Ted Nugent’s oral graffiti is fouling our civic discourse yet again, prompting many of us to wonder why any Republican candidate with even minimal mental cognition would slum for his endorsement.
As if we didn’t know.
If you haven’t sampled the aging rocker’s latest spillage, here it is (although, after reading it, you may feel the urge to shower): “I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the Acorn community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.”
So said the GOP’s house celebrity, during a January interview on a gun-rights website. And, naturally, Nugent’s characterization of the president of the United States as a “subhuman mongrel” did not deter Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbot from stumping with him twice last Tuesday. It just so happens that the Nazis routinely denounced the Jews as “subhuman” – just to give you a taste of how toxic the term is – but hey, conservatives love a guy who’s so in touch with his inner id. And besides, the GOP’s celebrity roster is a tad thin.
Abbot, currently Texas attorney general and frontrunner for the gubernatorial nomination, claimed last week to be deaf and dumb about Nugent’s long history of verbal inanities – “I don’t know what he may have said or done in his background” – which means that either Abbot is willfully clueless, or that he is lying with cynical intent. I vote for the latter, because it strains credulity to believe that Abbot never heard Nugent’s previous depiction of Obama (“a piece of s—“), or his various scholarly assessments of Hillary Clinton (including “two-bit whore” and “worthless bitch”).
By the end of last week, all the usual apologias and tut-tuts were duly registered. Nugent went on Texas radio and cleaned up (sort of): “I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself. I apologize for using the street-fighter terminology of ‘subhuman mongrel’ instead just more understandable language such as ‘violator to the Constitution’ and ‘liar that he is.'” (Perhaps I’m out of touch with today’s “street fighters,” but do they really use terms like “subhuman mongrel?” Or is Nugent just time-traveling to Berlin circa 1934?)
On the tut-tut front, Republicans predictably said that of course one should never talk in such a crude fashion. For several days Abbot managed to avoid denouncing his road buddy, until finally he coughed it up: “This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way. It’s time to move beyond this.” Rick Perry, the lame duck governor and future presidential prospect (good luck with that), similarly said: “That is not appropriate language to use about the president of the United States.” Rand Paul said that Nugent’s outburst “has no place in politics.” John MCain called it “beyond the pale.” The usual wrinkling of brows.So why do Republicans – like Mitt Romney in 2012 – abide this guy in the first place? Even some conservative commentators detest the GOP’s Nugent fixation. At the The Daily Caller website, Matt Lewis writes, “Nugent is beloved partly because conservatives are so desperate for celebrities that they are ironically enamored of them….Like the girl who always falls for the guy who’s bad for him, conservatives keep trusting the wrong people and making the same mistakes.”
But the thing is, Republicans don’t view Nugent as a mistake. They think he’s useful, that he serves a purpose, that right-wing politicians like Abbot can parade him with cynical intent.
Nugent is viscerally in touch with the haters in The Base – and the haters tend to vote heavily, especially in Republican primaries (Abbot’s first task is to win his March 4 primary). Nugent can travel the low road and say all the vile stuff that the politicians aren’t free to say. And after the haters guzzle Nugent’s red meat, the politicians play tut-tut on the high road. What a deal: Nugent does the dirty work while they keep their hands clean.
(Of course, Nugent does have his defenders – particularly in Trollville, where denizens like to say, “ButWhatAbout Bill Maher, who has said vile stuff about Sarah Palin?” But these false-equivalence games are such a bore. Have any Democratic candidates agitated for Maher’s political endorsement? Or campaigned with him on the stump? Or brought him as a guest to the State of the Union speech?)
All told, Nugent is something relatively new in the Republican playbook. For decades, the GOP was big on “dog whistle” politicking; on the stump, a candidate would use coded language that clicked withThe Base. For instance, when Ronald Reagan invoked “the shining city on the hill,” evangelical Christians recognized it as a phrase from the Book of Matthew, and concluded that Reagan shared their view of America as a God-ordained Christian nation.
But today that tactic seems too decorous, so the GOP has simply ditched the whistle and unleashed the dog.
“Stop biting that guy’s leg, Ted. Good boy. Here’s a treat.”
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