Of Rush Limbaugh, Limbaughism, And The Future Of The GOP
Chafets acknowledges that Limbaugh has no conception of fairness or objectivity, that he is not an original thinker, and that he is prone to “hyperbole, sarcasm, and ridicule, none of which is meant to be taken literally.” He’s unnerved by Limbaugh’s “Magic Negro” racial insensitivities and his indifference to real politics. ” ‘There are no books written about great moderates,’ he sometimes says. ‘Great people take stands on principle, not moderation.’ That’s not true of course — the founding fathers Limbaugh venerates compromised their way into a Constitution, and even Ronaldus Maximus [Reagan] knew when to bend. Politics is the art of compromise. But, of course, Limbaugh is not a politician or even a political strategist. He is a polemicist.”
It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth. But neither Limbaugh nor Chafets is troubled: “Over the years, [Limbaugh] has endeavored to carry forward the banner of Ronaldus Maximus, which he always credits as ‘Reaganism.’ But as time moves on the memory of Reagan fades. It is Limbaugh’s voice conservatives now identify with. For millions, conservatism is now Limbaughism.”
That is Limbaugh’s achievement. It is Chafets’s story line. And it is American conservatism’s problem.
Which I agree with Stephen’s point from a few weeks ago that Limbaugh’s influence over the GOP is often over-stated, both by those who like Rush and those who don’t, but Frum makes an excellent point about what Limbaughism, for lack of a better word, has done to the GOP in general and conservatives specifically.
As much as he might deny it, Limbaugh and his ilk were, for most of the Bush Administration a water carrier for the Republican Party and George W. Bush, saying nothing while the Administration increased the national debt at an alarming rate.
Heaven help you, though, if you dared to be one of those criticizing the Bush Administration’s domestic policy, or question it’s foreign policy, then watch out. Even if you were a Republican you were still a traitor, a RINO, un-American. For eight long years, with only a few minor deviations such as the nonsense over the Dubai Ports Deal or Bush’s inexplicably stupid selection of Harriet Meirs for the Supreme Court, conservative talk radio carried the water for an Administration and a Republican Party that was anything but conservative.
During the 2008 Election, you heard more from Rush, Sean, and the rest of the gang about the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama than about the Republicans. There was precious little discussion about Mike Huckabee’s love for taxes, Mitt Romney’s flip-flops, or John McCain’s, well, John McCain-ness. And voices in the party for limited government and rational foreign policy, like Ron Paul, either weren’t talked about at all or they were ridiculed.
It was John Derbyshire, though, who pointed out the greatest damage that talk-radio conservatism has done:
Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.
Why engage an opponent when an epithet is in easy reach? Some are crude: rather than debating Jimmy Carter’s views on Mideast peace, Michael Savage dismisses him as a “war criminal.” Others are juvenile: Mark Levin blasts the Washington Compost and New York Slimes.
You could see this triumph of low-browism in full force during the 2008 General Election from the adulation given to a totally unknown Governor who virtually celebrated anti-intellectualism, to the attention given an unlicensed plumber from Ohio who managed to get himself YouTube’d repeating a GOP talking point, to the unstated assumptions that many had about Barack Obama that just weren’t true.
And you could see just how well that went over on Election Night.
In the 1970s the voice of conservatism on the air was Firing Line. Today it’s Rush, Sean, Laura, Mark, and Michael. If anyone doesn’t recognize that’s a step backward, it’s only because they’ve become used to associating the right with the latter rather than the former.
Rush Limbaugh may be the “leader of the opposition,” but he doesn’t have to be, and he shouldn’t be.