is the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, and his willingness to call organizations such as the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action on the carpet. These groups all indicated their opposition to the budget deal reached by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. For two consecutive days, Boehner publicly expressed his outrage, pointing to the way in which these groups previously had pushed Republicans in Congress to shut down the government in an effort to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. He particularly focused on how one of the groups — Heritage Action — later said it knew the strategy wasn't going to work.
"Are you kidding me?" asked Boehner.
Boehner went so far as to say these groups mislead their followers; the underlying inference in Boehner's remarks was that the reason they do so is for their own benefit, to raise money from their followers and members. In other words, it isn't about a winning strategy, or achieving change: it is all about making money for the people running these organizations. Former Rep. Ben Quayle put it this way back in September in a Washington Post story: "They are self-perpetuating entities, and if they stop fighting for a cause, the money dries up. So they have to drum up this outrage because it pays their salaries…It's all about how to increase their fundraising."
To drum up outrage, these outside groups have to set up targets, no matter how imaginary. Responding to Boehner's criticism, the CEO of Heritage Action accused Boehner of trying to divert attention and clear the way for immigration reform. Do you know what immigration reform has to do with this budget deal? No, and neither do I — but attacking immigrants is a sure bet for fear based fundraising.
Despite the collective outcry from the Club for Growth and its partners in political profiteering, the House easily passed the Murray-Ryan budget deal. This was the equivalent of the Republican-controlled Congress giving the raspberry; hopefully, there will be more to come.
At the same time Boehner was taking on the outside groups, someone else who has made a fortune off of feigned outrage and over-the-top extreme rhetoric may have crossed a bridge too far. Rush Limbaugh attacked Pope Francis.
The genesis of the attack was the Pope's issuance of "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel"), an apostolic exhortation which asks, inter alia, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Limbaugh responded to the document by saying the Pope did not know what he was talking about, that without capitalism, he did not know where the Catholic Church would be, that the Pope "has now gone beyond Catholicism", and basically was advocating socialism or Marxism.
Oh, hogwash. I encourage Limbaugh and anyone foolish enough to believe any of his drivel to actually read Evangelii Gaudium. It is an exhortation to live in the joy of the Lord, as opposed to the "desolation and anguish of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience." This encouragement of a life of the spirit, as opposed to a life of materialism, is not news to anyone who is either a practicing or lapsed Catholic. The document states, "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings." Where is the Marxism in that comment?
The bloviating Limbaugh has been suffering from loss of ad sales; in the spring, a representative for Cumulus Media, Limbaugh's radio network home, said that 48 of the nation's top 50 advertisers exclude Limbaugh. Attacking Pope Francis may put the final nails in the coffin. Americans don't like attacks on religion, and that is what Limbaugh has done: attacked the Catholic Church. Attacks by Limbaugh on Catholicism will not help conservative candidates win elections.
It is way past time for Boehner and other Republican leaders to drive political profiteers making their living off overheated, silly rhetoric from the GOP temple. It is in the party's best interest.
Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.