Friday, April 4, 2014

Rush To Judgmental

by tryanmax

Against my better judgment, I still occasionally listen to The Rush Limbaugh Show, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else, these days. As I tuned in today (Thursday), I was treated to a particularly spectacular display of idiocy on Rush’s part. I want to share it because it perfectly demonstrates just how off-the-rails the right-wing fringe has become in their messaging.

On occasion, Rush will entertain a caller who tries to challenge him. This is so that Rush might demonstrate his greatness in taking the caller down, usually after the caller has hung up. Today, the sacrificial lamb was a 33 year old guy from Ft. Myers, FL named Ian. Ian would fit right in here at Commentarama, and with a little luck, maybe he’ll Google himself and join us one day.

Ian was attempting to explain as we have often discussed here the problem with Republican, conservative, and especially Tea Party rhetoric. The subject was about reducing the size of government. Ian’s point was that the typical right-wing approach, talking about slashing programs and regulations, makes average voters nervous and vulnerable. He said that conservatives need find a way to discuss these ideas without sending the message that they would leave those in need of government programs out to dry.

Ian was very articulate explaining how media bias distorts an overly complicated message and also spoke about the role charisma plays. Personally, I think Ian talked circles around Rush.

Unfortunately, Rush runs the show. Throughout the conversation, he characterized the electorate as spoiled children who need to be confronted and made to fend for themselves. Then he denied that any conservative has ever uttered such a thing as that. He twisted Ian’s words to their opposites. Despite being a mass-media personality with a national reach, Rush tells Ian that politics is a one-on-one affair with no appealing to the masses. He pooh-poohed charisma. Countless times he pulled the old “give me a specific example” ploy. It was a childish display, truly.

At the end of it all, Rush feigned astonishment that anyone could possibly think conservatives, with all their talk of “rugged individualism” and “self reliance,” would mean that people should go it alone without any help or assistance.

Rush really began to flex his muscles after Ian was off the phone, calling him a coward and likening him to Pajama Boy. You see, in Rush’s world, the “conservative message” is all about tough love. There is no other way to discuss shrinking government, increasing independence, or any of the other things that conservatives stand for. Anything other than harsh rhetoric is “coddling.” It doesn’t matter if Ian or anyone else believes in reducing the entitlement rolls—that’s not enough—they have to be willing to get in the faces of those taking government assistance.

Somehow, this is expected to win the day. It reminds me of the “girls love jerks” trope you see on TV, where the guy wants the girl but she isn’t interested until he bombards her with verbal abuse. Except that isn’t the way the real world works, either in relationships or politics. They completely missed the joke. (For the record, it’s the guys who are charismatic jerks—like Obama—who get the girls/votes.)

Something about Ian’s call must have really struck a nerve with Rush, because he kept talking about it for the rest of the show. (I know what it was; it was that he had a point.) But as Rush kept talking, his message got less coherent. He kept insisting that “on your own” doesn’t really mean “on your own.” Then he’d lament that people just aren’t tough enough these days. If Rush is to be understood (a dubious contention), conservatism is about sending the message people need to hear, even if we don’t plan on following it up. It’s either a profoundly messed-up line of thinking or it’s a disturbing revelation.

Rush and the fringe right have gone so far off the rails that they are no longer merely confusing rhetoric for message, they are confusing tone for ideology. Anyone can be aggressive about anything, but Rush and the right have stopped scrutinizing ideas and are looking only for vitriol and a few key buzzwords to form their alliances. Ian made it clear repeatedly that he and Rush were on the same ideological page. But because Ian wanted to put it in an appealing package, Rush dismissed his loyalty to it.

And if any proof is needed that Rush wasn’t listening to a word Ian said about anything, one only needed to stay tuned until about an hour after Ian hung up. Rand Paul came up briefly when Rush pressed Ian for who he thought delivered the conservative message in an appealing way. An hour later, Rush claimed that Ian had contradicted himself and made Rush’s point, that the conservative message can win when delivered clearly by someone likable.


AndrewPrice said...

Thanks tryanmax. I try to avoid talk radio precisely because this is the kind of stuff I hear when I tune in. I remember another caller who talked circles around Rush too and pointed out some major contradictions and he hung up on her and started right away saying that she was a liberal plant... he never did address her points.

More thoughts in a moment.

AndrewPrice said...

More thoughts...

I've spoken about this issue of "tough love" with several people now. The far right (especially talk radio) has wrapped itself in the cloak of "tough love." This is problematic on several levels. First, "tough love" is a horrible selling point. NO ONE sells anything with a genuine tough love approach because no one wants to hear it, especially from people they don't like.

Secondly, what they are doing is not "tough love." It's an outpouring of schadenfreude, jealousy, and anger all hiding very poorly under the tough love label. Tough love doesn't include a desire to hurt people and it's not used as a blanket tool, nor does it involve personal attacks. What it does involve is a genuine desire to help someone keep from doing something self-destructive. Talk radio has these two aspects backwards.

In term of television analogies, I would go with a different one. Talk radio (and the fringe conservative punditry) have adopted the personae of the father who mocks his kids in the name of toughening them up. They don't seem to realize that this character has been ingrained in the culture as a villain.

Also, there's nothing more cowardly than waiting until someone leaves to attack them... as Rush routinely does.

Finally, let me point out that talk radio today is acting ENTIRELY like socialists did in the early 1980s. They engaged in the same kind of hate-centric lifestyle where they wished ill on all the stupid people who didn't live according their own fantasy standards, they spread conspiracy theories and engaged in false utopian thinking (you heard a lot about how the Founding Fathers were socialists back then), and they were just as angry, just as smug, just a cowardly and just as stupid as talk radio is today. They ultimately became irrelevant to the public, just as the fringe right seems to get smaller and less relevant every day.

All I can say is move beyond them and you'll see a very different world out there.

Critch said...

I'm with ya'll, however, depending on the issue I can be very conservative, middle of the road or fairly liberal. There's a feeling out there among conservatives that every damn time we have tried to be civil and understanding we get taken to the cleaners. I've never seen the far Left be nice about anything. Conservative talk radio is very much a product of a mean as Hell Left, they only have themselves to blame. I listen to Rush, sometimes he runs me nuts, other times I can see his point. Hannity irritates me and Glen Beck is unhinged. As to being condescending about cutting taxes and government, again, the Left brought it on themselves. They have never cut anything, it's all smoke and mirrors.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I agree with you. We need to fight the left and we can't take prisoners. And I have no love for the parts of the GOP who want to collaborate with the left. But let me draw some distinctions for the sake of clarification.

1. The left is nasty AT the right. The left acts like they love the public. The right (right now) is being nasty at the public. That's a huge difference since the object in our system is to win over the public. We need to learn the art of appealing to the public.

2. The issue isn't the policies so much as the verbiage that comes with it. For example, talk radio doesn't say, "We need to reduce the size of government for X reason and that entails trimming a lot of programs." Instead, they go into a tirade and say something like this:

"Obviously, I don't mean everyone, but everyone on unemployment is lazy and doesn't want to work and we need to cut these people off. They sit in their government homes... palaces really!, smoking dope and laughing about how they can be these lazy, worthless leeches while good hard working reel 'merikans foot the bill. We need to cut these people off. Some people... wussy liberals would say (mocking homosexual voice) 'oh, but you can't do anything that hurts someone,' well what about the reel 'merikans who get hurt?! It's time these lazy, drug addicted welfare cheats felt real pain. That's the only way they're going to learn."

So now, instead of giving a legitimate reason why programs need to be cut, they've slandered and alienated everyone on unemployment. Rinse and repeat on issue after issue and soon a pattern forms: "Wow, the right really hates me and my friends." And that is why we are losing every group outside of middle class white males by around 30-70%.

3. The local guy uses adds slight of hand, just as Rush did above. He had someone call last weekend to say, "The gay issue is a distraction, why can't we just stop talking about it and focus on the rest of conservatism." The host hung up and immediately started this diatribe in which he said, "You heard him ladies and gentleman. He wants us to abandon conservatism so we can win. But what's the point in winning if we give up on being the party of smaller government and lower taxes?" That's the exact opposite of what they guy said, but the host totally invented a new argument just to avoid having to defend the point.

tryanmax said...

Perfectly diagnosed, Andrew. One of Rush's common refrains is that he doesn't believe it that nasty rhetoric scares people off b/c the left uses nasty rhetoric all the time. But he fails to recognize the different targets. Again, he's mistaken tone for message. In fact, Rush and the rest of talk radio would only need to tweak their message slightly in order to fix it. Instead of saying, "Everyone on welfare is a lazy, helpless, unAmerican bum afraid to do hard work," he could instead say, "The Democrats think you are lazy and helpless. They don't believe in the things that made America great, and they are afraid to do the hard work of keeping this country great."

I don't personally care for assigning motives, but if you're going to do it, you need to do it the right way and assign it to your opponents. What talk radio has done instead is assign it to the prize, basically saying that they don't want it anyway. That's a resignation to losing if ever I heard one.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Glad you agree. That was a bit of a rant last night, but honestly this stuff frustrates me. These guys are such a problem and there's no reason they need to be.

On changing the tone slightly, that would work... except they really believe that.

As an aside, I would suggest a different strategy. The Dems will always win a bidding war, so what you need to do is cut that off. When they say "add more weeks to unemployment," you need to counter that the Democrats aren't helping these people with their policies and that extending benefits is not the answer. The answer is improving the training provisions, strengthening the job search requirements or assigning jobs after a certain point and putting in place job creating policies.

Unfortunately, to make a case like this, you can't be seen as wanting to hurt those people. That's why these laughable arguments the fringe sometimes makes about how illegal immigration hurts those people simply don't resonate because the rests of their rhetoric is so vile.

AndrewPrice said...

On your second point, which I separate here, that is another HUGE problem with talk radio -- they stupidly embrace attacks.

"You want people to starve!"
"Damn right I do, because that's how freedom works!"

Yeah, you've just lost the debate. I've been seeing this for about 20 years now, with the far right adopting whatever criticism is leveled at them as a badge of courage. It's a really bad idea.

Anonymous said...

But he has a good vocabulary!

I have nothing to add - I don't listen to talk radio (it's either movie podcasts or Sirius' "80s on 8"). :-)

And then I read an article like yours and wonder, why should I listen to these people at all? You're either a member of a choir being preached to, or a contrarian with an agenda.

I sympathize to an extent with the idea of, "Well, the left isn't civil so why should we be civil?" But someone has to wear the pants in this relationship.

Tennessee Jed said...

I always thought the argument should be how the programs embraced by the left are not really helping them because: (insert reasons including keeping them locked in.) But people need to hear how if you are going to cut their programs, how are you going to make their life better.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's absolutely right. The one point you make over and over with every pitch to the public is "how this is going to make your life better." Nothing else matters if you can't answer that one.

In terms of addressing the left, the key is that the public continues to see you as the adult in the room. Other than that, anything goes so long as you maintain that image of being more adult.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Correct sentiment, wrong metaphor! The key is being seen as the responsible one. The whole pants thing is about dating. Also, good luck getting politicians to keep their pants on.

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