Bruce Maiman

Viewpoints: GOP should forget outrage, focus on issues

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 11:40 am

If I said, "party of faux outrage," which one comes to mind?

Reams have been written about the Republican Party's self- imposed 12-step attempt to rehab and reach out to groups it has regularly rebuffed, reviled and repelled, both in California and nationwide. But one ingredient in this makeover mélange has gotten far less attention: the rancid, rotten rage over made-up controversies about total nonissues.

From talk radio tub-thumping to Drudge Report sirens to turgid atmospherics, this shrieking barrage of constantly shrill, viciously negative and routinely inaccurate accusations is a misguided, unproductive and ultimately destructive pathology. It needs to stop.

So admonishes Erick Erickson, founder of the popular conservative RedState blog and newly minted Fox News pundit. He writes that "conservatives are spending a lot more time trying to find things to be outraged over than reporting the news and basic facts online from a conservative perspective," and "we do our cause more harm than good if we get outrageously outraged over every slight and grievance."

The endless parade of conservative mock-shock could fill volumes: birtherism, New Black Panthers, the maelstrom over President Barack Obama's address to schoolchildren in 2009 – people convinced that the Joker-faced Kenyan usurper would brainwash impressionable youngsters with a socialist agenda. That agenda: stay in school, study hard.

The sneaky tax proposals by disingenuous California Democrats, as reported in The Bee on Monday, are far more worthy of contempt.

Typical of outrage-driven conservative journalism was Breitbart's Ben Shapiro linking Chuck Hagel to a group called Friends of Hamas. No such group ever existed. The resulting blowback helped get Hagel confirmed as secretary of defense.

Erickson isn't the first to call for a more temperate tone among conservatives. In 2009, Tucker Carlson told Conservative Political Action Conference attendees that conservative news sites failed when they "refused to put accuracy first." Sure, the New York Times is liberal, said Carlson, but it cares about accuracy. "Conservatives need to build institutions that mirror those institutions."

The CPAC-ers booed him. Carlson apparently got the message. Today, his Daily Caller website routinely engages in reckless reporting and alarmist resentment:

• An "explosive" report that Martha Raddatz, the ABC News reporter moderating the vice presidential debate, used to be married to someone who knew Obama in the 1990s.

• Claims of alleged hookers who allegedly slept with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a story shot full of holes by one of those liberal "accuracy counts" operations, the Washington Post.

• Proof that Ashley Judd is far too unseemly to challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat because – gasp – she's done nude scenes in her film career. Apparently, former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown's nude photos didn't bother the Daily Caller, but of course, to be taken seriously as a politician, an actor has to have appeared with a chimpanzee.

"As a party, we have often been a few degrees off on our message," said California Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, who told me that in his outreach with minority communities, jobs and education are big concerns, while his core constituents are charged up over the gun debate. "But you're right," he said. "If our only message as a party, or people perceived to represent the party, is being angry, we will not reach people."

It feels like an uphill battle. A single high-pitched, acrimonious note from within can instantly derail multiple attempts by Republicans to put a tolerant face on the party. Who but conservatives would, as North Dakota just did, approve a bill to ban abortion after six weeks? Who but conservatives would exclude conservatives from CPAC for being gay? Who but a conservative advocacy group would demand that Geico pull an ad featuring a woman on a date with Geico's piglet mascot because it might encourage bestiality? Seriously?

"Clearly, whatever message we are putting out there is not resonating with the voters," Harmeet Dhillon, vice chairman of the California Republican Party, told me. "We have to do a better job of articulating a positive message because it's really hard to sell a product using only negative terms and fear."

Phony outrage is the signature of the far right and shows no signs of abating. They don't speak for the majority of Americans or perhaps even the majority of Republicans, but they do the majority of the damage to a party desperately trying to overcome its poisonous reputation as a peddler of brackish umbrage.

"Emotion moves people to action," said Huff, "but just like a baby, (if) you cry once in a while you get attention; (if) you cry all the time you get ignored."

If the "outrageously outraged" prevail, as they do now, reasonable Republicans attempting to reinvent their brand could end up being ignored, and losses like last November will reoccur. In my view, that's not a good thing.

Bruce Maiman is a former radio show host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at brucemaiman@gmail.com.

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