Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ted Nugent

At Least Joe McCarthy Wasn’t Senate Majority Leader

The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

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The other day I was highly critical of Republicans for not being more vocal in their criticisms of the repulsive comments by rock guitarist Ted Nugent. But at least some Republicans were willing to distance themselves from them. I rather doubt the same will be said of Democrats when it comes to what Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday, when he targeted conservative philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

“It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” Reid said.

Harry Reid is probably not the person who should be preaching against dishonesty, given his smear of Mitt Romney in 2012 (see here and here). Just the other day Reid accused Americans who say they’ve been harmed by the Affordable Care Act of being liars. And let’s not forget that Reid insisted the surge in Iraq was failing long after it was clear it was succeeding, leading one to reasonably conclude that Reid was intentionally trying to undermine the chances of an American success in the Iraq war. So he’s a loathsome figure to be sure. But even by Mr. Reid’s standards, what he did yesterday was fairly extraordinary: A majority leader of the United States Senate falsely accused two private citizens of being “un-American.” (The definition of “un-American” seems to be opposing Harry Reid, as the indispensable Ed Morrissey has put it.)

I’ll be interested to see if the elite media devote a fraction of the coverage or demonstrate near the outrage at Mr. Reid as they did at Ted Nugent–and whether they press other Democrats to defend or distance themselves from Reid’s calumny. After all, Ted Nugent is a rock musician, not a U.S. senator. 

What Harry Reid said is slander of a high order. But at least Joe McCarthy wasn’t majority leader.

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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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Mike Huckabee’s Double Standard

I like Mike Huckabee, but he’s gotten off to a bad start as a host of his own radio show. In an interview with Ted Nugent – Huckabee’s “hunting buddy and good friend” – Governor Huckabee was extremely supportive of Nugent.

I wonder why.

As Jonathan pointed out, Nugent told an NRA audience over the weekend that President Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating.” And Nugent vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

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I like Mike Huckabee, but he’s gotten off to a bad start as a host of his own radio show. In an interview with Ted Nugent – Huckabee’s “hunting buddy and good friend” – Governor Huckabee was extremely supportive of Nugent.

I wonder why.

As Jonathan pointed out, Nugent told an NRA audience over the weekend that President Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating.” And Nugent vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

But what Nugent said “isn’t threatening at all,” according to Huckabee. Of course not. The “Nuge” is a great guy. Boys will boys. It was all in good fun. Et cetera.

In fact, what Nugent said was stupid and offensive – and if Huckabee was a true friend of Nugent’s, he would have told him so, at least privately. But for Huckabee to ridicule the critics of Nugent, as if the musician’s comments were totally appropriate, was pathetic. I guarantee you that if the shoe were on the other foot – if, say, Bruce Springsteen had made the same comments about President Bush before a National Education Association gathering – Huckabee would have (rightly) considered them as indefensible.

This is what happens when politics is viewed as a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, when political opponents become mortal enemies, and when political disputes take on cosmic importance. At that point it becomes fine to characterize one’s opponents not as wrong but as evil, not as misguided but as malevolent.

This happens on both the right and the left, far more often than it should. And Mike Huckabee could have done his audience, and political discourse in general, a favor if he had confronted rather than promoted his pal Ted.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, done prior to the start of his radio gig, Huckabee played up the fact that he was all about “conversation” rather than “confrontation.”

“I’m not a person who would call anyone by names that would cause my late mother to come out of her grave and slap me to the floor,” he said.

I wonder what Huckabee’s mother would think of her son playing footsie on the radio with a man who, in a public speech, referred to the president of the United States as “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating” – and vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

Probably not much.

 

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Romney’s Sister Souljah Moment

Democrats weren’t long in trying to blame Mitt Romney for the over-the-top denunciation of President Obama by singer Ted Nugent. Nugent told an audience at the national convention of the National Rifle Association that Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating” and vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Subsequently, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sought to rally her partisans to pressure Romney to condemn Nugent because he has publicly endorsed the likely GOP nominee.

But rather than allow the kerfuffle to fester, the Romney campaign has quickly responded to the charge. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul issued a statement today that made it clear the candidate wouldn’t allow himself to be associated with Nugent’s rhetoric.“Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil,” Saul said.

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Democrats weren’t long in trying to blame Mitt Romney for the over-the-top denunciation of President Obama by singer Ted Nugent. Nugent told an audience at the national convention of the National Rifle Association that Obama was “vile,” “evil,” and “America-hating” and vowed that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Subsequently, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz sought to rally her partisans to pressure Romney to condemn Nugent because he has publicly endorsed the likely GOP nominee.

But rather than allow the kerfuffle to fester, the Romney campaign has quickly responded to the charge. Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul issued a statement today that made it clear the candidate wouldn’t allow himself to be associated with Nugent’s rhetoric.“Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from. Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil,” Saul said.

While lacking the drama that Bill Clinton achieved when he rebuked rapper Sister Souljah for suggesting African-Americans would be justified in killing whites, it still provides Romney with an opportunity to put a little air between intemperate right-wingers and him. In 1992, Clinton seized on Souljah’s comments specifically to prove to the American public that he was moderate and to distance himself from Jesse Jackson who criticized him for his attack on the singer. While Romney doesn’t have quite the same need, he has nothing to lose by establishing an elevated tone in the campaign.

It should also be noted that Wasserman-Schultz should be careful about making too much about the nasty things said by right-wing artists. For every one Nugent on the right, there are a score of left-wing comics, singers and actors who routinely say hateful things about Republicans. If the DNC chair is going to start keeping tabs on the likes of Nugent, she may find herself spending much of the next few months apologizing for comments by liberals.

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