(Or, Why I’m in NO Hurry to Defend Limbaugh)
By George Scoville
Someone once asked the great fiction author Stephen King why people read horror stories. “To feed the alligators of the mind,” he said.
King understands that there is part of our human psyche that craves violence and terror. Perhaps it is the animal in all of us – or maybe our capacities for empathy – that forces us, even in the middle of rush hour traffic, to slow down and rubberneck as we pass even the goriest of roadside accidents. It is why we pay almost $10 a pop for films like House of Wax, despite the compelling intuition that Paris Hilton is probably the worst actress that Hollywood ever recruited. It is why The Godfather, Psycho, and Apocalypse Now all rank in the top thirty of AFI’s 2007 Top 100 Greatest American Films list. It is why Romans regularly attended games at the Coliseum, feverishly watching their favorite gladiator mutilate onslaughts of other slave opponents.
We are obsessed with experiences that turn our stomachs, that challenge our paradigms, and that essentially twist us up on the inside.
Perhaps it is for this reason, too, that the only mainstream media takeaways from this 2009’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) were Rush Limbaugh’s and Ann Coulter’s final day remarks. Mainstream journalists in America, like King, know that we are dope-sick for controversy, that we’re always chasing a perfect and permanent chaotic high. Their advertisers know it too; thus, the more controversial the programming, the higher amount of total ad revenue a media outlet can accrue.
Many people on my side of the ideological spectrum revere Rush and Coulter as the premier voices of conservatism in America. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more, and that’s why I’m in no hurry to defend Limbaugh against the onslaught of attacks from Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, and even President Obama; personally, too, I don’t think Ann Coulter needs my help in defending her from leftist subversion.
I attended CPAC for the second consecutive year this February; I was pleased to see that registrations were above 9,000 this year (up above just over 7,000 last year, an election year which brought all the candidates on the Republican ticket to the conference podium). Perhaps we can explain this increase in turnout to Limbaugh’s early confirmation as a headliner and the subsequent successful marketing by the American Conservative Union’s chief CPAC organizer Lisa De Pasquale. I am more inclined to think, though, that staggering losses at the polls last November brought a somewhat divided right-of-center activist constituency to Washington to get recharged on issues, strategy, and principles. There was certainly no shortage of “Rah-rah Republicanism” (though thankfully, this year, there was a shortage of bowties).
What Rush Limbaugh does well is that he talks about government and extremely complex, fine policy points in layman’s terms; his ability to simplify government, coupled with his unwavering commitment to reiterating core conservative principles, enables him to connect to 15 million listeners (and more) per day. He made some great points as he delivered his impromptu remarks at CPAC to his “first international television audience.” The most salient points he made, setting the record straight about conservatives in America, are that a) conservatives love people, b) we see potential in each and every individual, c) former President Clinton balanced the Federal Budget by cutting taxes (something President Obama doesn’t want you to know), d) you don’t create jobs and wealth by punishing the people who provide the jobs for the middle class, and e) his references to communism were exceptionally poignant.
President Obama is not a socialist; socialism requires state control of the means of production, and sadly, we don’t produce much of anything in America anymore.
President Obama is, however, a Marxist class warrior, a redistributivist at his core, who believes that there is an economic undercurrent to all social phenomena and that the type of organic revolution Marx described in Das Kapital took place here in America in 2008 (liberals believe the 3:1 electoral landslide describe an overwhelming shift to the center-left here in the States as well as a prescription for leftist policy reforms, despite the near 1:1 popular vote totals). Where our new President departs from Marxism and enters into garden-variety communism is in his 10-year budget proposal; whereas the natural end of Marxism is a totally anarchic state, President Obama’s plan to expand the capacity and size of government reflects a model more likened to the Soviet Russia (but again, without state control of industry – except maybe now the finance industry).
Dr. Larry German, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Belmont, drew a parallel in a recent RAR submission between entitlement programs and automobile insurance, saying that car insurance companies, like entitlements, redistribute wealth from good drivers to bad, and “it makes us safer to be on the road knowing that most drivers can pay if an accident occurs…We all benefit, and the system survives.” It struck me today as I thought about this analogy that automobile insurance companies also reward good drivers with lower premiums. And Vice President Joe Biden wants you to pay a higher premium for being a good driver…because it’s “patriotic.”
What Limbaugh does poorly, in my opinion, is that he defiles opportunities to deliver cogent and resounding messages to moderates whose views of conservatism in America have undoubtedly been obscured by mainstream media personalities like Anderson Cooper, James Carville, and Keith Olbermann. Rush will always be able to count on hardcore conservatives whose dogmatic allegiance to the Republican Party has never been, is not, and will never be compromised. In short, this is a very bad case of preaching to the choir. Personally, I found myself enthralled with former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett’s references to choice, freedom, and Plato (of all things).
Rush needs to reach out to people who can tip the political scales back in conservatives’ favor, but his best approach reeks of sarcasm, personal attacks, distracts from legitimate issue discussions (once his narratives depart from the issues), and doesn’t empower people to take charge of their political life inasmuch as it empowers them to sit idly by, proclaiming “Right on, Rush!”
Typical criticisms of him as an arrogant, self-serving demagogue are relatively accurate in my opinion. Despite this indictment of Rush’s “wasted opportunity model,” I applauded him right along with everyone else at CPAC as he dispensed some of the more heavyweight ideological haymakers of his presentation, and I laughed and cheered where appropriate. I don’t go out of my way to listen to Limbaugh like some of my ilk; it ought to be pretty clear at this point that he and I part ways on strategy (and even on some issue positions). But I appreciate Rush Limbaugh (and fellow Dead-head Ann Coulter) for the same reasons I appreciate Eminem; both say things that feed my alligators. Both offer incendiary social commentary that compels us to think about issues in new ways: “My offer to debate ‘The Teleprompter’ [President Obama] still stands” (Rush); “Don’t blame me when little Eric jumps off the terrace…you shoulda been watchin’ him, apparently you ain’t parents” (Eminem).
Many leftists who read my blog and my Facebook posts have chided me since CPAC, saying things like “Rush Limbaugh is only going to send you crazy Republicans further out into the desert, and for a longer time!” or “His divisiveness is only going to marginalize your kind further!” Despite my criticisms, I can only go halfway with my liberal counterparts on this notion. They, like Emanuel, Gibbs, and our President, want to characterize Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party. This is patently untrue; Rush Limbaugh is a leader of the conservative movement, a movement that is NOT dead, as evidenced by a 25% increase in turnout at CPAC 2009 over CPAC 2008, much to the chagrin of leftists in America. When Rush Limbaugh becomes actively involved in the GOP party apparatus, wins RNC Chairmanship, or a presidential bid, then and only then will he be the leader of the Republican Party.
Until then, he will be an entertainer feeding the alligators of people like me and (hopefully) continuing to make a philosophical case for conservatism to his listening audience.
I would argue, also, that by directly engaging Rush on the media battlefield, the White House has empowered him. The very Americans that proclaimed an overwhelming ideological victory in November, the Pelosi-led House Democrats, are now suffering political blowback from popular aversion to bailout after bailout, no-net stimulus after no-net stimulus. People say that Republican ideas aren’t relevant anymore, but it seems that people are becoming more and more attuned to tax issues, particularly as regards recent reports of AIG executive bonuses after Congress awarded them another $30bn in bailout funds. President Obama began his term with an 82% approval rating (which I always find funny; how can one approve of something that hasn’t happened yet?), but has dropped to 60%. That means that ¼ of people who approved of him in late January/early February now disapprove of his performance, a mere six to eight short weeks later. If I were President Obama, I would be scared of Rush Limbaugh – and that’s why I’m in no hurry to defend him.
George Scoville is a senior Political Science and Philosophy double major.