Commentary Magazine


Topic: Greg Abbott

Republicans and the Repulsive Ted Nugent

This one isn’t hard.

The rock musician Ted Nugent, who has a history of saying some pretty awful things, outdid himself this week when he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” 

(Mr. Nugent’s “apology” in the wake of the growing controversy was not really that, saying, “I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself”–mentioning Governor Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican front-runner in the race for governor.)

Mr. Nugent said he used “street-fighter terminology.” Actually, he used the language of Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South.

What Nugent said is ugly and wicked and racist. And if asked about it anyone, including any Republican politician, should say so. They should say so instantaneously and unhesitatingly and unambiguously, without complaining about media double standards. They can certainly do better than Senator Ted Cruz, who distanced himself from the sentiments of Nugent while praising him for “fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.” And when asked if he would campaign with Nugent, Cruz answered, “I haven’t yet, and I’m going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.” Really? Why avoid engaging in this hypothetical? Why not say something like, oh, how about this: “Are you out of your mind? Absolutely not! Under no circumstances“? 

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This one isn’t hard.

The rock musician Ted Nugent, who has a history of saying some pretty awful things, outdid himself this week when he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” 

(Mr. Nugent’s “apology” in the wake of the growing controversy was not really that, saying, “I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself”–mentioning Governor Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican front-runner in the race for governor.)

Mr. Nugent said he used “street-fighter terminology.” Actually, he used the language of Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South.

What Nugent said is ugly and wicked and racist. And if asked about it anyone, including any Republican politician, should say so. They should say so instantaneously and unhesitatingly and unambiguously, without complaining about media double standards. They can certainly do better than Senator Ted Cruz, who distanced himself from the sentiments of Nugent while praising him for “fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.” And when asked if he would campaign with Nugent, Cruz answered, “I haven’t yet, and I’m going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.” Really? Why avoid engaging in this hypothetical? Why not say something like, oh, how about this: “Are you out of your mind? Absolutely not! Under no circumstances“? 

Of course what Mr. Cruz did was not as depressing as what the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin did, which was to endorse Mr. Abbott on her Facebook page on Wednesday with this Palinian moral logic, stating, “If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me.” (And while you’re reading Ms. Palin’s Facebook page, don’t forget to check out her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas in which she “calls for bringing back the freedom to express the Christian values of the season.”) 

And certainly Greg Abbott, who has campaigned with Nugent, should repudiate the rock guitarist in the strongest possible way. (The New York Times reports Mr. Abbott said in a statement that Nugent “rightly apologized,” but he offered no apology himself for campaigning with Nugent. “This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way,” Abbott said. “It’s time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans.”)

Some Republicans, like Rand Paul, have done the right thing, saying,“Ted Nugent’s derogatory description of President Obama is offensive and has no place in politics. He should apologize.” All praise for Senator Paul.

But the fact that Republicans seem to be struggling with how to handle a repulsive figure like Mr. Nugent frankly does not speak well of them. What they don’t understand is that these kinds of moments have resonance with voters. They are symbolic; but symbolism matters, and in this case it speaks to something real and deep. Will a party and a movement police its own ranks when it comes to haters?

It isn’t enough to plead ignorance or blame the media for elevating the story. It’s out there now–and because Nugent is involved in GOP politics, campaigning with a would-be governor, it’s understandable why it’s a story.

There are several possible explanations for why Republicans would not denounce Nugent and his statement in unqualified terms. One is that they aren’t all that offended by what Nugent said. A second is Nugent is on their “team” and therefore needs to be treated with kid gloves. A third explanation is that they fear that in denouncing Nugent they will upset elements of the GOP base.

Any of these explanations is an indictment.

I hope more Republicans are asked about what Nugent said; and I hope they criticize him in the most powerful moral language they can summon. It would be the right thing to do; and it would actually be the politically smart thing to do.

The Republican Party, remember, is the party of Abraham Lincoln, not the party of Ted Nugent. 

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American Liberalism’s Necessary Fictions

Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

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Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

Obama himself drops hints of this in Dreams. He writes in his introduction that the dialogue in the book is only an “approximation” of real conversations. Some of the characters, “for the sake of compression,” are “composites”; the names of others have been changed. All of this is offered to the reader as acceptable literary license, and it is, certainly by the standards of the early 1990s, back in the day when publishers flooded bookstores with memoirs of angst-ridden youth and there were still bookstores to flood. Yet the epiphany-per-page ratio in Obama’s memoir is very high. The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent.

Ferguson reviewed the many such examples and noted: “Obama wasn’t just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.” It certainly did. What it amounted to was that Obama basically took the measure of his fellow American liberals and judged them to be idiots. He was exactly who he said he was and honestly rendered his cultural and political outlook. But he also understood that to Democrats, your opinion is only valid if it matches a certain biography.

In part this is because modern liberalism is so intellectually conformist. Elizabeth Warren’s opinions are a dime a dozen, especially in a place like Harvard. But her opinions took on a sudden value when her employers could pretend she was a minority. So she did, and they did, and everybody won (except, of course, the actual minority whose opportunity she likely snagged).

Wendy Davis understands this all too well. Her pro-abortion extremism, so out of step with the country and especially her state of Texas, is the standard Democratic line. But—as with Warren—the party wants to be able to avoid talking about the issues and instead push a bogus narrative consisting of false accusations and character assassination. For that, Davis—or, rather, the person Davis has claimed to be—was perfect.

And it also explains the outrage these politicians display when being exposed. Like method acting, the necessary fictions are integrated into their everyday selves. “It’s not a lie if you believe it,” George Costanza said, presaging the future of American liberalism.

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