I interviewed Rush Limbaugh for a special Sunday piece for the New York Post about President Obama’s attack on him (and, by extension of course, talk radio and grass-roots conservatism). The Post titled the piece, “The Rush Revival.” But it’s more accurately the anti-Rush revival and the Rush Survival. As you’ll see, one of my main points is how using Rush as a left-wing bogeyman — and failing to bring him down — is as old as the hills.
One aspect of Rush Derangement Syndrome I didn’t have more room to cover in the piece was the contempt for Rush and talk radio among Beltway establishment Republicans and elitists on the center/Right. I’ve blogged extensively about talk radio-bashing hypocrites such as P.J. O’Rourke, Phil Gramm, Lindsay “Go away, Loud Folks” Graham, and Trent Lott. I asked Rush to diagnose their pathology. “I think they all crave acceptance and inclusion in the dominant political and social cultures of Washington, which is run by the Left. They fastest way to do that is to be critical of their own party. This gets them loving treatment in ‘important’ New York/Washington media circles,” he said.
On-target diagnosis. I would add two more etiological factors.
1) Rush is not an Ivy Leaguer with an East Coast, Mayflower pedigree. He’s a self-made entrepreneur who pulled no strings and owes no Beltway benefactors for his success. The same, self-styled intellectual protectors of conservatism in the Manhattan-Bethesda corridor who derided outsider Sarah Palin have always derided Rush Limbaugh for the same reasons: They’re not one of “us.”
I’ve noted the ugly, anti-capitalist rhetoric used by Rush-bashers like Phil Gramm and Mark Helprin,who accuse the talk radio giant and his colleagues of the sin of making money. Which party is the party that’s supposed to defend profit-makers again? Oh, yeah.
2) Unlike 99 percent of the humorless suits in Washington, Rush possesses an enormously disarming ability to laugh at his unhinged enemies — and at himself. Like Reagan, he knows and uses the power of humor to expose and persuade. He used it in hitting back at Obama’s demagogic smear ad during the presidential campaign. He’s using it in responding to the Soros/MoveOn smear ad. And he’ll be using it to spread the message of fiscal conservatism to fight the wealth-distributionism agenda of both the White House and the Bend Over Republicans.
David Frum looks at a bunch of polls and frets that the Republican Party is being shoved to the margins because of Rush and staunch conservative voices on the Right. Remind me who the GOP presidential candidate in 2008 was? How did that poll go? Speaking of polls, take a look at the latest Opinion Dynamics poll showing independents turning against the Generational Theft Act/spendulus/porkulus/debt stimulus plan of 2008. That shift in public opinion didn’t happen because of fingernail-biting moderate, civil, smiley-face D.C. Republicans worrying about their next Obama dinner party invitations and their reputations as “thoughtful” conservatives.
It happened because of the Loud Folks.
Here’s an excerpt of my piece:
President Obama is throwing a bipartisan Super Bowl party Sunday at the White House. But one leading conservative football fan won’t be in attendance: Rush Limbaugh. The much-heralded new era of outreach and cooperation in Washington does not extend to the Right’s most powerful voice on talk radio. With his explicit attack on Limbaugh during a Capitol Hill meeting last week, Obama has signaled the end of Bush Derangement Syndrome – the defining mental illness of the Democrats for eight years – and ushered in the age of Rush Derangement Syndrome.
You would think that victories in the presidential race and Congress would be enough for the Left. But no. Like Captain Ahab, Sen. Lindsay Graham still bristles at the “loud folks” in conservative talk radio. Democrats even drafted a petition denouncing Limbaugh last week, showing that trying to save the economy doesn’t wait for petty personal attacks.
Too bad Obama hasn’t learned the lessons of his predecessors. Limbaugh not only has survived countless protests, boycotts, media smears and political attempts to kick him off the airwaves. He has emerged each time with a higher profile, greater influence, and a strengthened hand.
In a repeat of anti-Rush history (see “vast right wing conspiracy,” et al), the White House broadside backfired – disseminating his biting critiques of the trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill to a wider audience. Rather than dividing the GOP, it united them. Not a single Republican voted for the Obama plan after unprecedented wooing, courting, and cajoling. The Rush Effect is incontestable.
Which begs the question: Why did Obama – who told House GOP leaders “you can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done” – even bring him up?
It could have been unscripted, one of the president’s first political misspeaks. Or it could have been calculated (rather miscalculated), an effort to drive a wedge between Beltway Republicans and the outside-the-beltway king.
I think it points to a neurosis on the part of Democrats. By defining themselves more by who they oppose rather than who they are, they find themselves lost without an enemy.
The stimulus bill is a prime example – a collection of pet projects connected by no coherent ideological strategy except spending. Do Democrats really support it because it’s a good bill? Or is it simply because Republicans oppose it?
Either way, picking a fight with Rush was disastrous for the White House. Obama’s criticism of Limbaugh – and by extension, the broader influence of conservative talk radio and grass-roots activism – galvanized the base. Let’s face it – there’s been a little bit of moping since the November losses. Conservatives retreated into think tanks and blogs, trying to figure out what went wrong, sure that the public mood for empty promises would sour soon enough.
It didn’t take long. My colleagues here at the New York Post tell me after the newspaper ran its story about Obama calling out Rush, the article vaulted to No. 1 on its Web site for three consecutive days – and garnered more than 4,200 comments.
I asked Limbaugh this week why his enemies on the Left repeatedly fall into the trap of distorting his words and overreaching in their anti-talk radio demagoguery. Why, after 20 years, don’t they learn?
“On the contrary,” he said, “I think they believe all of these campaigns to have been profoundly successful. Their objective is to use their brethren in the drive-by media to echo their charges against me for the purpose of ensuring that I do not become ‘mainstream’ in the popular and political cultures. They strive to have the general population, particularly those who do not listen to the radio, hate me (and by association, all of conservatism). This happens for one reason: I am effective and thus have to be marginalized as an extremist, fringe figure.”
Read the rest here.