On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers [Conservative Political Action Conference] cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Frank Rich extends Frum's contrast in a devastating portrait of prominent Republicans who supposedly represent a party that exemplifies "family values." An excerpt from his essay, "The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off" (3/14/09):
Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk. As the former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently wrote, the new president is an “apparently devoted husband and father” whose worst vice is “an occasional cigarette.”
Frum was contrasting Obama to his own party’s star attraction, Rush Limbaugh, whose “history of drug dependency” and “tangled marital history” make him “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence.” Indeed, the two top candidates for leader of the post-Bush G.O.P, Rush and Newt, have six marriages between them. The party that once declared war on unmarried welfare moms, homosexual “recruiters” and Bill Clinton’s private life has been rebranded by Mark Foley, Larry Craig, David Vitter and the irrepressible Palins. Even before the economy tanked, Americans had more faith in medical researchers using discarded embryos to battle Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than in Washington politicians making ad hoc medical decisions for Terri Schiavo.
Regarding four of Rich's references, Gingrich surprised his former wife Jackie by discussing divorce in her hospital room as she recovered from cancer surgery, Foley sent sexually explicit messages to teenage Capitol Hill pages, Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after soliciting sex in an airport men's room and Vitter was linked to a prostitution ring. All are members of a party with a religious right base that presumes to serve as the nation's morality police, and all oppose the right of stable, faithful gay couples to marry. Such gay couples exemplify "family values" more than these GOP exemplars of moral probity ever will.