A Rush Limbaugh rant I've just come upon offers an excellent chance to understand why the popular talk show host is reviled by some and loved by others, for within a few short paragraphs we can see his essence: a pundit whose silo-sized buffoonery is ignored by his fans for the sake of certain grains of truth within it.
Mr. Limbaugh begins with buffoonery, and so shall we. Quoth the radio host:
...you know, if Hillary doesn't get it -- you have to understand the mindset of a lot of these feminists and women. They think they're owed this -- just like Obama supporters think they're owed this. These women have paid their dues. They've been married two or three times; they've had two or three abortions; they've done everything that feminism asked them to do. They have cut men out of their lives; they have devoted themselves to causes and careers. And this -- the candidacy of Hillary Clinton -- is the culmination of all of these women's efforts.
Though I happen to think that Senator Clinton does feel she is owed the nomination -- as does her husband, who is neither a feminist nor a woman -- I cannot abide Limbaugh's absurd assertion that Ms. Clinton's supporters are mostly thrice married career women who've cut men out of their lives, for starters because women who "cut men out of their lives" don't marry multiple times by definition. I've also read enough Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolfe to know that the feminist cannon doesn't ask women to get multiple abortions or seek multiple marriages. Perhaps Limbaugh hasn't ever read any feminist tracts, instead absorbing the movement's essence from the media ether, a possibility that makes his remarks no less idiotic since neither I nor you can ever recall a feminist on television or the radio "asking" women to up abort, divorce and remarry.
What a Limbaugh listener hears, however, isn't the absurdity of all that -- rather he or she hears the assertion that Clinton and Obama supporters each think their candidate is owed the nomination. It's a plausible analysis, if a questionable one. Listening to radio, however, there's little time for questions -- Limbaugh says the above more quickly than you read it, the timbre of his voice ever so much more engaging and reasonable than the substance of his remarks.
And if it gets stolen from them, in their minds -- not actually stolen, but if the country or if the Democrat [sic] Party rejects this wonderfully great, lying woman in exchange for a rookie, radical black guy who can't tell the time of day, they are going to be so miffed. They are going to be so upset. These Democrats are absolutely right about the anger over all this, because they are -- both sides of this equation think they are owed this nomination.
There is more nonsense here -- I very much doubt, for example, that feminist women think of Barack Obama as a "radical black guy" -- but that's a detail, expertly inserted. Its little noticed next to the larger, plausible point that Clinton supporters and Obama supporters are each likely to be miffed if the other candidate gets the nomination.
If Limbaugh fans out there wonder why I haven't any respect for the man, let this next passage be my explanation to them:
And by whom? The Democrat Party. The Democrat Party has promised American blacks for 50 years that they will see them through the dark days of bondage and emancipate them to equality and freedom and economic prosperity. And that's only happened for blacks who have abandoned the Democrat Party, and have become conservative Republicans. Well, there are a couple exceptions -- Bob Johnson, a few others. But mostly, they're no better off than they were 50 years ago economically when they started voting Democrat.
Count me among those who think that blacks would be far better off if as a group they didn't so reliably and overwhelmingly vote Democratic. But really Rush Limbaugh? I don't need to tell you about the rise of the black middle class, because aren't you the one who cites it as a counterargument to affirmative action? Don't I remember you, in the course of defending the Regan Administration's legacy, writing that "The black middle class grew rapidly,
from 2.6 million households with incomes of $25,000 or more in 1979, to
3.9 million in 1989"? I do!
See conservatives and libertarians like me, if we actually pay attention to what Rush Limbaugh says for very long rather than just vaguely knowing that he's on our side of many policy debates, eventually come to realize that this is a man who cares neither for consistency nor accuracy in his statements, a man whose standard of intellectual honesty in lower than what ought to be tolerated among thoughtful people.
But back to Limbaugh, for we set out to understand why he has so many listeners despite his buffoonery (and beyond his impressive technical dexterity in the radio medium):
On the Hillary side, always women, the feminists. You know, they made sure they followed the script. Paula Jones was trailer trash. Kathleen Willey was insane. Whatever Bill Clinton did, they looked the other way; they stood for it because Mrs. Clinton was waiting in the wings.
I mean, really? Limbaugh makes the sound point that many Democrats in the Clinton era looked the other way while Bill and Hillary trashed women who Bill had affairs with as lying whores -- I'm taking some liberty summarizing the history but not much -- but to think that went on because feminists knew all along that Hillary would one day run for president is spectacularly delusional or dishonest (for Limbaugh one always suspects it's the latter).
But again someone listening to Limbaugh on the way to work doesn't have time to think all that through, for he's already on to this:
So this is what the Democrat Party has sown. These are the wild oats that it has sown. It's promised -- every one of its constituencies is an entitlement-based constituency. And they've been promised, "We're going to do this for you, we're going to do" -- now, we've got the competition. Loggerheads. The blacks one part of the constituency, the women another part. And both of them think they're owed this by the party, and if whoever doesn't get this -- the Hillary side, the Obama side -- they're going to think the party screwed them. In the Obama case, they're going to know that Hillary did it, and Bill did it. In which case, they'll still blame the party.
And he's right! Not about all the particulars, of course, but about the core point -- the Democratic Party does have an unhealthy reliance on identity politics for its electoral coalition. And animosity between the Obama and Clinton campaigns threatens to fracture that coalition.
The Limbaugh listener might say, "That's the kind of insight I listen for!" To which I'd reply that 1) it's not all that original an insight; 2) in the course of hearing it you're force to absorb all sorts of idiotic nonsense that can't help but skewer your perception toward inaccurate beliefs; 3) do you really want to listen to and empower a man who has so little regard for the truth?
Photo by Flickr user Steve9567 under a Creative Commons license.