More on Carrying Water

My thanks to James for inviting me to guest blog here while my home site (ProfessorBainbridge.com) is undergoing construction. After three years of nearly daily blogging, I was ready for a break, but now that my hiatus has gone more than a month, I’m ready to be back.

Steven Taylor’s post below on the “quotes from Hugh Hewitt and Rush Limbaugh which appear to promote the notion that they both were cheerleaders for the GOP prior to the election loss to the point that they defended Republicans who didn’t deserve defending, but did so anyway to promote a Republican victory,” is a must read. Regular readers of my blog will recall that Hugh and I went after each other hammer and tongs over Harriet Miers’ nomination to the SCOTUS. Hugh’s admission that he “had to defend the Congressional gang that couldn’t shoot straight” raises the question of whether he really thought Miers was qualified to be a Supreme Court justice or whether he “had” to defend Miers. (Since I still like Hugh, I should note Joe Gandelman‘s observation that perhaps “Hewitt was simply saying ‘Thank God we don’t have to defend such a politically inept Congress!'”)

Why would successful talk radio hosts feel that they “had” to defend the indefensible? Limbaugh offers this explanation:

Now, you might say, “Well, why have you been doing it?” Because the stakes are high. Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me they represent a far better future for my beliefs and therefore the country’s than the Democrat Party and liberalism does.

Maybe. In which case, we can write off Limbaugh and his ilk as mere party propagandists, no better than the Democrat-leaning MSM. But I don’t buy it. After all, the GOP needs high profile propagandists now more than ever. So why is Limbaugh liberated?

I wonder whether there’s another explanation; namely, access. The currency of talk radio is access to insider info and high profile guests. Did Limbaugh et al feel they had to carry the GOP’s water in order to ensure a steady flow of tips from and interviews of GOP bigwigs? When the GOP politicos thought Karl Rove had created a permanent Republican majority, maybe Limbaugh et al needed the politicos more than the latter needed Limbaugh. If so, perhaps Limbaugh figures the GOP minority now needs him so badly that he no longer needs to carry their water.

Maybe there are other explanations. As a quasi-economist, however, I’m happiest with explanations that follow the money. So, OTB readers, what’s your theory?

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Campaign 2006, , , , , , ,
Steve Bainbridge
About Steve Bainbridge
Stephen Bainbridge is the William D. Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and the longtime proprietor of the law blog Professor Bainbridge. He did a guest stint at OTB in November 2006. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBainbridge.

Comments

  1. Limbaugh certainly didn’t need access under Clinton.

    I think this can be likened to Churchill’s reaction to the soviets entering WWII. He didn’t like the soviets, trust them or otherwise think well of them. But while the larger menace imperiled the free world, he did not spend his efforts on reigning in communism, rather in defeating the more immediate threat.

    I think it is less that Rush was in love with the GOP and more that a larger threat needed to be fought immediately. Good, bad or indifferent, the election of 2006 is over. Like Churchill at the end of WWII, Rush is freer to point out the problems with his allies and set those problems aside for the more important immediate fight.

  2. Jon Swift says:

    No Holding Back…

    When Republicans had both houses of Congress it was actually quite a burden. But now the gloves can come off and for the first time in 12 years we don’t have to hold back any longer. We can tell you what we really think and we are ecstatic….

  3. SoloD says:

    Guys like Hewitt and Hannity are merely megaphones for the GOP. They aren’t leaders, but merely those who seek fame, fortune and popularity. They are merely part of the right wing echo chamber.

    Rush, however, has always been a little different. He is at his best, and most comfortable, as a bomb thrower (sorta like Newt), not a cheerleader. I think the Rush of 15 years ago would be amazed of two things: 1) that he is still going with a significant following; and 2) that he has become such a cheerleader.

    Six or so years ago he had to make a decision (conscious or unconscious) about how he would act with the GOP in power. He opted to go the cheerleader route, probably because he knew that his audience would dwindle otherwise. He hasn’t been as “on” since then. Maybe ’06 will allow him to be an equal opportunity bomb thrower (both the Dems and Bush — but obviously more at the Dems).

  4. SoloD says:

    BTW- Welcome back Professor.

  5. DC Loser says:

    I think SoloD is spot on about Rush. Limbaugh was at his funniest when he was on the offense against the Democratic controlled congress, Clinton, etc. When he had to defend the GOP in power, he wasn’t funny at all. I’ve long ago stopped listening to his rants.

  6. geezer says:

    Then again, maybe Rush was just trying to be loyal to the party he supports. “Follow the money,” indeed.

  7. just me says:

    I think there is a bit of that “the enemy is the enemy of my friend” stuff at work.

    Now I admit I don’t read Hewitt or listen to Limbaugh everyday, but I listened to Limbaugh enough over the years to know he wasn’t exactly totally carrying water.

    I remember the medicare drug benefit-Rush was no cheerleader for the congress during that crap.

    I think what happened is that those men, like a lot of us were not happy with the congress, but we still would rather have the GOP in charge of the judiciary committee (and to be honest this is why I hate losing the senate more than anything, because it is doubtful anyone Bush nominates will be “good” enough for the democrats and there is no way in Hell Roberts or Alito types would be confirmed-so we are stuck with Souters and O’Conners), we would rather have the GOP in charge of the purse strings than the democrats.

    Basically-we didn’t like the date we took the ball, but we danced with him anyway, because the alternative wasn’t any better.

  8. Bithead says:

    In which case, we can write off Limbaugh and his ilk as mere party propagandists, no better than the Democrat-leaning MSM.

    Stephen, I think you’re miscasting this.
    The stakes are high, says Limbaugh, and he’s right. But, the question comes “the stakes are high for what? What is in these talking about ? ”

    Is he talking about merely the republican party or is he talking something larger than the , such as the country , the culture, the way of life?

    I have said often enough that I have no particular love for the Republican party. And yet I defend them as a matter of routine. By two ways can you come to that point. You can either as you to assume that I’m lying and I’m merely a Republican party propagandist, or on the other hand you can assume that I see the republican party as being the best tool to hand , toward the goal, which in the end state may or may not involve the Republican party.

    I am certainly among the latter, and by what I see I consider Rush Limbaugh to be one of the same.

  9. Anderson says:

    Limbaugh was at his funniest when he was on the offense against the Democratic controlled congress, Clinton, etc.

    Oh, yeah. “Feminazi.” Hilarious.

    And yet I defend them as a matter of routine.

    Bithead’s rationalization supports *voting* Repub but not “defending them as a matter of routine.” As John Cole points out, criticizing one’s party is a way to change it for the better.

    Had you all spent the last four years admonishing the GOP when they deserved it, we wouldn’t have Speaker Pelosi or Chairman Reid. If you hadn’t spent the days after the Foley revelations wondering how the media and Democrats had wronged us, we might have won a seat or two. You acted like party hacks- you were party hacks- and now there isn’t much left of the party.

  10. legion says:

    I think this can be likened to Churchill’s reaction to the soviets entering WWII. He didn’t like the soviets, trust them or otherwise think well of them. But while the larger menace imperiled the free world, he did not spend his efforts on reigning in communism, rather in defeating the more immediate threat.

    John, You’re quite wrong. Rush wasn’t simply working on larger issues, he was actively promoting incompetents and criminals, solely because they were Republicans, at the expense of other people who could have done far far better for America and her interests. If Churchill actively tried to establish a Communist Party in England, and used his bully pulpit to get people to join it & get it entrenched in power in England, _then_ your comparison might hold up.

  11. […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Leave aReply […]

  12. Illustrated Guide to Democratic Election Victories…

    An easy-to-read scrapbook of various reactions to the Democratic victories in the midterm Congressional elections……

  13. floyd says:

    legion; the last democrat with America’s interest at heart has been out of office for half a century.

  14. Legion,

    Churchill supported and aided Stalin. Not because he liked the communist, thought they were the best for the Russian people or represented no threat to the UK or western civilization. He supported them because the need to defeat the Nazis (and for all their faults the communists were decisive in defeating the Nazis) was greater than the need to stop communism. Churchill could have stayed true to his anti-communist principles and withheld support that helped keep the soviet union afloat. Maybe it would have made no difference, may it would have ended with communism being eliminated. But like Rush and the others, how ever deeply held their beliefs were that communism posed a significant threat to the west, they saw Hitler as the worse threat.

    The question raised was did Rush mute his criticism of the Republicans? The answer is yes. Just as Churchill muted his criticism of the communist during the war. The next question is if this was because Rush was blindly supporting the republicans or he saw supporting republicans warts and all was better for the country than seeing the democrats take power. Given Clinton’s inability to stop terrorist attacks or deal the the issue of terrorism against the US (WTC I, USS Cole, Embassy bombings, etc) and such inane strategy suggestions as Murtha Okinawa re-deployment it is not unreasonable for him to see electing democrats would hurt the US ability to deal with the threat of terrorism. You may disagree, but his is a very rational position. If I thought electing a democrat president would make the democrats serious about fighting the war on terrorism, I would vote for the democrat. I wouldn’t like the domestic policies, but I would be willing to sacrifice that for winning the war.

    Of course the democrats have an opportunity to show that they are serious about winning the war on terrorism. I admit I am skeptical, but I hope they show that given the responsibility they will step up to the plate.

  15. Bithead says:

    Bithead’s rationalization supports *voting* Repub but not “defending them as a matter of routine.”

    No, it does not. Is the only way you can defend against the argument, to miscast it?

    As John Cole points out, criticizing one’s party is a way to change it for the better

    (chuckle)
    By those lights, and since we’ve not seen either of you being critical of Democrats, you and Cole must figure the Democrats are near on perfection.

  16. just me says:

    Shoot bithead Cole voted for Mullohan-the guy currently under investigation by the FBI. Now I haven’t seen him outright defend the guy, but according to this way of thinking voting for, but failing to criticize equals carrying water.

    Guess Cole is carrying water for the democrats now.

  17. Bithead says:

    Now?

  18. What made Rush so different in talk radio was his ability to perform WITHOUT guests. I believe he mentioned that in his first book. Up until then talk radio was mostly NPR-like boring hosts asking questions to guests. There were people plugging their books, offering gardening advice, stuff like that. Rush made talk radio all about a persona. Rush doesn’t need guests therefore access isn’t important to him.

    As for water carrying, Rush decided not-so-conservative Republicans were better than absolutely-unconservative Democrats. That’s not so irrational. However I wish he would have been forth-coming during the elections. It means his listeners should be more skeptical of him–which isn’t a bad thing.

  19. Bithead says:

    Not particularly, Sean;

    Limbaugh’s commentary very seldom carries real praise for republicans. Rather, his commentary tends to contain comparisons of respective positions on a given issue… Generally speaking, labeling one position superior to the other. And guess which is which.

    That’s not what are carrying per say, that is a contextual comparison.

    Example; Does, say, Consumer Reports carry water for Japanese vehicles over American ones? I think you can scare up a couple of people who would make that suggestion. Yet, what they’re doing is giving their opinion within the context of the comparison of two separate sets of vehicles. (Or whatever)

    I’m not convinced that skepticism is called for on that basis alone. It may well be, but this doesn’t make the case for it.

  20. legion says:

    Churchill supported and aided Stalin. Not because he liked the communist, thought they were the best for the Russian people or represented no threat to the UK or western civilization. He supported them because the need to defeat the Nazis (and for all their faults the communists were decisive in defeating the Nazis) was greater than the need to stop communism.

    I’m late in replying – didn’t get much chance to surf this weekend – but there’s still a flaw in your argument. Churchill’s situation was a perfectly valid reason for supporting Stalin to blunt the Nazi threat. But unless you truly buy into the spin that Democrats are as bad as/worse for America than the terrorists themselves, it’s not a valid reason for supporting crooked/incompetent Republicans (especially those who pay lip service to the conservative ideals you support without actually ever voting for fiscal control, improved security, smaller/more efficient gov’t, etc.) over competent Democrats you don’t agree with on 100% of the platform.