Derbyshire is a longtime contributor to National Review Online, especially at the Corner, so I'm not going to question his conservative bonafides, but this article makes me wonder if he really understands us Colonials and our version of the Conservative Party.
It's instructive to remember that the two parties do not have common origins. As Churchill points out in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, the Conservatives were the party of the country and the rural nobility, which by and large was for the Empire and not in favor of socialism. The Republicans, on the other hand, started out as an abolitionist party that wanted to keep slavery out of the West, and after the Civil War became the antithesis of the Democrats, whom they stigmatized for decades as the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion". The Tories of the UK have never had a strong Evangelical Protestant component, and with the exception of the Thatcher years have not seemed to be committed to the well-being of the middle class (especially small businessmen) in the way that the GOP has been.
This being the case, it seems awfully patronizing of a former Brit like Derbyshire to lecture Republicans on their attachment to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other talk radio stars. He seems to think it all a rather depressing, lowbrow populist sort of thing, bereft of the classier behavior displayed by NPR and the BBC, not at all in the tradition of Firing Line. This may be true, but let us reflect on the fact that Firing Line was a unique artifact of public television, one that not even the Fox network has tried to revive.
Chastising Rush, Sean, Mark Levin et al for lowbrow humor is understandable, but to apply the same brush to Laura Ingraham and other conservative talkers is sloppy and betrays the obvious fact that Derbyshire hasn't actually bothered to listen to the shows he claims to enjoy. Further, he accuses conservative talk radio of being cheerleaders for W's "compassionate conservatism", also known in conservative circles as "moderate", "Rockefeller", or "RINO" Republicanism. This is just flat wrong, with the sole exception of Hugh Hewitt, and even he couldn't buy into such stupidity as the Harriet Myers nomination, to choose but one example. Far from being the "GOP pep squad", Rush and others rarely missed the opportunity to state that they were conservatives, not Republicans, and I think even a horse's ass like E.J. Dionne -who Derbyshire unaccountably considers a quotable authority on things Republican- understands the difference. It should be clear to anyone showing the least interest in conservative talk radio and the GOP that if the GOP actually had been paying attention to what was being said by Limbaugh & Co. they probably wouldn't have lost the House in 2006 regardless of whether Rumsfeld was fired, retained, or ridden out of town on a log. As has been pointed out by practically every conservative talk radio host, it was the utter failure of the GOP House Caucus to exercise fiscal discipline that doomed them; nobody can outpork the Democrats, as we are being reminded this year, and only a fool would attempt it. Especially when the attempt shreds one of the few common threads that holds the GOP together aside from a loathing for socialism.
Derbyshire winds up his article with this snide couplet:
Conservatives have never had, and never should have, a problem with elitism. Why have we allowed carny barkers to run away with the Right?
This says to me that he doesn't understand the anti-intellectualism of the GOP, which has deep roots and whose most recent proofs are the inept flailing about of the most recent crop of "best and brightest" public servants summoned from the Clinton Administration and the nation's universities to serve the new President. Republicans are perfectly comfortable with elites who have demonstrated their eliteness, usually by making serious piles of cash in business, dominating whatever sport they're playing, or by doing awesome things on the field of battle. Merely because one is smart, rich enough to go to the "best" schools (=Ivy League) and well-connected does not make you elite in the eyes of Republicans, and they tend to resent the kind of folks who put on airs and act naturally superior when they haven't done jack shit. See, for example, Caroline Kennedy, who is probably a very nice person but hasn't really accomplished anything in life but growing up with the Kennedy surname. (In a just world, she and the rest of the clan would be exiled to Johnson Atoll and not permitted to set foot in the 48 states for the rest of our lives, but that's unconstitutional.)
I suppose I could go on beating this particular dead horse, but I think I've made my point. The Republican Party has done itself a disservice in the past by not paying more attention to the conservative talk show hosts. It has severely injured itself by trying to play nice with the liberal "lamestream" media, as Senator McCain learned to his sorrow this past year. It could do far worse than take advice from Honorary Member of the 104th Congress R. Hudson Limbaugh III; it could, for example, take the advice of John Derbyshire.