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.