Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Limbaugh, Elitism, and an Unworthy War

There’s a good Jonah Goldberg column today in the LA Times. He talks about the stupid war on Rush Limbaugh and, more generally, on conservative talk radio and its vast audience. Of course, the broad political strategy from the Democrats in this is to try and shame ordinary people away from listening to arguments other than their own and to conflate all conservatism with the most extreme of the shouters. And there is an element within conservatism that has it’s own reasons for wishing to help this along. Along with it is a host of predictable over-reactions to all of this from the vociferous defenders of talk radio and its audience. As I watch it, I can’t help but think everyone is losing his mind in trying to talk about it. It looks like a lot of nothing to me.

This is really nothing more than a continued re-hashing of an un-winnable debate within conservatism about tastes and inclinations that we saw emerge first with the nomination of Harriet Miers and then with the selection of Sarah Palin. Democrats tried this attack on Limbaugh without success in the 90s and the early 2000s--and now they’re back at it with the help of some of us. The both unfair and substantive point on one side is that there is a kind of low-brow brashness inherent in the format of talk-radio and TV. With a good number of notable exceptions, there is some merit to the point and there are, certainly, some outspoken jackasses in the format who are there for no other purpose but self-glorification (though, I think, not Rush). The both unfair and substantive point coming from the defenders of talk radio and a more populist conservatism generally is that their critics tend to come off as bi-coastal elitists, ivy-league snobs, and effete kowtowers. With a good number of notable (and not so notable) exceptions, there is also a fair amount of merit in this critique. And, as it goes, I think the merit in this critique ought to be taken more seriously than the merit in the other. For the perceived turning up of the nose is much more inexcusable. Why?

There is something unseemly (and amazingly stupid) in the attack coming from sophisticates and leveled at the so-called unsophisticated. Urbane sophisticates ought to be able to develop a more effective method of persuasion and, part of that development ought to include some contemplation of the possibility that there is something deeper and also good within those they wish to persuade and refine. Else, why bother? They ought to keep in mind Lincoln’s credo that one attracts more bees with honey than with bile. The problem between the two sides of conservatism stems from an inability or unwillingness on both sides to understand the other and, perhaps, from a bit of jealousy for the popularity of one or another personality. But those who cannot master this art of persuasion without giving offense perhaps do not deserve the attention they seek. And those who have reached their summit in the persuasive arts, should be left where they are unmolested. It makes no sense to tear down one side of the foundation in order to build up another.

There are and always have been/will be yahoos glomming on to the conservative movement both as would-be leaders and as mind-numbed followers--just as there are on the other side of the political spectrum. Unless their offenses are grievous, there is no cause for commentary about them. And there will always be a sometimes unfair debate about which side of the political spectrum attracts more nuts. The truth is that there’s probably a pretty fair distribution on both sides. It proves nothing so . . . so what?

I think that what I find most offensive about this whole debate is that it is an attempt to strong-arm the argument by attaching shame to it--Rahm Emmanuel and the Dems have one reason for it and certain elements within conservatism have another. Let people think for themselves and they may surprise you. Despite the disappointing outcome of the last election . . . Americans really are not stupid. We should all show a little respect for that; especially the winners.

Discussions - 26 Comments

Julie: For the most part I am in agreement with you. But, does not the bile/honey argument equally apply to Rush?


I just don't see Rush being persuasive to those whom need to be persuaded. He is useful in firing up the base, but that's about it.


I certainly find the Frums, Dreher's, etc., arguments simplistic and unproductive, but I do find something to Derb's argument.


And so, here, the Lincoln example is apropos: Lincoln tried to persuade, but Rush makes statements that amount to no more than mere slogans--the way to win is to nominate the right candidate. What does that even mean? Perhaps he understands what that means. If so, it might be prudent of him at this time (with all the attention given him rightly or wrongly) to be more precise, and speak less passionately.

Funny that you quote Lincoln when discussing free speech....is that how he convinced southern sympathizers during the civil war to stop publishing their articles? I think his actions would come down on the side of the censors in this case which is shaping up as a metaphysical civil war. You might catch more bees with honey, but you govern people best at the point of a gun. This entire thing has nothing to do with Limbaugh. The left loves having him around to polerize and energize their base. It has everything to do with moving forward and taking lesser knowns off the air before the people begin to lash out at their masters.

Erik: Rush has a radio show. It is a damn good radio show, but it is still only a radio show. Lincoln was a statesman who had a monumental task before him. And he was a damn good statesman. The desperation on our side that drives people to look toward a radio show and a radio show host for statesmanship is more indicative of the problem than any perception of lack of statesmanship in Rush. It is not the job of Rush Limbaugh to persuade the moderates you're after (though, in fairness, perhaps the reason you look to him is because he so often does). It would be more fitting for Rush to criticize Republican politicians for not bringing him more audience than it is for Republicans and conservatives to criticize him for not persuading more voters. This whole argument is silly. Leave it to the Rahm Emmanuels of this world.

Julie: I certainly understand the difference between Rush and Lincoln. But you brought him up--that some people should take a lesson from him. If that is true for people who are criticizing Rush, why can it not also be a lesson for Rush himself? Why ought not he "keep in mind" that, say, Frum also should "keep in mind?" I ask because I seriously do not see the difference. I do ask in all honesty , and in a friendly spirit.


I am not looking to Rush to persuade all of those who are persuadable. You read too much into what I write. What I am saying is that he is part of that equation--hence, useful. He was the concluding voice to a conference representing conservative activists. He, and they, knew his speech was carried nationwide on two or more networks. My argument is simply this: Would it not be more prudent to use that time of national attention to make a less passionate, less angry, more thorough case for conservatism? You yourself admit he does persuade "moderates." Since that is the reality of the situation, how did he do at CPAC on that front?


Finally, I am not desperate. I do think there are more reasonable voices out there, and I think that in the grand scheme of conservatism, Rush is but a part.

I found this comment by Rush to be interesting.

Rush makes statements that amount to no more than mere slogans--the way to win is to nominate the right candidate. What does that even mean? Perhaps he understands what that means. If so, it might be prudent of him at this time (with all the attention given him rightly or wrongly) to be more precise, and speak less passionately.

Have you even read the transcript of his speech, or viewed it live? I don't think you have.

The both unfair and substantive point coming from the defenders of talk radio and a more populist conservatism generally is that their critics tend to come off as bi-coastal elitists, ivy-league snobs, and effete kowtowers.


That's the sterotype, and it may have a kernel of truth in it. But this is a battle between the liberal and conservative wings of the Republican party. Like all battles betwen liberals and conservatives, it takes on that distinctive class warfare sound.

It's hard to miss the fact that the liberal Republicans slams on the conservatives are word for word what the liberal Democrats say. "Ignorant redneck Bible thumbers who attended a small town hick college and don't know their place". Or even "Hypocrites", that catch-all insult of the left.

Side note - it's interesting to observe Frums obsession with body image. He's quite put out about Limbaughs weight, and seems smitten like a teenage girl with Obamas toned physique.

John: Read and viewed it. I am unclear as to your point.

Julie, some points,

1. Derbyshire mande a rhetorical error in focusing his attack on talk radio in terms of being "lowbrow" rather than on the arguments made. This allows his analysis to be framed as a class/region issue. Good arguments don't know tax bracket or zip code and bad arguments aren't exempt based on either of those qualities.

2. We can't all get along because neither Limbaugh nor Frum want to. They are both guilty of framing their arguments is deeply personal terms.

3. Erik has a point that Limbaugh was making a the featured speech to CPAC about what conservatism should be and what conservative strategy ought to be going forwards. His commments therefore deserve serious and FAIR scrutiny.

4. Unfair attacks on Limbaugh do not delegitimize fair criticisms of Limbaugh.

5.Ross Douthat has a terrific post on Limbaugh and the Right over at The Atlantic website today (his second post of the day is better than his first post).

6.Limbaugh really did master some of the best conservative arguments of the 70s and 80s (on taxes, welfare, national defense) and popularized them in the early 90s. He did have a real and mostly positive impact on American conservatism. He also did alot to marginalize protectionism and isolationism within conservatism through the use of his megaphone. Limbaugh is one of the reasons that Pat Buchanan is as marginal as he is at the moment. But taking Limbaugh seriously means taking him seriously for good and bad, and if he is giving bad advice saying so and giving reasons. That doesn't mean being mean, but we do owe honesty to ourselves about our own side as well as honesty about our opponents.

Erik has a point that Limbaugh was making a the featured speech to CPAC about what conservatism should be and what conservative strategy ought to be going forwards. His commments therefore deserve serious and FAIR scrutiny.

And they are not receiving serious or fair scrutiny for the most part, including from Erik.

He also did alot to marginalize protectionism and isolationism within conservatism through the use of his megaphone.

Which is coming back to bite the Republican party hard at present.

As I have stated elsewhere, I am a traditional conservative which means I don't have much in common with Rush. He is an libertarian (with a few conservative instincts), and a pompous blow hard.

That said, I find it amusing that "conservatives" of any stripe convince themselves they have a place to stand on to criticize him. He has single handedly given a voice to something resembling conservativism in that most liberal of spheres, the media.

John has it right, this is all about the schizoid GOP. Julie makes a mistake in thinking this has much to do with "conservativism" as such. It's an "unworthy war" because the GOP itself is unworthy, in that it tries to be the "conservative" party when in fact it is not. The elitists are in fact liberals who simply have not taken their inclinations to their logical conclusion.

In fact, what is most revealing in Julies comments is that she refers to these events as part of a "re-hashing of an un-winnable debate within conservatism about tastes and inclinations". This is the "big tent" thinking of a GOP hack, someone who can not think outside of the simplistic equation 'conservativism = GOP'.

As a traditional conservative, I see a different path, one where Rush, Palin, Huckabee, and their successors win this debate decisively, and a real conservative party is born {either out of the ashes of the current GOP or some new party}. If they don't win the debate, then we are simply in for more of the same: a schizoid GOP that pretends to be the vehicle of conservativism...

After reading this Limbaugh, Elitism, and an Unworthy War article, it only reminds me of what happened during the unworthy war in Colombia. In where lots of victim where kill innocently. he death of these people was rightly condemned. But now their deaths are being weaved into a powerful narrative of worthy victims that justifies plans to increase the miniaturization and bloodshed for Colombia's unnamed and unacknowledged unworthy victims; the poor and the displaced. Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe's immediate response to the bombing was to call for more US military aid to fight the FARC. By then our financial institution had suffered from stress test.

John: Read and viewed it. I am unclear as to your point.

My point is that your comments are unsupported by any discussion of the text of what he said.

Here is the link to the text of the speech.

It's not the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but who was expecting that from any political speech? It meets the objectives set for it - it rallies the troops and sets out the classical-liberal vision which animates the core of the GOP. Regardless of whether you agree with that vision (I don't) Rush did a good job of making the case for it.


the way to win is to nominate the right candidate. What does that even mean?

It's blindingly obvious from the speech what it means. He is saying that the GOP's core beliefs were fine all along, before people like Bush and McCain ran away from them. Your question is what makes me wonder if you bothered to read what he said, rather then pick up on a snippet of a larger thought.

He is an libertarian (with a few conservative instincts)

Yes.

and a pompous blow hard.

No. Read the link I posted. That's just his online persona, one he himself makes fun of all the time.

First let me say to Erik that I always appreciate a genuine question offered in a friendly spirit and, in re-reading my reply to your first post, I see that it could come across as a bit more personal with the "yous" than it was intended to be. It's not about "you Erik" so much as the royal you of a certain stripe of conservative looking to Rush and other talkers (or writers) for perfection in statesmanship. That cannot be the job of any one of them and that we forget it reveals how weak our political candidates have been for a good number of years. We should be engaged in political commentary about their words and deeds . . . not in political commentary about the words and deeds of a commentator! It is certainly fair game to take issue with Rush and his words or deeds . . . but what is the real political relevance? Again, he has a radio show. He may persuade some, and to others he is not their cup of tea. But his first and foremost duty (apart from his own personal integrity) is to his advertisers--not the GOP. I'm not saying there's never anything serious in what he says--on the contrary, there often is--but because he is so free to say whatever pops into his head and because the impetus for much of what he says is entertainment rather than high toned and well-deliberated political persuasion, I think it is just weird to expect more. He is what he is. Brooks is what he is. Frum is what he is. They all bring something worthy and interesting to the table. It is the job of the statesman to sift through it and put it to use. If he is a sieve for any of these people--particularly in manners--he is making a big mistake. A big part of persuasion is entertainment and good humor. But only a part of it.

Finally, just to be clear: I did not bring up Rush Limbaugh. President Obama did and a whole host of conservatives hoping to profit on the prospect of distancing themselves from Rush piled on. I find the first thing supremely silly and revealing either of Obama's weakness or exposing of his master plan (which, in a way, makes it a weakness because he revealed it). I find the second thing grating, ungrateful, unnecessary and unhelpful.

No. Read the link I posted. That's just his online persona, one he himself makes fun of all the time.

I have listened to the man for more than 15 years now. I have (in the past) subscribed to his newsletter, watched his TV show when it was on in the 90's, read his web site, etc.

I can say without any reservation that the man is a pompous blow hard. He may make fun of it, but he also admits it (as anyone with a real conservative instinct would). This was a calculated political speech, less revealing of the man (and his ego) than his other venues.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a leg to stand on either to criticized him. Apparently, the time was right for a pompous blow hard to come along and make a tremendous contribution to conservativism - one that far outweighs (by many orders of magnitude) the sum total of his allegedly "conservative" criticizers.

On a related note, a question for you GOP True Believers: If the GOP was a worthy container of conservative hopes and aspirations, how long would should it take before Mr. Steele's resignation is accepted? By 5 today, or would you allow until the end of the week?

Christopher, the idea that anyone, anywhere, needs a leg or a plank or a resume or credentials to stand on in order to criticize any public figure engaged in the national political debate is nuts. The idea that a public figure's past contributions puts that public figure's current opinions beyond criticism is corrupting when you think about it. That the criticism should be moderate and fair as much as possible, yes, but we owe honesty to our own side and for our own long term good.

He may make fun of it, but he also admits it (as anyone with a real conservative instinct would).

I'm confused. You said above that he was a libertarian with a "few" conservative instincts. Now he seems to possess "real conservative instinct".

I can say without any reservation that the man is a pompous blow hard.


Well, all of us who shoot our mouths off about politics are that, even you and me. Rush just has a bigger megaphone.

Christopher, the idea that anyone, anywhere, needs a leg or a plank or a resume or credentials to stand on in order to criticize any public figure engaged in the national political debate is nuts.


I think that's why Christopher feels free to criticize you or anyone else. Or do you think your ruling only applies to Rush?

It is amusing that he he bashes others for bashing Rush, even while doing so himself. It's almost like he's a pompous blow hard.

John, not by any means are my opinions not up for review to those very, very, few who might take an interest in them. I'll stand by what I've written and if you diagree or attack or complain or whatever thats okay. We are all up for grabs on this, from the NLT commenter to the talk show host to the President. Stipulated: all our opinions are open to examination. All in the interest of conversation. Happy now? That was of course my point.

criticize any public figure engaged in the national political debate is nuts...

I am not interested in the academic, "freedom of speech" side - of course he is open to criticism in that sense. As far as a Micheal Steele, and sorted others criticizing him as tactical move in the public space - nope, they don't have a leg to stand on.

John, he does possess (a few) real conservative instincts. His contribution in opening a crack in the liberal media monolith is huge. Think of it this way - many a Saint in the Church is without any doubt a "pompous blowhard". Still a saint however...

It really is like watching some sort of slow-motion train wreck here.

And now there's more victim talk. The "war on Rush". Rush and conservatives are under attack, under ASSAULT!

The events of the last few days have made it seem fairly clear that conservatives dominate the Republicans and Rush really runs the Republican party. Steele's groveling apology was absolutely hilarious. And he was at least the 3rd DC Republican to prostrate himself before Rush after daring to utter a critique. Rush rules. Have fun with that.

Julie,

Jolly good show on the post. I appreciate your (as always) thoughtful response. I find significant agreement with your last para on Obama's weakness.

It really is like watching some sort of slow-motion train wreck here.

As opposed to the high-speed train wreck which is the Obama administrations handling of the American economy. Any bets as to when the Dow hits 4000?

Christopher, Steele's criticism of Limbaugh was indeed hollow and his mealy mouthed retreat a pathetic sight. But if the criticism had had merit (it lacked even content) Steele's conservative bonafides would not have been the problem.

Granted that Rush has only listeners and not voters to answer to--but he is looking at Obama's poll numbers and trying to change them. That's leadership. he's running to the sound of gunfire, not away from it. Reagan also set out drive polls, not be driven by them.

that said, it is outrageous that while the economy is in shambles, the President of the United States is fixated on a talk show host. He even sent Dick Durbin out to legislate a Bill of attainder against Rush, hoping to have Rush's show removed from some stations.

The president should be obsessing on Amadinijhad, not Limbaugh. Pakistan is teetering, we just undermined Eastern Europe ans Russia just punked the president--but he remains focused like a laser beam on Rush Limbaugh.

That tells me he's a paper-thin narcissist who bluffed his way into this job.

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