It has been a fortnight to forget for conservatives. Over the last two weeks, the movement has seen more sniping, spur digging, hair pulling, eye gouging, mud wrestling, and general mayhem than it has at any similar time in memory. It has been Rush vs. Newt, Newt vs. Rushbots, Rush vs. Steele, Steele vs. The Base, Rush vs. Frum, Frum vs. The World, Brooks vs. Himself, along with various blog wars, pundit poundings, and the usual gaggle of internet assassins in the various comment sections of popular websites — all having a merry old time flinging monkey feces at one another while America crashes down around their heads.
The right is in Dante’s ninth circle of hell, condemned to be encased in solid ice with only their heads showing, with those positioned next to each other forced to gnaw on their neighbors’ necks for sustenance. And the number one chomper by far in this “non-Divine Uncomedy” has been the man who claims his talent is “on loan from God” and who possesses the highest paid mouth in the political entertainment biz.
At $50 million year, Rush Limbaugh not only has talent on loan from the Almighty, he’s so loaded he’s probably capable of slipping Yaweh a few bucks if the Lord finds himself a little short before payday. And why not? Considering the year conservatives have had, Rush has earned every penny. No one doubts Limbaugh’s influence on those who believe they receive the perceived conservative wisdom of the ages from Rush and other show biz righties on talk radio. Limbaugh performs a great service for the movement by boiling down conservative concepts into popcorn-sized chunks of patriotic pablum digestible by everyone, and then supplements the repast by slaughtering every known liberal sacred cow and doling out political red meat by the half shank. Liberals hate him because more often than not, he successfully points out their hypocrisy and sheer looniness, zinging them unmercifully in a highly entertaining and amusing fashion — if you’re a conservative.
But “more often than not” is the problem. On the air for 15 hours a week, Limbaugh sticks his foot in it at times. Or, as is more often the case, his intent is twisted so that what he says is deliberately misconstrued by his enemies to make him appear (choose one) heartless, racist, homophobic, or a hate monger.
The latest Rushism that has both conservative and liberal tongues wagging is his “I hope the president fails” remark that has now undergone its 112th reprinting and has been dissected, resected, and vivisected to the point that I challenge anyone to recall what Mr. Limbaugh’s original intent was in making that statement back in January. Liberals pounced on the utterance, gearing up their internet cadres and the usual wailers and gnashers of teeth to take Limbaugh to task for his desire to see America suffer an economic Armageddon. Democratic congressmen and senators got on the Crush Rush bandwagon, while the party itself — taking its marching orders directly from the White House, who apparently didn’t have anything better to do in an economic crisis — decided to use Limbaugh’s face and pin it on the GOP donkey tail as “leader of the Republican Party.”
Even some very prominent conservatives, nervous about the perception being fostered by the left that Limbaugh wished the American people ill, dutifully fell in line with the liberal narrative. RNC Chairman Michael Steele, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, prominent moderates David Frum and David Brooks, all accepted the left’s definitional construct regarding Limbaugh’s phrase and criticized the talk show host in very personal terms. Steele called his show “ugly” and “incendiary.” Gingrich called Limbaugh “irrational” for wanting Obama to fail.
But it was David Frum, writing in Newsweek, who touched the rawest of raw nerves when he opined, “With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party.”
In other words, Frum is saying to hell with what Limbaugh meant, what his intent was — let’s buy in to what the left says he meant.
Jeff Goldstein (Outlaw!), internet arbiter of semiotics and chief defender of intent in language, has been waging a one man insurgency for years against conservative detractors who ignore the intent and meaning of what authors write or say and substitute their own interpretive paradigm. Goldstein explains the chasm that opens up beneath our feet when we allow the foe to define what we say:
To put it more forcefully, it is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy. Nowhere is this more clear than with Britain’s new definition of racism, whereby racism is determined not by the actions of those purported to cause it, but rather by the feelings of the person who claims to be its victim. Frighteningly, such is a formulation Ms. Obama seems to share. And this is not a road we should be heading down, because at the end of that road lies meaning as determined by “interpretive communities,” which in political terms equates to particular interest groups. And that way lies totalitarianism and, to borrow from both G.B. Shaw and Jonah Goldberg, “liberal fascism.”
In short, Gingrich (who may have other motives in knocking Limbaugh relating to his own political future) and those who refer to themselves loosely as “reformers” have ignored any relevant context with which Rush made his comments and swallowed the dominant narrative put out by the liberals and the media that Rush is a right-wing meanie who wants to see America fail. Believing that in our soundbite culture people don’t pay enough attention or are unable to grasp the nuance of language, these conservatives have chosen to adopt the very same line of attack as their opponents in order to chastise Limbaugh for his perceived faults.
For his part, Rush hasn’t been a wallflower in hitting back. In fact, the virulence with which he has responded has excited his supporters to go after his conservative detractors hammer and tongs. The unseemly row has split the movement at the exact moment when it needs to be united to fight for its principles against the Obama onslaught. And the Democrats, led by the White House, are seeking to drive the wedge deeper by trying to make Limbaugh “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party,” as Rahm Emanuel said on Face the Nation. It isn’t a question of them succeeding as much as it is a problem that is distracting conservatives and Republicans while Obama and his crew dismantle a nation we used to know as the United States of America.
Is Rush the leader of the Republican Party? Of course not. And for some of his detractors to rise to that bait and get hooked was silly and stupid. Is Limbaugh a conservative leader? By dint of his outsize personality and command of 20 million troops a week via his radio show, one would have to say yes. But that doesn’t answer the questions of whether or not he should be a leader and whether his show biz conservatism should be the answer to the highly sophisticated intellectual assault on America being captained by Obama and rammed through by an overwhelming Democratic Congress. They not only have the agenda, they also have the ideological chops — a mandate for “change” — that they are using to remake the country right under our noses.
Meanwhile, the right is eating its own, weakening itself with internal squabbles over “meaning” and “intent,” and fighting over whether a mega-celebrity speaks for a majority of conservatives.
We could have done without all of this.