Skip to main content

I'm embarrassed by Ted Nugent

By Timothy Stanley
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Stanley: Conservatives mostly let Ted Nugent's outrageous remarks slide
  • It's shocking they seem afraid to dissociate themselves from Nugent, he says
  • He asks: What happened to the intellectual tradition of conservatism?
  • Stanley: The pursuit of the party base leads to a surrender of rationality

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- When did conservatives become prisoners to idiotic vulgarity? I ask that question as someone who self-defines as conservative and who is sick and tired of being embarrassed by Ted Nugent.

Last month the aged rocker called President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel" in an interview with Guns.com. That was bad enough, but what was just as shocking was the willingness of Texas GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott to keep him aboard his campaign.

Rick Perry and Ted Cruz also failed to rule out appearing with him. Only Rand Paul took to Twitter to demand an apology, which Nugent eventually gave. He downgraded Obama to a "liar," which is, at least, a more colorblind insult.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

There is a view that Nugent simply "speaks his mind," and, yes, he has every constitutionally guaranteed right to do so. Maybe what he says appeals to some people, those for whom good manners are a bourgeois affectation and correct spelling the preserve of Harvard pointy-heads.

Nugent insists comments not racist, promises to stop 'calling people names'

Either way, what is disturbing is that some serious Republican politicians think that he matters and are happy to count him among their endorsements -- as though selling records and getting angry make him a spokesman for the masses. Animal from the Muppets also speaks his mind, but we've yet to see him headlining a rally for Chris Christie.

This isn't what conservatism is supposed to be about. Conservatism is the rejection of ideology in favor of common sense and anger in favor of cool rationalism.

'Inside Politics' panel on Paul, Nugent

Of course, there have always been intemperate voices on the American right -- from Joe McCarthy to the John Birch Society. (I'm not including Southern Democratic racists such as George C. Wallace because their place on the political compass is impossible to plot.) But the American right has an intellectual tradition that has all been forgotten by the media in recent years.

There were the Progressive Republicans (Irving Babbitt), the anti-communists (Whittaker Chambers), the libertarians (Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman), the traditionalists (Russell Kirk), the neo-conservatives (Leo Strauss), and the sages of the National Review (James Burnham, L. Brent Bozell, Willmoore Kendall) -- the latter embodied by the urbane, cosmopolitan wit of William F. Buckley.

Most of these groups quietly linger around today, largely ignored in the noisy mess of 21st-century politics but still patiently taught at some colleges and think tanks. In modern-day Washington, you'll find all the Catholic Republican interns spending Sunday at St. Stephens on Pennsylvania Avenue and weekday nights at lectures by bishops on the nature of good and evil. Not at the assault weapon firing range.

Sometime in the 1970s, the intellectual right made common cause with populism, and historians such as Rick Perlstein tell us that this is when they surrendered their brains to cultural conservatism. But Ronald Reagan was neither inarticulate nor rude. He was happy, sunny, funny, and his speeches so dense with philosophy and history that they make Obama sound like a high school student.

Crucially, he had a faith in the intelligence of the average American, which meant he didn't resort to meanness or bad syntax to win their vote. Reagan would never call an opponent "subhuman."

So how do we explain the rudeness of contemporary politics? Nugent's followers might insist that his language reflects the desperate seriousness of his cause, that any conversation about fundamental issues such as guns or Obamacare is bound to cause a loss of temper. But in the 1960s the Republicans were debating urban riots, sex, drugs and Vietnam -- and yet the GOP sold itself as a party that could resolve these challenges with calm sensibleness. Nixon ran as an antidote to the chaos caused by the left, offering order over anarchy.

"This pursuit of the base ends with basically intelligent men deferring to those who are rightly socially unacceptable."
Timothy Stanley

What has changed is that back then conservative politicians had faith in themselves and their own philosophy, that it would win out because it was right and middle-class Americans could see that.

Today's breed are all too often chasing a "base" that, they imagine, includes yahoos, survivalists and people who think the world is both flat and about to come to an end. This pursuit of the base ends with basically intelligent men deferring to those who are rightly socially unacceptable.

Cue John McCain in 2008 being told by supporters that Obama is an Arab, or Mitt Romney nearly paralyzed with socially awkwardness as he courted the Joe Six-Packs in 2012. And it ends in politicians failing to call Nugent out for being a Neanderthal.

As the midterms approach, conservative presidential aspirants face this challenge: Can they elevate rather than reduce the political debate? Rand Paul has made a good start, and it's probably because he is driven by philosophy and all the self-assurance that brings. For the rest, I'd like to see them defy a few stereotypes. Rather than being photographed shooting bears or doing pushups with Chuck Norris, let journalists catch them reading a book. Russell Kirk is a good place to start.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
ADVERTISEMENT