I consider myself an intellectual, so, yes, I expect some blowback to my assertion that I listen to Rush Limbaugh. Even my conservative parents, who agree with him on economic issues, can’t stand him. They think he’s too conservative on social issues and too full of himself in general. They prefer Dennis Miller, who is equally conservative, is on at the same time, and who can wield a metaphor that cuts like a knife through hot liberal mindsets (sorry, metaphor is not one of my strengths).
My liberal friends are just ashamed of me. They have dubbed him an ‘entertainer,’ not a ‘serious’ newsperson,’ and an ill-informed one at that, and they would rather have nine inch nails thrust into their eyes than listen to him.
And I have to admit that he sometimes tests my patience, as when, on the day after I conceived this post, he attacked Darwin as one of the two worst thinkers of all time; the other was Freud (Really? Not Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?). Darwin is one of my intellectual heroes, and it baffles me how the man who considers himself to be on the ‘on the cutting edge of societal evolution’ can be serious about hating Darwin.
My harshest critic on the Limbaugh front is my wife, a committed liberal feminist who hasn’t listened to Limbaugh since 1991 or so. But my wife and I haven’t discussed political issues since 1994, when we were both watching Michael Moore’s TV Nation. When I bring up politics, she is kind enough to change the subject for me. We live in peace because our relationship is built on stronger stuff than politics.
Yet I listen to Rush Limbaugh, and if you want to know what’s going on in America you should too.
The Most Under-Rated News Story of My Lifetime
I have always thought the most under-reported stories in my lifetime has been Limbaugh’s rise to prominence. This is not because I am political and need to make the case that Rush is ‘better’ than liberal alternatives. Because I am not political, I listen to publicly-funded NPR, Al Franken, and Rush Limbaugh. On TV I watch MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News.
I listen to Limbaugh because I think he’s funny, and because he is one of the most astute political commentator in a media world filled with political commentators. But from the very beginning, the news media has accused him of being only an ‘entertainer’ on account of his mixing his partisan commentary with humor. The ‘entertainer’ moniker solved one of the problems of how to cover Limbaugh in the serious news media. He was a rival, and so covering his show as a source of news was never easy. But, from the very beginning, Limbaugh’s show was different.
The Culture of Counter-Dissent
The left has always had its share of dissenters, and they had reasons. During the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy unleashed a reign of terror that made martyrs out of people like Dalton Trumbo (who wrote Gun Crazy, one of my favorite film noirs). This caused leftist political philosophers to write books like Anti-Intellectualism in American Life which railed against the unthinking and unjust attacks of conservatives.
As a result, in the 1960s America had spawned a generation of kids thinking that it was their duty to rebel by becoming intellectuals themselves. So successful were they that they flexed their new-found muscle over the Watergate break-in and the ensuing scandal. Watergate gave the new generation purpose and direction. They, unlike their conservative parents, would ‘do the right thing’ and not cloud their goals with ancient ‘traditions.’
But President Nixon fought back. He coined the term ‘silent majority’ to refer to his base. These were voters who were not particularly motivated to participate in politics. As the sociologist Herbert J. Gans says in his Democracy and the News , most people who watch the news are not politically engaged citizens (21).
They began to awake as an organized force in 1979, with the founding of the Moral Majority. This, in turn, fed into a long-standing culture war between conservative forces and more liberal forces. The American culture wars that broke out in in the 80s and 90s were characterized by rise of critics of the left’s cornering of the academic marketplace. The culture warriors were given a presence on the national stage by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Members of the religious right often criticized academics and artists, and their works, in a fight against what they considered indecent, subversive, and blasphemous. They often accused their political opponents of undermining tradition, Western civilization and family values. (Wikipedia)
The Fairness Doctrine
Limbaugh, then, didn’t create his audience; he took up the threads that had been built for him by others. But he was the first person to benefit from President Reagan’s decision to drop The Fairness Doctrine in 1987.
The Fairness Doctrine was intended to ensure both sides of an issue would be covered by providing ‘equal time’ for airing both sides of an issue. The reality of life under the Fairness Doctrine was that both sides were not always covered fairly. In fact, Limbaugh would argue (and I would agree with him on this point) that the Fairness Doctrine hid the truth of the natural imbalances, not only from the public—who apparently thought enough of Walter Cronkite to name him ‘the most trusted man in America’—but from those in the media itself.
They were not ‘balanced,’ as they said. In the wake of Watergate, the new forces of good, true, and right thought that they had put to flight forever the forces of tradition. So the ‘new media’ of the 1970s and 80s didn’t think twice about calling Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan (and see Sarah Palin for the next person to be so underestimated) ‘stupid.’
It is my contention that the news was never as ‘balanced’ as it made itself out to be. Into this new environment came Rush Limbaugh. He took the reins of the politically indifferent ‘silent majority’ and Moral Majority and got them even more organized as a new line of defense in the Culture of Dissent.
There are at least three sources from the entertainment world that have influence Limbaugh. All of them are famous for their mass appeal.
He largely acknowledges Howard Cosell—who you can still hear him imitating on a daily basis—as one of his chief influences. He uses Cosell as his model of an entertainer from the ‘classic age’ of television.
Limbaugh models his public behavior on the work of Dale Carnegie. He uses his Carnegie-derived optimism to spur others to believe in America at moments when others are in despair. That is no small thing and is one of the chief reasons that he has managed to hold on to the top spot on radio for all these years.
These three models gives him the air of authority (derived from Buckley), exuberance (derived from Cosell), and optimism (derived from Carnegie) that allows him to portray himself as a ‘harmless little fuzzball’ while launching partisan attacks on his ‘enemies.’
Limbaugh’s War On the Unfunny
But by far the most important thing about Limbaugh’s program is his reintroduction of humor into the political sphere. Sure, there had been people like Mark Russell on publicly-funded PBS who had entertained us with their politics. But Limbaugh raised Russell’s gentle satire to an art form.
His reliance of satire is one of the main reasons that ‘serious’ news people rail against his as an entertainer. During the 1960s, some comedians had become painfully aware that they were being lied to by the media. Sure, there were ‘funny’ comedians like Henny Youngman, but ‘serious’ people listened to ‘unfunny comedians like George Carlin and Lenny Bruce.
Lenny Bruce’s ‘The Truth’ is a short dissertation on (what else) ‘the truth’:
The truth is what is, and what should be is a fantasy, a terrible, terrible lie that someone gave the people long ago.
The goal of ‘serious people’ was to tear away the veil of lies built up over time to get to ‘the truth.’ [Saul Alinsky, for instance, follows this model.]
In the movie of Lenny’s life, Dustin Hoffman portrays the serious comedian, who dissertates on ‘truth’ thusly:
You see the problem is that we all live in a happy-ending culture, a what-should-be culture instead of a what-is culture. We’re all taught that fantasy: that if we were taught, this is what is.
Dustin (as Lenny) then goes on to show ‘the truth’ of ‘what is’ that underlies what we have been told in images of Jackie Kennedy’s terrified flight from the bullets that were riddling her husband. Dustin (as Lenny) reads the ‘official story,’ which he terms ‘bullshit,’ that Jackie was trying to go get help.
The rise of unfunny comedians in the decade of political slaughter was a (justified) concern with not being lied to. Comedians like Henny Youngman were clowns who hid the truth from the people, and they faded away in favor of ‘serious’ comedians who broke boundaries rather than supporting ‘the lie.’
When Rush came on the scene, he, too, was lumped in with the non-serious clowns who hid ‘the truth’ from us rather than putting it on display for us. ‘Serious’ thinkers dismissed his tacky and backwards references to mass entertainers like Howard Cosell as a sign that he was an oddball who wasn’t serious about ‘the truth’ but was only interested in promoting himself and his oddball, out-of-the-mainstream views. As such, he could safely be ignored.
That, I have always thought, was (and continues to be) the media’s biggest mistake. The media’s reaction hangs on whether there is a ‘truth’ available behind the ‘fiction,’ or whether (as Derrida and I think) this was simply an illusion of a logocentric (and demonstrably false) stability reached through an artificial stop placed on our thought, not by nature, but by men.
Using nature in place of the judgment of men, Derrida (following Rousseau) concludes that nature is balanced and that what it does can be undone with impunity by the clear-eyed. This is where I disagree with Derrida (but who am I?). I find nature to favor one set of values over another, as Pareto noticed. This is why Hitler has been suppressed and even the revolutionary talents of Derrida will not bring back from permanent suppression. (see his response to the question of Paul de Man’s being discovered to have been a Nazi collaborator).
The Question of ‘Balance’ in the World of News
If I am right (and I am right on this at least) and there was never as much ‘balance’ in the natural universe of news as those who practice the presentation of news would have us believe, then there is a problem in the media’s quest to ‘rebalance’ news coverage. To make my point, let’s take a look at two images from the cover of one of the ‘old media’ staples, Time Magazine.
Rush first graced the cover of Time on January 23, 1995 as part of a larger story on the ‘electronic revolution’ in media. In typical fashion, Time positioned themselves as the arbiters of good taste in democracy (and all else).
The editors ask, Is Rush Limbaugh Good for America?’ They don’t wait for an answer. Instead, they provide one in the subtitle: ‘Talk radio is only the beginning. Electronic populism threatens to derail representative democracy.’
Limbaugh complained at the time of the mainstream bias of Time magazine. And that may explain why, when Time featured Michael Moore on their July 12, 2004, they asked the same question: ‘Michael Moore heats up the election year with a new kind of political weapon. Is this good for America?’
This, it seems to me, comes from Time’s sense that they were the carriers of ‘balance’ in the world of ‘representative democracy.’ They had learned the lesson taught them by Lenny Bruce when he accused them (justly, I think) of propagating propaganda rather than ‘the truth’ about the Kennedy assassination. But there are other unlearned lessons there, as well, and these started to come out when Rush Limbaugh appeared first on the stage. He was an ‘unbalanced’ provider of news. The same was true 9 years later of Michael Moore. The only available response was to retreat from bias back to ‘balance’ and to rise above the fray.
Winners and Losers in an Unbalanced World
All that is only valid if the universe of nature is beckoning us to its own sense of internal balance. But in actuality I have come to believe, not from my university experience but from my experience in the business world, that the Pareto model provides a better model of nature than the modern model that leads from Rousseau to Derrida. And the lessons I have learned from the news media’s quest to ‘rebalance’ the news are not working because thy can’t work. Instead, the structure of the whole argument rests on a priori premises that can be shown, if not to be altogether false, at least open to question.
Limbaugh in not the intellectual type, but he seems to agree that the resources of the world travel to the first person to take advantage of new opportunities. He has succeeded and, although Michael Moore in rich by any American standard, he’s not as rich as Limbaugh, who has signed a deal that will net him (reportedly) $400 million dollars.
In this environment, he mocks the losing strategy of his blind competitors. For instance, on a recent show he put up a CNN ad for mockery. Fox News was too conservative. MSNBC was too liberal. But CNN was ‘just right,’ balanced between both as the dispenser of ‘both sides.’ Limbaugh mocks them, not on the basis that their model is wrong, but on the basis that they are not in fact ‘balanced’ at all.
Let’s read a bit of what he has to say on that:
I got a huge, a huge list — if I printed this out, it would be ten pages — of CNN employees. They’re called “journalists” on here. Not all the names you’d recognize, but they’re field producers, human resources people, behind the scenes employees at CNN, and the people they donate to are exclusively Democrats. And they want to try to tell us that they are centrist, that they are not MSNBC?
A little further down, he contrasts his view of his job with the approach of CNN, who he says is hiding behind a veneer of objectivity but is no such thing.
If this program lost 20% of the audience I’d be gone. I would take myself away. Well, I may not take myself away but I’d certainly say, “What am I doing wrong?” I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t blame the audience. I wouldn’t say, “Boy, my audience has gotten stupid.” But that’s what CNN does. Or they blame Fox, they blame Roger Ailes, or they blame MSNBC. Everything I’ve known about the competitive nature of this business seems not to exist on the left-wing side of it. It’s a place where failure is rewarded, failure is triumphed, failure is heralded. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Pinning Our Hopes on Our Sleeves
The ‘mainstream’ media has gone along with Time magazine’s retreat from bias to ‘balance,’ but their failure to achieve it can be seen this in the response to 9-11. The flag was being flown all over, and newscasters could achieve the good graces of their viewers by sporting one themselves. But this partisan activity was at odds with the news’ portrayal of themselves as ‘objective’ observers, and some newscasters after 9-11 refused to wear a flag pin on their lapel. It was Jackie’s flight all over again (if you haven’t watched the Lenny Bruce clip, watch it now or you won’t understand my point).
This was a silly thing, but it brought an enormous reaction from the public. Limbaugh was on the air telling his viewers that news people were a bunch of Commie pinkos who wouldn’t stand up for American values. The mainstream press had to decide where they stood on the question. Most wore the pins, but some remained adamant and would not. The same thing happened with Obama, who had a non-flag wearing moment of his own in 2008. He tried to maintain his ‘balance,’ but eventually he too caved.
The impact of such a minor thing as whether a newscaster does or doesn’t wear a pin on his lapel reflects the importance of the difficulty of maintaining ‘balance’ in the universe of news. Most newscasters caved because the cost of a lowly pin—what did they cost, a dollar?—was not worth the cost to the network, which could run into the millions. Obama caved because the uphill battle increased the tension to the point where is was endangering his chance of getting elected.
The bifurcated position on something as insignificant as wearing a flag pin ($1:$millions) reflects the enormous impact of small things to make an enormous (and I would say out-sized) difference in the universe of discourse. And this is why I listen to Limbaugh. Whether you of I like it, Limbaugh is driving the debate into new territory. People like Michael Moore are followers of Limbaugh’s model. If you want to know which direction the country is heading, you can ignore Michael Moore, who is just one of a hoard of gnats who follow the leader. That doesn’t mean I think you should like him (that would be too much to ask, wouldn’t it), but leaders in all fields have always made people uncomfortable. To miss him is to miss a lot.
I want to make myself clear here. I don’t listen to Rush because he has come up with the more correct model of the universe (he hasn’t). I listen to him because he acts on his knowledge of the way the world works better than the (perhaps far smarter) people at CNN or those who hold the power of government to regulate what they cannot control do. For instance, Senator Jay Rockefeller has recently (and shamefully in my opinion) called for the abolition of both Fox News and MSNBC on account of their lacking ‘balance.’ This could be a call for ‘balance’ in news coverage, but this is only true if the news coverage was ever ‘balanced’ in the first place. And the assertion by MSNBC star anchor Keith Olbermann that Senator Rockefeller had ‘personally told him that he is a fan of “Countdown”‘ would argue that the Senator is using the ‘balance’ to cover up (glozing for the medievalists among you) the ‘truth,’ which is that he is a fan of one (not both) set of biases.
Limbaugh drives the debate despite not have a firm grasp of the issues that drive him. The same thing that holds for Limbaugh holds for the President, who it seems to me to have built his system on a firmer system than he has a right to. By insisting that his system is fine and that people have simply been slow to grasp his ‘higher’ system, the President of the United States is making a huge mistake.
There is a structural problem with both thinkers thought that will not be corrected by making more impassioned speeches. We live in an environment of natural inequality. If you’re wrong in your premise (the a priori in Aristotle) about your individual beliefs in the ‘balance’ of nature, then it isn’t going to matter what you build on top of your faulty premise (the a posteriori in Aristotle). All that one has to do to undermine your a priori constructions is to undermine all the a postriori constructions you have built on top of your permises.
Trend Lines in ‘Fair and Balanced’ News
Now here’s some good news for the last liberals. Ironically, the President’s ‘enemies’ share his belief in the natural balance of nature. After Reagan dropped the Fairness Doctrine and Limbaugh came on the air, all pretense that anyone ever was or could be ‘balanced’ went out the window. Limbaugh proposed, before he had any followers as he has today, that ‘I am equal time.’
This is surely the origin of Roger Ailes’ Fox News, which purports to be ‘fair and balanced.’
Now whether they are or not is up to you to decide. Fox even says so in another tagline: ‘We report. You decide.’ From the static academic position, both sides are equal and the case is to be decided on this issue of whether Fox (or CNN) really is ‘fair and balanced.’
Looked at in terms of overall viewership, the rise of Fox News is still small in comparison with the overall viewership. This ‘point-in-time’ strategy is the one underlying CNN’s advertising, which purports to tell ‘the whole truth,’ while Fox News’ lies.
But having a model that measures a point in time is not the only thing that matters. The element of time (which I talked about in my review of Alinsky’s work) is important in decision making, even among those who propose to ‘rise above it all’ and report the news without bias. The fact of the matter is that people have been deciding in favor of Fox News to the point that political types watched Fox more than any one of the three networks (though it should be kept in mind that the ratings were close and that collectively the Big Three networks gathered 2-3 times more ratings than Fox).
As a trend line, the rise to domination of Fox News over its competitors has been astonishing. They have wiped out the viewership of CNN, who continue to crow that their coverage of the news is really the ‘fair and balanced’ one.
The rise of Fox News should soon be (if it isn’t already) a cause for concern to the still more powerful Big Three. Look at the disturbing trends for network news on this page. Viewership is declining, while the average audience age is increasing. That does not code well for anyone but Fox News.
The decision makers in the boardrooms of the cable and broadcast networks must be looking at these numbers and despairing. Fox is coming up, while other networks cannot compete. Alongside the disturbing trend of Fox News, more and more Americans are reporting that they are conservative, while less and less of them report that they are liberal. Limbaugh is winning the war, and the press has followed its old, tired, and perhaps irrelevant position that the world can be ‘balanced’ if only they hire really smart, academically-trained, Harvard types. This is the sort of backwards-looking strategy that had left more empires than one in despair.
The temptation in newsrooms is to despair by retreating away from the world of time into the protected corners guarded by an Ivory Curtain. After all, the news people hired by CNN are the smartest guys in every room they enter. Limbaugh and the people who run Fox (and perhaps MSNBC) are partisans who fail to give people ‘whole truth’ but simply the (‘stupid sheep’ or ‘brilliant in-crowd’ depending on your point of view) people what they want to hear. By positioning themselves between two opposed camps, the anchors at CNN intend to win back viewers. But that is only true if the world is indeed balanced between two opposing forces.
Clearly the editors and anchors at CNN think it is, and they disdain to throw their hat into such a ring. Instead, like the quoted Nietzsche on page 50 of Alinsky’s book, they turn away from ‘the Tartuffery of words’ towards ‘truth.’ ‘Others’ are playing loose with ‘the truth’—and the worst of these is (according to the liberal left) Limbaugh—while the good folks at CNN are fighting the good fight, and although their ship is sinking they can sink with dignity.
Perhaps the time has come to give up on the now lost position of ‘balance’ altogether and look for a position that accords with the way the world actually works.
Differences of Vision
The difference of vision is not one of right and wrong. It is on approach to nature as the end and guarantor of our knowledge of the world. Over time the liberal element has come to realize that the simple prospect of Lenny and other Bruce’s was philosophically problematic.
As a result, they have retreated from the world to the firm position from which the world still makes sense. This position is called ‘catascopia’ in Joel Relihan’s Ancient Menippean Satire). Relihan believes that this position problemetizes the easy answers that modern thinkers find in the works of the ancients. He attacks this new position head-on through reason rather than recognizing the position and turning back to he known-but-out-dated position which has the weight of centuries of criticism behind it. He is, in my opinion, right to do so, but the critical community has been slow to follow him down a new path.
In any case, the people at CNN, as well as those who follow Alinsky, feel that the natural world in ‘balanced,’ and when they find out it doesn’t work out exactly like they thought it should, they, too, retreat from the world back to a position where it still makes sense to their educated minds.
This is what happens to me when I look at the works of Plato and Aristotle from a sufficient distance. Both can be made to agree with each other, but this change of focus doesn’t do away with the shredding of clean and pure divisions in the works of Aristotle. It merely masks them from thinkers who are not as educated as someone like me (the Roman de la Rose calls this process ‘glozing’). By concentrating only on the ‘surface’ without understand the ‘depths,’ the ‘field producers, human resources people, behind the scenes employees at CNN’ trade their depth of knowledge for a superficial understanding of things. This is why they rely on experts.
This is a complaint I have with the news media in general and it is why I don’t watch much news. The news media tends to value superficial understanding over depth of understanding (see my post on Cramer v Stewart where I contend that Cramer is a expert but Stewart is a generalist and his conclusion is to value his generalist knowledge over Cramer’s expertise). And this is how I can have a deep relation with my liberal wife despite our serious political differences. Politics doesn’t matter much in our house.
Limbaugh’s Hoards of Cash
Rush has a different perspective on knowledge. On the surface, he seems to have the view of ‘balance’ in the universe of the news. But he acts in terms of his desire to win out over his competitors in the field of news.
His success has broad him a hoard of cash, and this will disturb the idealists among you. But I am not an idealist. I believe that money is just a shortcut in a universe that runs, not on a principle of ‘balance,’ but on ‘exchange’ (see the chapters on ‘Why You Need To Write’ and ‘Why Fido Can’t Drive in my Writing for People Who Hate Writing: A Book for the Rest of Us for a detailed explanation of this idea).
In my universe, people with a better view of the way the universe actually works will get more credit than followers, and resources will flow their way. This is why Michael Moore is rich but not nearly as rich as Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh was first to take advantage of the Fairness Doctrine. But being first is not in itself enough. He has been able to maintain his status, despite being called a racist and getting blamed for the Timothy McVeigh bombing in the 90s by no less a figure than Bill Clinton. In a ‘balanced’ universe, such things would have done in a lesser man (look at Don Imus’ treatment by MSNBC). But since the whole universe that Clinton was operating on was mis-configured, the charges rolled off Limbaugh’s back.
This should have given President Obama pause when he followed the same strategy when he came into office, but it didn’t. And there, I think, hangs a tale. Obama is operating on the same principles as Bill Clinton did in 1996. Continuing to do so might (but not necessarily will) spell the premature end of his Presidency.
The point that liberals who feel that they are better educated than Limbaugh should take away from this discussion is that they are not all that far away from being able to take on Limbaugh. They have better knowledge of the way things work. But their premise is wrong. Rather than running back to ‘balanced’ nature, they should find out how to compete with Limbaugh on his own terms. This means turning into the wind and facing Limbaugh, arguing with him directly rather than looking for softball interviews on The View and Larry King Live.
This is what others, like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have done. They have foregone ‘balance’ for ‘point-of-view’ on the news. They, too, follow Limbaugh with a more up-to-date and modern (or postmodern) humor than Rush’s sometimes lamer humor based in popular movies and television shows like Hogan’s Heroes and Driving Miss Daisy.
Such an approach is an implicit guarantee of the success of the Limbaugh model, which has spawned hoards of followers who now think nothing of using comedy in their presentation of the news. Moreover, Limbaugh’s approach works for the younger viewer, who regularly report that they get more of their news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report than they do from more ‘serious’ providers of non-comical news. I think it is worth thinking about why that is.
Prediction of the Future as the Driver of News
Limbaugh has found his niche in the universe he was the first to explore, but since he was the first to explore it he may be worth listening to still. But, as I said above, being first does not necessarily mean being the best. Limbaugh maintains his primacy over all others in the media by his ability to predict the future. This is a lesson that even his more clever followers like Jon Stewart have been slow to pick up on.
There is a huge difference between looking at the past in the full knowledge of events and looking at the dimly-perceived future (this a point I made here). He who correctly predicts wins (see the ‘Reykjavík’ chapter of my Poker Tales for a further explanation of this idea). Limbaugh’s talent as a political prognosticator is second to none. That doesn’t mean he’s always right (he’s not), but in the relative universe of thought about the future he does better than everyone else.
And make no mistake. Limbaugh, with his backward ideas about the past (including my poor hero Darwin), has not got the last word on the way forward. But I am certain that the backwards (I would say too traditional) ideas of Senator Rockefeller who wishes to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine are not the way forward. Rockefeller’s ideas are the last gasp of a dying idea.
The Cost of Turning Away From Limbaugh
In the beginning, Limbaugh was an anomaly, an opinionated person in a world which purported to be ‘balanced’ but was not. This gave him license to propose that he represented ‘equal time.’ As people have gotten the hint and poured into AM radio (which I remind the reader he saved singlehandedly), into comedy news (which he popularized), and into opinion news (of which he was the first), he no longer has to propose that he is equal time. He has now won. He now proposes a distinction between ‘old media,’ who resist his dominance, and ‘new media,’ who accept his leadership in the field of media.
The old media is wedded to their notion of ‘balance,’ and as they crow their ship is sinking. The new media has some awfully odd ideas, but since they have a better grasp on the future, their stock is rising.
But here’s my point. By turning away from Limbaugh, both sides of the Congress have allowed him to reign supreme. The Republicans won their first victory in 40 years in 1994. After inaugurating Limbaugh as an honorary member of the House in 1994. But they were slow to react to the new configuration that he represented. The House would use the votes he brought them, but he was not to be taken seriously. They continued along as though nothing had changed. As a result, they were handed a defeat in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
Their latest victory (this November) has come only because Limbaugh has learned the lessons of 1992, when Ross Perot split the Republican vote ensuring that Bill Clinton got elected with a scant 43% of the vote. He has stuck with the GOP. Had he not, the Republicans could never have regained power so quickly.
This will be a concern for newly-elected GOP leaders. Rush has hinted (on the basis of the timeless principle of ‘fool me once more fool me’) that he will leave the GOP and found a third party if GOP leaders don’t heed his advice this time He claims that the resulting party would doom the GOP forever. I can’t help but agree. To be fair, he appears to be uneasy with this claim. I think he has the (conservative) sense that a party in place is a better bet than an entirely new party. He wants to take over the GOP through successive elections. So far, he is succeeding.
But he may not have the last word on this subject. Sarah Palin, the darling of the recently-formed Tea Party which came seeming out on nowhere—in fact they came out of liberals having used Limbaugh as no more than an Alinsky punching bag for an entire generation rather heeding the warning that the terms of debate had shifted, as they has shifted in the 1960s, once again—is not so shy. She has declared her intention to form a third party if the GOP doesn’t do right by their newly-elected minority. She, unlike Limbaugh, has real power, and she’s not afraid to use it. Rush is her biggest booster, and with Limbaugh’s endorsement the President who ran as a man who could bring people together but governed on a strictly partisan basis, she should not be counted out.
Advice to Obama
I warn Obama about following the model that Clinton followed in the 90s. It may have worked in the 90s when the GOP had been energized by cultural issues and people like Dinesh D’Souza could be put to flight on Buckley’s Firing Line with the notion that he had not even read Derrida (couldn’d find a clip but I saw it happen).
Culture issues drew me briefly to Limbaugh of conservativism in the early 90s, but I soon realized that conservatives had no message for moving forward and I abandoned them by 1994. But this last election was not about ‘culture war’ issues. It was about money, and that is something that the President doesn’t know enough about. He still thinks that the pursuit of money is a bad thing (and not an out-sized measure of success in an ever changing world), and his idealistic followers in the media agree. On this issue, Limbaugh knows more about how money actually works than the President, who still follows the static model of Alinsky.
I heard Dick Morris, the architect of Clinton’s ‘triangulation’ strategy, somewhere saying that the problem with triangulating toward the center would be a problem for Obama because he said that ‘there is no center’ anymore. Things have come down to two opposing and irreconcilable notions. One is the Alinsky-Obama strategy of putting the ‘unbalanced’ universe back into balanced order. While this strategy has won the President a Nobel Peace Prix on the mere hope that he can restore order (he can’t), in the universe as it actually exists following that strategy is the quickest way to defeat.
The current situation of the nation does not mean we are at the The End of History and that sheepish ‘last men’ will be in charge forever. It means that Limbaugh has changed the game forever from ‘balanced’ universe to one of ‘imbalance.’ In that universe, he is winning. If this wasn’t apparent in the beginning (in 1994, for instance), it should be now. The cost of turning away from Limbaugh in this environment is very high.
My Wife’s Take on This
I was talking about this post with my wife, and I told her that in it I was going to advise the President on my views. I told her that I thought that rather than running away from Limbaugh, he should turn in and face him down on his own turf. This will require, of course, that he modify his views on money as the source of evil in the world that will be remedied by can be remedied by taking a position behind an Ivory Curtain. That position has only served to cede ground to his opponents.
She said, ‘Well that’s never going to happen.’ For once, she and I agree. She changed the subject, and with that we went back to our perfectly happy, non-political life.