For nearly 20 years, Rush Limbaugh has bestridden the political landscape with a power and influence that transcended his talk radio niche, crossing over into the rarefied air of cultural icon. With a combination of a hail-fellow-well-met joie de vivre and a biting, sometimes vicious adder-like tongue, Limbaugh has parlayed a well-honed shtick that combines popcorn sized bites of conservative wisdom with large chunks of political red meat into a career that has made him one of the wealthiest personalities in radio.
Limbaugh does not fit any of the comfortable definitions that liberals and the media love to apply to conservatives. Calling him a mere talk show host is simply wrong. Limbaugh has crossed the cultural divide and, like President Obama, he has become more than a political figure (or entertainer) and achieved a peculiar kind of celebrity.
Ross Douthat believes a more apropos comparison is with Oprah Winfrey, someone who crosses easily between the entertainment and political world. In this respect, the irony is that both men — Limbaugh and Obama — start from the opposite sides of that divide. Limbaugh the entertainer has passed Obama while on the way to achieving his status as political bellwether of the GOP. Meanwhile, Obama was moving the other way, from political force to cultural celebrity. Loved by their legions of supporters, despised by their opponents (with both men generating a hate from their opponents that mirrors the passion of their supporters), the deliciousness of this parallel between the two men shows both the strengths and weaknesses of our political culture.
But with all his money, fame, adoring fans, and regular hobnobbing with the movers and shakers in Republican politics, there is still one thing that eludes Limbaugh: being taken seriously as a conservative leader and pundit outside of his fan base. He has already been recognized by the Republican Party as a huge asset, a game changing personality who can rally the troops with a word, exciting the base and getting them out of their houses to the polling booth. But Limbaugh wishes to be seen as more than a conservative jester or pied piper. And it is this ambition that the Democrats have decided to exploit by trying to thrust Limbaugh forward as the face of the Republican Party.
The effort has been ongoing for months and, according to Politico, is now being coordinated from the White House (as if they don’t have anything better to do). What is truly amazing, however, was the inexplicable manner in which the chairman of the Republican National Committee actually fell into line and performed brilliantly for the Democrats as a facilitator of this strategy.
Michael Steele’s appearance on CNN’s D.L. Hughley Breaks the News was a disaster for the new chairman, as the comedian savaged his party by comparing the Republican convention to a meeting of Nazis and goaded Steele into saying that Limbaugh’s show was “ugly and incendiary.” Steele also dismissed Limbaugh as “an entertainer,” which apparently drives Rush up a wall while actually playing directly and stupidly into the hands of the Democrats by denying that Limbaugh was leader of the party, that he was “de facto head” of the Republicans.
Rahm Emanuel must have thought he died and went to heaven. The old Clinton attack dog knew what he was doing when he said of Limbaugh on Face the Nation: “He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.” The bait laid, the trap set, Steele obligingly put his head in the noose and waited for someone to yank the rope.
He didn’t have long to wait as Limbaugh used his Monday show to belittle the RNC chairman by saying he was no “talking head media star” and that he should stick to raising money and running the party apparatus. Then, with Democrats all over the news shows and the internet giggling with glee, Steele was forced to basically acknowledge Limbaugh’s supremacy by apologizing to the talk show host after calls started to trickle in demanding his ouster.
Recognizing Limbaugh’s ego and genius at self promotion, the Democrats have developed this strategy based on Rush’s ruminations about wanting Obama’s policies to “fail.” As R. Emmett Tyrell of the American Spectator points out, this is a non-issue.
What Limbaugh clearly wants is for the president to fail in his apparent goal of bringing social democracy to our shores (through his nationalization of much of the economy and his onerous tax increases). Limbaugh wants this effort to fail because it will prevent economic recovery and the prosperity that has been allowed us by free-market economics. The whole controversy is a hoax. Yet now it is reliably reported that as many as a dozen top Democrats, some on the White House staff, are continuing this hoax and expanding it by trying to make reaction to Limbaugh an issue for the Republican Party to pronounce on.
Supposedly, if one declares admiration for Limbaugh in public one is politically an extremist. Alternatively, if one scorns him one is civilized to the utmost. The consequence is discord within Republican ranks, and — so Democrats believe — growing strength for the Democrats. Truth be told, here is but more evidence of my deeply held belief that politics for many — whether they be Republican or Democrat — is a form of neurosis. Come election time only the nuts will care which side you lined up on in this deviously confected hoax.
It may indeed be a hoax, but people like Paul Begala are using it to both savage Limbaugh and nail Republicans to a cross unless they repudiate the notion that Rush wants America to slide into economic meltdown.
Here’s the gentle Mr. Begala criticizing Limbaugh in a non-ugly, non-incendiary way:
“Rush is the bloated face and drug-addled voice of the Republican Party,” said Paul Begala, a longtime Democratic strategist who rose to prominence during Bill Clinton’s presidency. “Along with lots of others, I intend to continue to turn up the heat until every alleged Republican either endorses or renounces Rush’s statement that he hopes our president fails.”
I just love bi-partisanship, don’t you?
Steele and the rest of the Republican elites are frozen in fear, scared of offending Limbaugh and his 14 million weekly listeners, while terrified of the capable and confident Obama message machine and their ability to create hoaxes like “Rush leads the party” or “Republicans want America to fail.” This explains why Steele sat with his face hanging out on TV looking for all the world like a deer caught in headlights. A party bereft of confidence, of ideas, and at a loss about how to climb out of the hole they have dug themselves — if the GOP cannot confidently state to the cameras why President Obama’s policies are wrong, why they should be opposed, then it’s time to throw the lot of them under the bus and get people on TV who are willing to stand up and present an opposing viewpoint without fear of being placed in Limbaugh’s camp.
President Obama has used fear as a political weapon to convince a majority of Americans that his plan is the only way out of this crisis, that all the “experts” agree with him and that opposing him is akin to opposing economic recovery. And yet there are precious few party elders who can appear on a cable TV show without averring first and foremost that they wish the president all the success in the world but gosh darnit, gee whillickers does he have to spend so much money saving us?
Maybe we should write some stuff on 3 X 5 cards that these guys can take into the studio with them when they are asked if Limbaugh speaks for Republicans when he says he wants the president’s policies to fail. A strong, affirmative statement or two about why Republicans are opposing Obama’s plans to fundamentally alter American society and some snipes at the president’s ongoing efforts to destroy the free market while creating a culture of dependency can’t be that hard for the geniuses over at the GOP communications shop. Then again, considering what they’ve come up with recently, maybe we should have Rush write it for them.