Rick Perlstein: FNB Politics

Roundup: Historians' Take

Faggot. Nigger. Bitch.

Please excuse the blunt language. From here forward, to avoid the ugly words, I'll refer to it as "FNB politics." With little to show the electorate in 2008--after six years of uninterrupted control--besides sub-standard care from a privatized workforce at Walter Reed Hospital, thrice-married "family values" presidential candidates, and a boom in home foreclosures, the conservative base's 2008 strategy has begun to emerge: Weaken the major Democratic opponents by making their image unpalatable to the public.

Ann Coulter might have been the one to use the precise word aloud. But the effort to discredit John Edwards as not really a man began soon after he came to national prominence as John Kerry's running mate. And the endeavor fits into a running conservative pattern--one Ann Coulter's most important patron, Roger Ailes of Fox News, knows perfectly well. In The Selling of the President, Joe McGinniss relates an episode where Richard Nixon's set dressers had the candidate in front of a turquoise curtain. Ailes, Nixon's detail-obsessed TV guru, had a conniption. "Nixon wouldn't look right unless he was carrying a pocketbook," he grumbled, ordering the curtains replaced by wood panels with "clean, solid, masculine lines."...

The genius of FNB politics is that it can make those who diagnose it sound like barking moonbats. Sometimes you have a case. Sometimes, you're just being paranoid (Matt Drudge says "Dems rumble in Hollywood jungle; Clinton-Obama throwdown"--Aha! Jungle!--and "Obama team takes a 'Lincoln Bedroom' shot"). And it's often only in retrospect that the game seems truly deliberate. In 1952, Nixon used the word "traitor" to describe Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, and Harry Truman. Outrageous!, Democrats responded. Whatever do you mean?, Nixon said in wounded tones, claiming he'd been misunderstood; he only meant they were "traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation's Democrats believe." Today, it's obvious that he meant to suggest, you know, the crime of treason.

The bonus: His charge also revealed liberals as shrieking and hypersensitive. That's the problem with FNB politics, and Reagan showed it better than anyone. He used to make jokes: About Africans, "When they have a man for lunch, they really have him for lunch." So, when gubernatorial candidate Pat Brown distributed a pamphlet ("Ronald Reagan, Extremist Collaborator--An Exposé") of such quotations in 1966, it backfired. Reagan was making a joke! Why are these liberals so humorless?

Ann Coulter would probably call herself a Ronald Reagan conservative, and she is. FNB politics, in its gentler, embryonic form, was part of Reagan's conservatism. Now that everything noble in conservative has been travestied, it's all they have left.

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