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CPAC, The Tea Party, And The Remaking Of The Right
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
If you want to see where the conservative movement is headed, the last
few weeks have given some good indications. The nation's largest annual
gathering of conservatives, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action
Conference, was held last week in Washington. Glenn Beck was the keynote
speaker. CPAC is a project at the American Conservative Union. The first
national Tea Party convention was held earlier this month and featured
Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker.
My guest, David Weigel, covered both conferences. He reports on the
Republican Party and the remaking of the right for the online magazine
The Washington Independent.
David Weigel, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Mr. DAVID WEIGEL (Reporter, The Washington Independent): Thank you so
much for having me.
GROSS: Looking at CPAC and the Tea Party convention, how would you say
the conservative movement today is different than it was during the Bush
Mr. WEIGEL: If anything, it's more conservative. That's a surprise to a
lot of people. It's a surprise to me, frankly, as somebody covering this
for a while. Maybe it shouldnât be, though, because the activist base of
the party, and I'm including people in D.C. like Grover Norquist and
Dick Armey, who have been running think-tanks and projects for years, as
well as these tea party activists in the states, they wanted the party
to move right.
That was always their complaint with George Bush. It was just a surprise
that when Republicans lost as badly as they did in 2008, that they won
the argument about what the party should stand for.
GROSS: There's many divisions even within the ultraconservative
movement, but what are some of the issues that have emerged as what the
movement stands for and stands against?
Mr. WEIGEL: I think the most â the surprising one is actually the 10th
Amendment, and this is not something that's new to conservative
politics, Republican politics, the idea that states should overrules the
federal government, but the prominence that the idea that states can
nullify a bill they don't like is...
GROSS: Yeah, explain what the 10th Amendment is.
Mr. WEIGEL: Well, it's that basically all powers not explicitly provided
by the Constitution are delegated to the states, and this is â I don't
want to say it's usually ignored, but it's not usually â we've got
Social Security, we've got Medicare, we've got all sorts of policies by
which the federal government involves every American, it helps states
pay for these programs, but otherwise, it's a buy-in between the
American people and the federal government.
And conservatives have never liked this, but they sort of got on with
it. Since Barack Obama became president, especially since he has pushed
health care reform, there's just a flowering of this idea that states
should be allowed to opt out of anything they don't like, and there are
bills moving forward in some states - Virginia, actually, just passed a
bill saying if health care is passed, they're not going to participate
in it. Is that enforceable? We actually havenât had a case like this for
a while, and it's something conservatives are defensive about.
I mean, at the Conservative Political Action Conference that happened
last week in D.C., there were forums an nullification where speakers
said, you know, we realize that the last time anyone heard of this was
when South Carolina was raising a ruckus about slavery, but nonetheless,
this is something that we think conservatives should be for - and no
GROSS: Now, you write that at the CPAC convention, there was far less
attention on how the party would govern America than on the need to
disavow the past popular embrace of big government. What do you mean?
Mr. WEIGEL: Well, I mean that something that the conservative base has
never been comfortable with, they've never been comfortable with the
fact that George Bush was winning elections when he expanded Medicare,
when he reformed the education system.
They actually think that's the reason they lost, and their narrative
among conservative activists and tea party activists is that the
Republican Party lost the faith of the American people when it didn't
get into power and slash half of the government agencies, cut taxes even
further, and abolish, you know, the estate tax and things of that
GROSS: So if the conservative movement is glad that Bush isn't around
anymore, and they think that he embraced big government, why was Dick
Cheney such a rock star at CPAC? I mean, if anything, Cheney is the
person most responsible for the expansion of the powers of the executive
Mr. WEIGEL: Well...
GROSS: And Cheney was the person who was the architect in a â one of the
architects of the war in Iraq, which was certainly government getting us
into a very long war, a war that many people think was not only fought
on false premises but many people believe has been very destructive both
to America and Iraq? So why did he get such the rousing welcome that he
did, if in many ways he represented the expansion of government's power?
Mr. WEIGEL: That's an excellent point, it's just that he represents a
specific kind of government expansion, the expansion of the national
security state and the expansion of America's role in spreading
democracy around the world with military action.
Those are very popular with conservatives, and that's a dispute. CPAC
was pretty convivial this year, but the dispute that existed there was
between more Ron Paul-type activists who think America should pull back
from engagement in the world and wiretapping and all these debates that
are hot right now, and the more-traditional conservatives, who think
anything that the president needs to kill terrorists is justifiable.
So that's why he was cheered. Cheney was a surprise guest, who was
introduced by his daughter, Liz Cheney, who has become a pretty
successful pundit, basically making that argument, arguing sometimes
against reality that everything Barack Obama does is aiding terrorists
and making America less safe. That got huge cheers.
Cheney came in, made the same argument and got more huge cheers, and
activists I talked to - I talked to Jimmy LaSalvia, who runs GoProud,
which is a gay Republican group that's fairly new - they were
distributing draft Cheney 2012 stickers, and the reason, he told me, is
that Cheney put some daylight between him and Bush as a more-aggressive,
more-ready-to-defend-what-conservatives-do-in-governance kind of
Now, part of it was that Cheney supports repealing don't ask, don't
tell, but a lot of it is that they think the only good legacies of the
Bush administration were some Supreme Court appointments and his foreign
policy. And again, ask a lot of Americans in 2006, 2008, that's why
these guys lost.
GROSS: Now the straw poll winner, there was a straw poll on which people
were asked to choose their preferred presidential candidate, and the
straw poll winner this year was Ron Paul, who isn't even a Republican,
he's a libertarian, and he announced...
Mr. WEIGEL: He's a member of the Republican Party, but yes, he ran as a
libertarian presidential candidate and endorsed not the libertarian
candidate because of a dispute that's probably too weedy to get into
here, but endorsed Ralph Nader, the Green Party Candidate, and the
Constitution Party candidate in kind of a huff over John McCain in 2008.
GROSS: And the announcement of his victory in the straw poll was booed
in the hall, and you write the importance of minimizing Paul's victory
actually united conservatives. Tell us about the reaction to his victory
and what you think it means.
Mr. WEIGEL: Well, it manifested at the top of CPAC's leadership and in
that room, basically the same way. CPAC is run by the American
Conservative Union. It's got a lot of full-time flaks, and they were
making sure every reporter in the room noticed that this was not a very
representative poll and that the room booed the result.
Now, on the first part of that, this actually was the most-participate-
in CPAC presidential straw poll ever, and it's a poll that, when Mitt
Romney won it, as he did for three years, was seen as a gold standard of
what the movement thought of that - thought of him as a politician.
And in the room, the booing was there â it was really just ironic,
because everyone was crowding in the room for that and also for a speech
by Glenn Beck. And there was nothing Glenn Beck said that Paul could not
have said. It was about - not just how progressivism was, in his words,
a cancer that needed to be cut off America...
GROSS: This is Glenn Beck speaking here.
Mr. WEIGEL: This is Beck speaking, yeah - but a diatribe against Woodrow
Wilson, against the League of Nations, against all of the stuff that
conservatives, you know, they might have this debate over coffee or over
really late-night scotch, but they don't usually have in public, and
it's something Paul has always been talking about.
But conservatives were united in trying to diminish this result, because
they don't want their image to the American people to be septuagenarian
politician who bangs on about the need to pull â you know, to close down
American bases and speaks at meetings of the John Birch Society. And it
was accidentally very revealing of how far right the party has gotten.
GROSS: Do you mean that Paul's victory is representative of how far
right the party has gotten?
Mr. WEIGEL: Oh, yeah, this is an unscientific straw poll that was
conducted, but they've all been unscientific straw polls, and they
usually don't end with this very libertarian â and libertarian is a term
that gets tossed around a lot. Paul specifically is one of these guys
who thinks we just really need to roll back the federal government to at
least what it was like before 1912, before the progressive movement.
Actually, I correct myself: before Teddy Roosevelt.
And that's what Glenn Beck talked about. He didn't attack John McCain by
name, but he said there's a Republican who says Teddy Roosevelt's his
favorite president, and this whole room of conservatives, who call
themselves mainstream conservatives, all booed Teddy Roosevelt.
They did that because Teddy Roosevelt introduced the progressive income
tax and because he favored some sort of national health care, and they
think this is how America first started trampling the Constitution.
This version of history, which again, the John Birch Society has been
doling out for a very long time, and Ron Paul has been doling out for a
little bit of less time, it's not what Republicans like to tell the
country they believe in. But then, 31 percent of people at this
conference with a lot of international media around, said yes, we
believe in this.
GROSS: Now, another thing that Ron Paul and Glenn Beck have in common is
that they both want to end the Federal Reserve, do away with it. Why is
that a big issue for them?
Mr. WEIGEL: It's a really surprising issue. I was speaking to somebody
who was covering Ron Paul in 2007, when he â maybe he couldn't get
arrested isn't the right word, but he couldn't get a chair at some
debates hosted by networks like Fox News. He was considered a crank.
One of the reasons was that he just was banging on about â he would bang
on about hard money, about the gold standard and about how the Federal
Reserve, which took us away from a dollar that made sense and was tied
to something, and put our fate in the hands of this shadowy private
corporation and international bankers - not something Republicans have
talked about very much, but it's become incredibly mainstream, to the
point where they really think if we abolish the Federal Reserve, we're
going to â that would force the country to, well, to do a number of
things, maybe to default on our debt, maybe to get off of paper money
and go back to gold.
I mean, there's a belief that if we let government â I guess they would
say make up its own rules about what â how much money they have, how
much money they can spend, then everything bad about this country flows
GROSS: So I think I hear you saying that people who were considered to
be very fringey(ph) like Ron Paul, like Glenn Beck, are now
representative of a more almost mainstream part of the conservative
movement, that they're more in the mainstream of the movement now and
not on the far edges.
Mr. WEIGEL: They definitely are. After a really tough relationship of
the past few years, Ron Paul fans were banned from a lot of top
conservative sites. They were â again, he was banned from debates. But I
think, and I talked to Paul about this, and he says, well, I have more â
he said I have more credibility now. I have credibility on economics. I
have been saying for a long time that if we didn't abolish the federal
reserve, get back to the gold standard and basically roll back most of
the American social welfare, we would have an economic crash, and now we
I mean, the irony there is that America before we introduced the Federal
Reserve had economic crashes all the time. And before we got off the
gold standard, we had more severe crashes than this one. This is a
severe crash, but if you go back to the history of boom and bust in the
19th century, when - which all these people are trying to get back, it
was so painful that that's one reason conservatives didn't talk about
this stuff for a while.
He just happened to ride this wave, and after talking for 40 years about
a crash, lived through one, and everyone who was around him, making fun
of him, decided to embrace. And when I say everyone, I mean
conservatives who didn't really have much of an economic philosophy,
apart from cutting taxes all the time will grow the economy all the
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Weigel, and he
covers the Republican Party and the remaking of the right for the online
magazine The Washington Independent. David, let's take a short break
here, and then we'll talk some more, okay?
Mr. WEIGEL: Thank you.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Weigel, and he
covers the Republican Party and the remaking of the right for the online
magazine The Washington Independent.
Now, at the CPAC convention, Glenn Beck gave the keynote. He said
progressivism was a cancer that must be cut out of the political system.
He said the only job of government is to save us from the bad guys. You
said his speech perfectly captured the change underway in the
conservative movement. What change did his speech capture?
Mr. WEIGEL: I think Glenn Beck's speech captured how conservative
activists have responded to Barack Obama by seeing a debilitating, fatal
threat to everything America stands for. Not some policies that are
taking us in the wrong direction that they can repeal, but a â the
enactment of a century-old plot to destroy America's institutions and
turn us into a European state.
And that might sound hyperbolic, but I don't think any of the phrases I
just used were not used from the stage at CPAC.
GROSS: Now, let me just stop you. Do you mean a European state or a
Mr. WEIGEL: I mean...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WEIGEL: For a lot of these activists, there's not much of a
difference. French health care to them is as terrifying as anything in
Soviet-era Uzbekistan or in Belarus. I mean, they really see that
anything that forces Americans to pay some taxes and all buy into a
system that share health, you know, they're responsible for health care
or shares pensions or anything like that is the road to serfdom, to use
Friedrich Hayek's phrase, part of a grand plot to turn America more
European, more socialist.
But they're very comfortable now, with arguing that they are a bulwark
against a huge conspiracy to destroy all this stuff and that Barack
Obama being a charismatic rock star figure snowed Americans into falling
for this, but if they listen to us, they'll understand that we are ready
to save America's institutions from socialism.
GROSS: Now, you used the expression grand plan and the word conspiracy.
The John Birch Society was one of the co-sponsors of the CPAC
convention, and that's â the John Birch Society is kind of famous for
conspiracy theories and fears of grand plans. Can you talk about what
the John Birch Society stands for? The group was basically exiled from
the conservative movement by William Buckley years ago, and it seems to
have really gotten a seat back at the table now.
Mr. WEIGEL: It did. There was controversy about this when it was
announced that the John Birch Society was going to cosponsor the event.
Again, as somebody who's been covering this for a while, I remember that
in 2008 and 2007, it was seen as a quasi-smear of Ron Paul to point out
that he would appear at Birch events.
But they were back, and the discovery of them being there was that they
didn't have a lot to say that other people weren't saying. They have
very slick, professional-looking materials, I mean, I dare say better-
looking than a lot of the D.C. conservative groups, you know, pamphlets,
video, things like that. And they'll talk about how the Law of the Sea
Treaty, which is a fairly obscure, maybe less obscure now, international
treaty that would govern, you know, mining rights in international
waters, is a back door towards America being taken over by the U.N.
Well, that sounds crazy, but John Bolton, who was our U.N. ambassador
for a few years under George Bush, made the same argument. Fox News has
very little problem putting these opinions on the air.
I mean, that's one thing I noticed walking around CPAC, just like I
noticed walking around tea parties or the Tea Party convention, that
really conservative media is so available and so permeates - not just
what its listeners believe but what Democrats talk about, what other
channels talk about - that all these ideas that were once very far right
are now just in the ether. They are things that people have to answer
and talk about.
I mean, go on YouTube, and you'll find Democratic candidates being asked
about President Obama's citizenship or about the U.N. treaties that are
quite obscure, about provisions of the health care bill that they argue
are going to lead to mass murder of the elderly.
Again, the Birch Society was saying this stuff for 50-odd years, and
people were distancing themselves from it. Now, you know, the elephant
in the room is that they are seen as an anti-Semitic organization
because they â a lot of these â I'll say they're seen as - I mean, I
think that's fair - that's the reason a lot of people don't want to work
with them. Because of this idea that there's an international conspiracy
to destroy America.
I mean, that's something that's often been blamed on the Rothschilds and
on the Elders of Zion. But you know, David Frum, the very thoughtful,
centrist-leaning conservative thinker, had a bit of a happy hour after
CPAC, and he said to me: The thing I respect about Glenn Beck is that he
managed to take hard-money crankery away from anti-Semitism.
And he had a laugh about that, but...
GROSS: What an accomplishment.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WEIGEL: It's something new under the sun. But that's definitely
true. Like, the Birch Society is now, if you ignore some of their
resonance, they're not saying anything different than Glenn Beck is
saying. I mean, I'm totally comfortable saying that, apart from maybe
the occasional epithet about water fluoridation, there's really nothing
GROSS: So I should mention Sarah Palin. Where is she now on the
conservative movement? Where does she fit? How much influence does she
have? Or maybe influence isn't even the right word. How much faith do
people have in her, like?
Mr. WEIGEL: Well, tea party activists and conservatives have a lot of
faith in her for different reasons. Tea party activists respect her
because they think she's one of them, and conservatives like the way
she's attacked by the media.
They â Palin spent a lot of time, recently, attacking media figures who
use what she calls the R-word to describe the developmentally disabled.
You know, that's not a political quest that makes sense, but activists
who are very oppositional and think that there's a big infrastructure
out to get them, really respect her for that. So she's not as much a
leader as somebody they identify with.
GROSS: David Weigel will be back in the second half of the show. He
reports on the Republican Party and the remaking of the right for the
online magazine the Washington Independent. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross, back with David Weigel. He
covers the Republican Party and the remaking of the right for the online
magazine The Washington Independent.
This month, he covered the first National Tea Party Convention and the
Conservative Political Action Conference - CPAC - which is the largest
annual gathering of conservatives.
David, you were at the CPAC convention, you were at the Tea Party
Convention. What is the Tea Party movement now? I mean there are splits
within it, but can you make generalizations now about what the Tea Party
Mr. WEIGEL: They really do say that they're a nonpartisan - wouldnât say
bipartisan, but a nonpartisan movement that looks more to American
tradition than to either of the parties. And while they are composed
very much largely of Republicans - and there's a CNN poll in February
that demonstrated this. It's Republicans or Republican leaning
independents. It's 77 percent conservatives, whereas the country is not
that conservative. They basically stand for undoing first the end of the
Bush years and everything's Barack Obama's done, but then really rolling
back all reform of American economics and social democracy, back to the
pre-Teddy Roosevelt kind of gilded age politics.
GROSS: So at the Tea Party convention, the press was invited and there
were almost - what was the portion, like one press member for every like
two or three Tea Partiers who were there?
Mr. WEIGEL: Or three.
GROSS: So one press member for every Tea Partiers, so that's a huge
press representative for the number of people there. Let me...
Mr. WEIGEL: It was a reversal, because before the convention, people
like me applied and couldnât get press credentials. They were only going
to give them to five media outlets, all of which were conservative.
GROSS: Exactly. So what was the point of inviting in more media people?
What did they want to accomplish and did they accomplish that?
Mr. WEIGEL: Yeah. They kind of realize that if they were careful not to
invite obviously nutty people with signs showing Obama with a Hitler
mustache or the kind of things that have caused contretemps whenever
theyâve, you know, appeared on CNN or what have you, then it would be a
showcase for the Tea Party movement, I mean despite their being some
really extreme stuff there.
You know, Sarah Palin was the Saturday night speaker. The Friday night
speaker was Joseph Farah, the editor of WorldNetDaily, who spent a
quarter of his speech talking about President Obama's citizenship and
how he's never proven that he's really American. You know, they pulled
off this pretty amazing trick of showing off the strangest parts of the
movement while getting cameras just to cover these normal looking Middle
Americans in T-shirts that they designed themselves and nodding along to
talk of freedom and the Constitution.
GROSS: So what youâre saying is the visual image represented at the Tea
Party convention was normal, average, but the message at a lot of the
podiums was really far more extreme.
Mr. WEIGEL: It was, and I think that Democrats have struggled in making
this movement problematic for Republicans. They really thought it would
be. Theyâve tried pretty manfully for a year to convince people that
this is an extreme wing of the Republican Party, but according to polls
most people think this is a movement of independents that's worried
about the national debt, part of that how spending is too high and taxes
are too high.
GROSS: Is this a fair statement to make, that a lot of the Tea Partiers
not only believe that taxes should be cut but that a lot of the programs
that taxes pay for should be extremely cut or maybe even abolished,
including Social Security and Medicaid, Medicare?
Mr. WEIGEL: That's absolutely true. And theyâll put in some caveats
about programs that people have paid into for a long time. But, you
know, I talked to Allen West, who's kind of the perfect Tea Party
candidate. He's a lieutenant - sorry - retired lieutenant colonel. He
left the armed services after firing a weapon close to the head of an
Iraqi prisoner and getting disciplined for it.
He ran for Congress in 2008. He talked like this and he lost; but he's
running again. He's raised more money than his opponent - Congressman
Ron Klein. And I talked to him at CPAC. He got on the CPAC bill and he
said, yes, Social Security's a Ponzi scheme, it's the biggest Ponzi
scheme, but I'm not going to get rid of it right away but I, you know,
hint-hint, eventually this country's got to get on sound footing by
I mean one of the Republicans who is taken most seriously by the Tea
Party is Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and he's explicit about
this. He's introduced bills that would take people's Social Security
taxes, put them in funds that they can keep for themselves. These are
policies that used to be things the Republican base might talk about but
wouldnât do and now you can't be a real Republican, you can't be a real
Tea Party activist, if youâre not for those things.
GROSS: The Tea Party's criticisms are not only aimed at Democrats,
they're aimed at Republicans, because the Tea Partiers think that even
Republicans have created big government and have not cut taxes
Do they blame Bush at all for the financial crisis that we're in?
Mr. WEIGEL: The Tea Party version of the financial crisis is not quite
an alternate history but an alter history that doesnât really match with
what happened. It's not 100 percent wrong. In their version of history -
and I mean talk to somebody at a Tea Party, talk to a Republican
politician about this, and I'll ask a candidate how they'd describe it
and they describe it this way: In the '70s Congress passed the Community
Reinvestment Act. Government made it a priority to help people who
couldnât afford homes get homes.
The government also regulated the financial industry. Those two things,
other things, took the banks and the lending industries from engines of
capitalism that obeyed their own rules to organizations that had, you
know, either were forced to or had a profit function in lots of bogus
lending. And then they'll get to the history of what happened and how
they divvied up bad mortgages, you know, that people bought into that
collapsed are economy. They'll go through that history but they say it's
because government intervened. It's not because we didnât regulate these
Barney Frank and Chris Dodd basically are given most of the
responsibility for causing the thing. Jimmy Carter is given the rest of
the responsibility. And even some people - Republicans who voted for
TARP, I think, are comfortable putting it this way.
Paul Ryan, the Republican from Wisconsin, who is, I think, seen and seen
accurately as the party's smartest guys on budgets, has explained he
voted for TARP because he thought it was a one-time mea culpa that was
going to get these guys out of there. It was going to prevent a bigger
crash that would lead to huge reform of the system. That was seen as a
solution for him. It's not seen as a solution for most of these people.
I mean they think it was government's fault in the first place. If
government backed off, yes, we would've had an enormous crash but we
would've picked up the rubble and built up a system more like the one
George Washington and Alexander Hamilton wanted for us.
GROSS: The Tea Party seems to be running a campaign now to get their
people in the lowest levels of local politics. What kind of offices are
they trying to run for and what is the goal? How big is this movement?
Mr. WEIGEL: Yeah. I think that's possibly the most under-recognized
effect of the Tea Party movement. They're running for school board.
They're running for city council. They're running for state assembly. I
mean they're running in places where if you have a lot of energy and
youâre willing to knock on doors - and these people are willing to knock
on doors - you can - you meet enough of your neighbors, maybe the
neighbors in the next town over, that they can entrust you with power
for a couple of years.
They're also - local Tea Party groups are setting up questionnaires and
hoops for candidates to jump through to a degree that's almost self-
parodying sometimes. I've seen some questionnaires for sheriff
candidates that ask them detailed questions about the Constitution and
whether - and which of their duties they think have been enumerated.
GROSS: The Tea Party movement wants to be something new and different
and have some impact on the Republican Party. But one of the chief
funders of parts of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey, through his
organization Freedom Works. And Dick Armey is really, you know, a voice
of the past. I mean he was one of the - he was a Republican leader
during the Clinton administration and goes back before that. Like, when
was he in Congress?
Mr. WEIGEL: He was elected in 1984 and he left on his own volition in
2002. I mean he was in no danger of being defeated. He just retired to
become, like a lot of the former congressmen, a lobbyist with some
GROSS: Okay. So what are his interests in funding the Tea Party
Mr. WEIGEL: One thing Armey would say is that he doesnât fund the Tea
Party movement. He loves to contrast what they see as union thugs and
ACORN putting Democratic rallies together with Tea Party people gassing
up their cars and driving to Washington for his rallies. There's some
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WEIGEL: I mean Freedom Works is always on the scene. It helps set
these things up. It's got full-time activists who help get permits. And
I mean I've been to a couple of events at Freedom Works' office where
theyâll have huge, you know, nice buffet spreads and things like that
for Tea Party activists and conservative bloggers to meet and
strategize. But it's not a ton of money they're spending. He has figured
out that the very Libertarian beliefs he's had for a long time, which he
always thought had some sort of, you know, if not a majority support,
some huge support in the country he just couldnât locate, well, that
support's been located. So he is happily steering these guys and giving
them candidates they can support and giving them policies they can
I mean Tea Party activists are not - do not come to these rallies with a
set of political goals. They generally believe the things I've been
talking about - about the Constitution, about how Obama's trying to
wreck it. But for them to come out against a bill or believe that that
bill contains a provision that's going to kill their grandmothers,
something like that, that is coming from people like Armey, who have
these interests - have lobbying interests in some respects, who want
that message to get out there. And that's what you see.
I mean I donât - I really donât think that conservative activists at the
top like Armey have been(ph) puppeteering this movement. I mean they're
right, it was - it did spring out of some part of the American map in
reaction to Obama's policies. But they are telling it what it should
stand for as much as Fox News is informing them what Obama is doing that
they should be opposing.
GROSS: Have you been getting access to the people you want to get access
to and the meetings and conferences and symposiums, conventions that you
want to get into?
Mr. WEIGEL: I basically have. I wouldnât call it hubris yet. But I mean
I would call it a little bit maybe perhaps dancing in the end zone. Ever
since Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts, there's a sense that a
Republican victory this year is just inevitable, and so what do you have
to hide if youâre going to win this thing anyway? What do you have to
hide if the Center for American Progress or Media Matters runs nasty
videos about you, but then you go an beat them in a Massachusetts
election anyway? And there's such confidence about where they're heading
that they give you a lot of access to these meetings because they want
you to see how they're beating the liberals.
GROSS: Okay. Well, David Weigel, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. WEIGEL: It was a pleasure. Thank you so much.
GROSS: David Weigel covers the Republican Party and the remaking Of the
right for the online magazine The Washington Independent. You can find
links to his articles on our Web site, freshair.npr.com.
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Josh Thompson's Good Ol' Country Debut
TERRY GROSS, host:
Within seven months of arriving in Nashville from his native Wisconsin,
singer-songwriter Josh Thompson had his first hit song and a music-
publishing deal. Now he's released his first album, called "Way Out
Here," and rock critic Ken Tucker says it's one of the best debut
country albums in a long time.
(Soundbite of song, "You Ain't Seen Country Yet")
Mr. JOSH THOMPSON (Singer-songwriter) (Singing) You say you got a thing
for a man in worn-out jeans, a Stetson hat and them alligator boots. So
you want a man with rougher hands (unintelligible) city boys can't, itâs
the one raised up with down home country roots. Well, now donât go
thinking that's what you got just because he says he-haw. You ain't seen
KEN TUCKER: Josh Thompson may have just put out his rookie major label
release, but he comes on like an old pro at making country-music albums.
That is, he makes them the way they used to, when albums arrived on
vinyl, five songs to a side.
Most stars think that putting less than 15 tracks on a collection is
cheat, while making most of their cash on hit-single downloads. But Josh
Thompson has sussed out his key demo. He knows the country music
audience still buys albums and probably won't squawk about the number of
songs as long as the quality is consistent.
(Soundbite of song, "Won't Be Lonely Long")
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) When the lonely set in, I fought back the tears.
I donât love you any more is so hard to hear. It felt like a mile from
our door to my truck. Somehow how I found the strength to fire it up.
How lucky am I that you said goodbye at seven o'clock on a Friday night?
I won't be lonely long. By the time that first beer's gone, I'll be
floating on a neon cloud with my friends around. We'll be raising up our
glasses and singing out loud to those done-me-wrong drinking songs.
TUCKER: That's a first-rate song called "Won't Be Lonely Long." It's
addictively clever, faking you out in the beginning as though it's going
to be a tears-in-my-beer ballad, then kicking into an upbeat honky-tonk
song. The song is co-written by three writers, including Thompson and
George Ducas, himself a solid record maker whose career never took off
the way it should have.
The first, weepy verse is perfect mood music, and then the raucous stuff
is superb fun. Positioned as the fourth song on the album - after tunes
that make nods to Waylon Jennings and how all he needs is, quote, "a
couple of bucks when I'm itchin' for a scratch-off ticket," Josh
Thompson is clearly pulling off something impressive here, acknowledging
his betters and boasting about how far he's already come, without coming
off like an arrogant jerk.
(Soundbite of song, "Beer on the Table")
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Every morning I get up before that rusty crow,
headed straight to somewhere I donât even want to go. Eggs and bacon in
my belly and a Folgers coffee buzz. Good ol' radar detector, it protects
me from the fuzz. Well, I do what I gotta do to get through working that
nine to five. It's killing me, but then again, it's keeping me alive. It
puts the gas in my truck, butter on my biscuit, couple of bucks when I'm
itching for a scratch-off ticket. That poker makes me broker every
Saturday night, but I still got running water and they ain't cut off the
lights. Come Friday night, my friends and I start peeling off them
labels. Working hard all week puts the beer on the table.
TUCKER: Thompson possesses a strong, surging, but not particularly
distinctive voice. It's the voice of a songwriter, which is how Thompson
got his foot in the Nashville music-industry door. He wrote a popular
song for someone else - Jason Michael Carroll, called "Growing Up is
Getting Old" - that proved Thompson's gift for melodic hooks and the
sort of tight little puns that are the stuff of country-music mini-
Thompson's own album is stuffed with good examples of this-is-what-I-
stand-for statements - most blazingly on the title song, "Way Out Here."
(Soundbite of song, "Way Out Here")
Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) Our houses are protected by the good Lord and a
gun, and you might meet 'em both if you show up here not welcome, son.
Our necks are burned, our roads are dirt, and our trucks ain't clean.
The dogs run loose, we smoke, we chew and fry everything out here, way
out here. We won't take a dime if we donât earn it.
TUCKER: Once again, puns do the work of truth-telling. The title "Way
Out Here" refers to the backwoods life the narrator describes with
lovingly surly detail. But the phrase also means this is the way we live
out here, with, quote, "guns and the good Lord" invoked as warnings, and
the invocation of three Johns - John Wayne, Johnny Cash, and John Deere
- to prove his working-class roots.
Thompson makes a point in interviews to mention his time spent pouring
concrete for driveways and basements in his father's Milwaukee concrete
business. As is also true of the hip-hop industry, authenticity -
feigned or real - is important to impress upon the fans. To Thompson's
credit, he doesn't brag about it excessively, and often uses it for some
fun, as when he says in the song I played at the start of this review,
"If you ain't made love to a Merle Haggard cassette, you ain't seen
For a first-time album, "Way Out Here" is impressive, not just for the
confidence of Josh Thompson's delivery, but also for its consistency.
One of the business models of earlier-era country music Thompson doesn't
follow is the old formula of front-loading your album with two or three
hit-singles and padding the rest with filler. On "Way Out Here,"
Thompson makes every cut count.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed Josh Thompson's debut album "Way Out Here."
Coming up: annoying things about how people talk. Our linguist Geoff
Nunberg considers some language and usage pet peeves.
This is FRESH AIR.
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'Equation,' 'Gingerly' And Other Linguistic Pet Peeves
TERRY GROSS, host:
Everyone has one: something you find particularly annoying in the way
some people talk, whether itâs a mispronunciation, a grammatical
mistake, pretentious bit of jargon or a tired cliche. When it comes to
language, says our linguist Geoff Nunberg, we all have our pet peeves.
GEOFF NUNBERG: My friend Scott is always sending me indignant emails
with examples of people using the word equation to mean just a situation
with a lot of factors, where nothing's actually being equated - as in,
family members are a critical part of the doctor-patient equation. I
tell him I think of this as just routine journalistic bloat, and not
even he thinks it's a threat to the republic. But he enjoys grousing
about it all the more because it doesn't seem to annoy anybody else that
much. It makes for a fine pet peeve.
Of course, I have peeves of my own. When I hear people say over-
simplistic, I suspect they don't know that simplistic means that all by
itself. I'd be happy if somebody would drive arguably and quite possibly
into the sea. And it seems to me it's almost always a bad idea to begin
a sentence with I pride myself on.
A pet peeve should be like a pet theory or a pet story: a tic or fancy
that you nurture in your bosom and make your own. You can have a pet
peeve about people who mispronounce mascarpone. But it's odd to use the
phrase for off-the-rack gripes that everybody shares. Saying that you
have a pet peeve about thinking outside the box or your call is
important to us is like saying you have a pet theory that you should
feed a cold and starve a fever.
I have this notion that gingerly shouldn't be used as an adverb, as in,
she hugged the child gingerly, because there's no corresponding
adjective ginger. You wouldn't say, she gave the child a ginger hug.
I'll concede that gingerly has been used as an adverb for 400 years, and
nobody's ever complained about it before. But so much the better. Every
time I see the word used as an adverb, I can take a quiet satisfaction
in knowing that I'm marching to a more logical drummer than the half-
billion other speakers of English who haven't yet cottoned to the
Writers tend to have lots of these notions. Kingsley Amis held that it
was incorrect to use pristine to mean pure rather than original, and
that you shouldn't say I was oblivious to the noise, since oblivious can
only mean forgetful.
And in a usage book he published a few years ago, Bill Bryson contended
that it was wrong to use expectorate as a synonym for spit, since it
really means to cough up phlegm from the chest. The word did originally
mean that, but it's been used to mean spit since Dickens' day. And
Bryson knows perfectly well that it would be completely unreasonable to
insist on the original meaning. Think of the mischief it would work with
Major League Baseball's rule 8.02, which says that the pitcher shall not
expectorate on the ball. But Bryson also understands that it's the very
unreasonableness of the argument that makes it so handy to have around
when the dinner conversation flags.
Nobody ever took this quite so far as the 19th-century writer and
journalist Ambrose Bierce. He's best remembered today for his stories
and his satirical "Devil's Dictionary," but in 1909 he wrote a book
called "Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults." It was
republished for its centenary last year with entertaining annotations by
Jan Freeman, who writes the language column for The Boston Globe. Bierce
had a gift for discerning usage errors where no one else would have
thought there was anything amiss.
Take the sentence: Since I made no money last year, I had to live in a
dilapidated shack with a dirt floor with 10 other people. By Bierce's
lights, that sentence contains five errors. You should say earn money,
not make money. Last year should be the previous year. Dilapidated
shouldn't be used for a wood structure, since it comes from the Latin
word for stone. Dirt shouldn't be used to mean earth. And you shouldn't
use people with a specific number. It should be 10 other persons.
That makes Bierce sound like a caricature of a humorless pedant. But he
clearly enjoyed being perverse and ornery, and my guess is that his
journalist colleagues wouldn't have taken any of this too seriously. Oh,
that's just Ambrose being Ambrose.
The weird thing is to see rules like these passed down as traditional
linguistic wisdom. Take that edict that you ought to say 10 persons
rather than 10 people. You can still find it in the recent editions of
Strunk and White's revered "Elements of Style," along with antique
admonitions against saying contact us or calling something worthwhile.
The linguist Arnold Zwicky calls these zombie rules. Somebody should
have run them through a wood chipper long ago, but here we are, in 2010,
assigning students a style guide that tells them that correct English
requires them to write: There were 5,000 screaming persons at the Lady
It's bad enough that that leaves students with the impression that
mastering good usage requires them to learn an esoteric code. But it
also robs those rules of the kinky charm they had when they were merely
somebody's quizzical peeves. Now those personal crotchets are being
offered as the authorized standards, as if you could decree the tune the
language is obliged to dance to. But the English language doesn't owe
anybody a living. It was here first.
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at the School of
Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
You can download podcast of our show on our Web site: freshair.npr.org.
And you can follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook @nprfreshair.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.