Part One: “Pursuit of Excellence” vs. Getting Along by Going Along
With his millions of listeners, and the many imitators who in turn influence millions more, Rush Limbaugh has been a major force in shaping American politics for a quarter of a century. Recently when Charles Schumer spoke on the Senate floor about the impending announcement of Obama’s “executive action” benefiting illegal aliens, he specifically referred to Rush Limbaugh as the critic who had been causing the public to regard it as an amnesty. Whether or not one has any respect for Limbaugh, he and the nature of his influence are worth evaluating.
When he began his afternoon radio-show on the ABC Radio Network in 1988, Rush Limbaugh seemed to be a fresh populist voice from Middle America. The most conspicuous fact about him, what was probably most important in winning a loyal following, was his flamboyant rejection of White guilt, especially White male guilt. Limbaugh portrayed a calculated pomposity (behind which he seemed genuinely humble) and ridiculed those who would cow the White man with demands of sensitivity for this or that victimhood-group. At times he could even be “racially insensitive” (although not quite as much as Bob Grant, who aired after Limbaugh locally on WABC during the early years and habitually referred to Negro criminals as “savages”). David Letterman’s quip, “Having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have,” which Limbaugh adopted and has repeated thousands of times over the years, is emblematic of Limbaugh’s overall theme of flamboyantly defying and rejecting guilt — especially in the form of demands to show sympathy for various victimhood-groups.
Most of Limbaugh’s targets for insensitive treatment were relatively safe to ridicule — homeless people, feminists, ecologists, sexual deviants, et al.
Regarding Blacks, he would make frequent criticisms, but always maintaining a certain ambiguity — if nothing else, with the pretense that Blacks were potentially equal and could do as well as Whites if only the government would stop setting back their progress by helping them. (Is there anybody who does not understand that the supposed harm done to Blacks is not the real concern there?) It may have been necessary to maintain some ambiguity in his outward attitude toward Blacks in order to continue as a commercial broadcaster touching in a controversial way on racial issues. There can be little doubt that the reason why Limbaugh has retained a Black call-screener for many years is that it creates an impediment to labeling him a racist, despite whatever attitudes might become apparent in his broadcast.
Another way that Limbaugh protects himself from having his racial views become too clear was by not letting any overtly racist callers on the air. In the first year of his show, a few did get on the air — one, I recall, mentioning Aryan Nations, another, David Duke — but this seemed to make Limbaugh extremely uncomfortable and it was stopped entirely. There seemed to be a policy that nobody farther to the right or more racially explicit than the host would be allowed on the air. Paradoxically, an overt White racist would be more welcome on a show hosted by a leftist like Tom Leykis or a Jew like Alan Colmes, most likely because unlike Limbaugh they were not trying to hide anything in that regard.
As window-dressing, Limbaugh also changed his bumper-music from the very Caucasian rock (e.g. Tom Petty, Bachman-Turner Overdrive) that he used exclusively in the first year — presumably reflecting his personal taste — to an assortment that included a large contingent of “urban contemporary” music. Some Black guy even recorded a “Rush Rap” that Limbaugh aired ad nauseam. All the better to appear “not racist,” but with that Limbaugh was looking less and less like the authentic and unapologetic White man.
Rush Limbaugh and Fear of the Jews
The fundamental force behind everything that tries to shame and drag down the White man, Limbaugh calls “liberalism,” which is really a way to avoid naming an actual enemy.
Once, Limbaugh said something offensive to Jews. In mid-1993, when dusky-complected Lani Guinier was up for consideration as Bill Clinton’s Assistant Attorney-General for Civil Rights, Limbaugh scoffed at the widely parroted assumption that as a “person of color” she had risen up from unfortunate origins. Limbaugh scoffed at this hagiography: “Let me tell you something! Lani Guinier is Jewish!” He explained that, being Jewish, Lani Guinier had grown up in the lap of luxury. A listener could gather from this that Jews are rich leftists, and in Limbaugh’s world, the enemy.
I was highly impressed with this unprecedented outspokenness and explicit depiction of Jews as wealthy, which carried Limbaugh’s theme of defying and rejecting guilt to an important new level — but I fully expected that it would precipitate some kind of unpleasant reaction, and I wondered if Limbaugh was ready for it. Pat Buchanan had recently made some criticisms of Jews that led to his being labeled anti-Semitic by a chorus of Jews, but Buchanan had weathered the attack and maintained his career in spite of it. Perhaps this was what Limbaugh had in mind.
As it turned out, Limbaugh did not appear to realize what he had done. A week or so later he came on the air in a nervous funk, recounting how, at a social function, the Jewish actor Kirk Douglas had made some vague imputation of anti-Semitism toward him. This had thrown Limbaugh into such a panic that, to exonerate himself of this accusation, which he said could ruin his career, he took the earliest opportunity to proclaim to his radio-audience that he would pay $1 million to anyone who could prove that he had ever made any anti-Semitic statement. The idea apparently was that when nobody claimed the reward, it would mean that he had never said such a thing. I got to a fax-machine as quickly as I could and sent in the answer, that he had referred to a Jew as a Jew in a less-than-friendly tone a few days earlier, and had also invoked the stereotype about Jews being rich, and that Jews disliked being identified that way and would consider it anti-Semitic. I included the address where Limbaugh should send my $1 million check and thanked him in advance, but I never received it.
I supposed that Limbaugh would claim in court that his $1 million promise was a figure of speech, a joke, but his reason for proclaiming that reward was no laughing matter.
It was a very short time after this that Limbaugh, for some reason, became the recipient of a free trip to Israel. (More recently, Glenn Beck also received such a free trip, when he too had spoken some criticisms of Jews.) Apparently he learned something from this trip and from his encounter with Mr. Douglas, because, so far as I know, Rush Limbaugh has never again made a comment about a Jew qua Jew that was anything less than reverential.
Limbaugh turns against Populism and the interests of Ordinary People
There is a difference between having pride and refusing to be shamed unreasonably, and being hubristic and shameless. Limbaugh did not try to convey that nuance to his audience. Instead he uncritically supported the unnecessary 1990–1991 war against Iraq, misinforming his listeners that the war was about securing “the free flow of oil at market prices,” even though Pat Buchanan had already pointed out that it was “the Israel Defense Ministry and its amen-corner in the United States” that was pushing for that war (The McLaughlin Group, Aug 26, 1990). Buchanan was representing truth and the interests of the American people, while Limbaugh was getting along by going along. At the end of 1991, perhaps as a reward for this collusion, Limbaugh received his own nightly television-show produced by Bush-crony Roger Ailes.
When Limbaugh gave the commencement address at his old high school in 1992, he stated a piece of personal wisdom that can be seen to pervade his entire political thought:
“Life is not fair, folks, and if you spend your life trying to make the playing field even, you’re never going to excel. You have to accept life as it is.” [The Southeast Missourian, June 7, 1992]
That seems a reasonable attitude for an individual who is responsible only for himself and must face circumstances beyond his control. It’s roughly equivalent to “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” or, “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.” As a principle for the individual, what Limbaugh advocates is making the best of the hand that one is dealt in life (although the hand that Limbaugh was dealt was not terribly difficult, getting his start in broadcasting at a radio station owned by his family). Made into a principle of government, however, it becomes an abdication of responsibility toward others. The government actually has a responsibility to “make the playing field even” (which is not the same as guaranteeing equal success). That’s the meaning of equal protection under the law, and in a later phase, anti-trust legislation. What we have been seeing more and more today is an abdication of the government’s responsibility toward the people in the realm of economics, consistent with the homemade half-wisdom that Limbaugh espoused on that day in 1992.
If the economic policy of a complex society is to be based on such a principle — that the chips will be allowed to fall as they may and that nothing will be done to counter the tendency for wealth to become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands as the people are reduced to poverty — it can reasonably be expected to lead to a society’s disintegration and collapse, as described by Brooks Adams (The Law of Civilization and Decay, 1895). It is a very ill-considered “conservatism” that follows that path.
Something of a parting of the ways occurred between Limbaugh and the people during the presidential campaigns of 1992. Limbaugh was at best ambivalent about President George H.W. Bush, who had notoriously raised taxes after promising not to do so, and in other ways reversed policies of Ronald Reagan — until June of 1992 when Bush invited Limbaugh to visit the White House and to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Somehow, without getting whiplash from the sudden change of position, Limbaugh thereupon became an outright propagandist for Bush, against Ross Perot (the favorite of many Buchananites) who was warning Americans about the catastrophic effects of free trade; Perot received such a surge of popular support that he was able to launch a highly credible third-party presidential campaign. When Limbaugh suddenly became an uncritical supporter of Bush, many of his listeners understood that this was a sellout. After the election, Limbaugh took off the mask and admitted that Bush was not even a conservative, complaining bitterly, “Bush didn’t do one thing the way Reagan did!”
That became the regular pattern with Limbaugh, acting as an absurd huckster for the globalist and plutocratic wing of the Republican Party during electoral campaigns, then complaining after the election that the candidate to whom he had given his outwardly unambiguous support wasn’t really conservative (unless he happened to win, as did George W. Bush).
This hucksterism reached the height of absurdity in 1996 when he labeled Pat Buchanan “liberal” for taking a stand against free trade (although historically it is free trade that has been regarded as a liberal position, and protectionism as the conservative position). After the inevitable defeat of the Republican establishment’s insipid candidate Bob Dole, Limbaugh again, as four years earlier, took off his mask and admitted that Buchanan was a genuine conservative and that Dole was not.
Why didn’t you help Buchanan then, Rush?
There is no evident answer to that, beyond the fact that Limbaugh had acted substantially in contradiction to his own views (e.g. the moral stand against abortion that Limbaugh and Buchanan share) which means that he did it because of some external pressure or incentive.
Although Rush Limbaugh began his period of fame as an apparently authentic and unashamed White man, and a representative of the interests of ordinary White people — much like Pat Buchanan — he thereafter took the opposite path from Buchanan by supporting plutocracy’s free trade and Zionism’s foreign wars that have been ruining the country, and by supporting a series of GOP Establishment candidates in whom he did not really believe, therewith contributing to the marginalization of Pat Buchanan. The rewards to Rush Hudson Limbaugh III and his clan have been great, especially in return for supporting the idiot George W. Bush. In 2007 a new federal courthouse in Limbaugh’s hometown of Cape Girardeau was named after grandfather Rush Hudson Limbaugh, Sr., who had been an ambassador to India under Eisenhower, and a civil attorney (but never a judge); then cousin Stephen N. Limbaugh was appointed as a federal judge in 2008.
For all the talk about individual self-reliance and “pursuit of excellence,” this looks more like the rewards of getting along by going along. Limbaugh’s current broadcasting contract, which began in 2008 and expires in 2016, is for $400 million. One wonders if Rush Limbaugh, as a professing Christian, ever contemplates that question asked by Jesus and recorded in the Gospels, about the benefit of gaining the world while losing one’s soul.