Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rush to judgment

Kevin Drum:

From Rush Limbaugh, commenting on the deteriorating economy:

In the Oval Office of the White House none of this is a problem. This is the objective. The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the nation’s wealth and return to it to the nation’s quote, “rightful owners.” Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on.

The tendency of liberals to shout "racism" a little too often is not one of my side's most attractive qualities. But it's a damn sight less disturbing than the tendency of conservatives to ignore racism when it comes crawling out from under rocks on their side. Limbaugh's message could hardly have been more obvious if he'd donned blackface and performed a soft-shoe in his studio.

Is there any real proof that this guy speaks for the interests of large numbers of people? Yes, his radio show draws big ratings - for a radio program - but we're still talking somewhere under 5% of the population. This number might be significant at the margins, but only if Limbaugh's leading his listeners somewhere they wouldn't already be going.

And I don't think that's true. I really doubt there are any Obama supporters who flip on Rush, then say, "Wow, he makes a lot of sense," and join the dittoheads. He's an entertainer playing to the same audience, the people who nod their heads and tell themselves that Rush really reflects their point of view.

Yet he gets an amazing amount of attention from people who ought to know better. To accept Rush Limbaugh as a transformative force is akin to believing that Ashton Kutcher is a technical visionary; why, then, is the first belief so common and the second so ludicrous?

If I had to posit a reason, I'd say it's because we look for significance in success. Limbaugh has a lot of listeners, at least compared to other radio programs, so there must be some kind of importance there. American Idol gets big ratings and has the word "American" in it, so must represent the deep manifestation of the American Dream that all individuals have a weight, whether externally manifested or internally realized (there's your thesis topic for today, kids).

Maybe popularity doesn't always imply significance. Maybe Limbaugh's 13 million listeners wouldn't miss him if he went off the air tomorrow, maybe he's just a habit. And maybe we should all stop caring about his predictable and specious rants that insult our intelligence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i very much want him to be seen as the ideological leader of the Republican party! More Limbaugh, Palin, and Joe the Plumber, because these people are ideologically bankrupt. But it's one thing to wish he gets the title, and another that he actually does.

i work with a woman who loves him. it gets a little spooky. she'll get spitting mad if i let her. it's easy to get her worked up. which isn't exactly a good sign, passion or not. but he's all about evoking passions without too much complexity getting in the way. it sounds like a comforting world.

- mcfnord

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