I feel truly sorry for the people who get their political and macroeconomic ideas from Rush Limbaugh.  The man is a skilled entertainer, but he twists and distorts terms to try to justify his ideology.  Actually, this isn’t even about ideology; it’s just about trying to make his slogans sound good.  When you go around telling everyone “OMG! Government is so bad, amirite?” people start to internalize that as a pillar of their ideology, and then the government goes and does something you think is cool. What’s a poor millionaire talk-show host to do?

The answer: redefine everything to fit his ideology. What I’m talking about is this: a guy called in to Limbaugh’s show yesterday and pointed out that the Mars Rover–which Limbaugh had been singing the praises of–was a NASA project, and NASA is a government program full of government employees run by taxpayer money, and Limbaugh is ordinarily against that sort of thing.

Well, Limbaugh came up with a twofold rejoinder:

  1. Some government stuff is okay.
  2. This rover wasn’t really a government project, anyway.

This is a very suspicious defense, right up there with the old “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove I did it, and  it didn’t hurt anything anyway”.  Think I’m distorting what he said?  Here it is:

RUSH:  In the first place, I’ve never said that government never gets anything right.  Secondly, throughout the course of this program, I have always heralded NASA for the contributions they have made to the advancement of science and the human standard of living, American standard of living.  Obama shut it down.

And then a bit later:

RUSH: You know, one might say when speaking of NASA that the space flight realm of NASA, the vast majority of it is actually done by private aerospace companies bidding for the jobs.  Private aerospace companies bid for certain aspects.  Like the government didn’t build the rover.  They got a contract for it.  A private sector firm — yes, with Obama bucks — I take it back.  The money was allocated before Obama came along.  That’s probably why the money was still there.  But it was our taxpayer dollars that were rewarded to a private sector company, probably a bunch of ’em combined, built various aspects of the rover.  The rocket.  Somebody won a bid to build that parachute, for example.  The rockets to slow the rover down as it approached the Martian surface.

Well, okay.  Then I suppose you won’t do anymore whining about Solyndra, right?  I mean, it was a private company!  Well, yes, it was given tons of money by the government and wouldn’t have existed without it, but still; private company!

Limbaugh and his listeners aren’t against government; they’re against certain things government does and certain individuals in the government, but it also does a lot of stuff they like, like space exploration and especially military stuff.  And the weird part is, they don’t even seem to realize or want to admit it!

This stuff Rush Limbaugh’s saying about the villain in the new Batman movie is just goofy.  I’m sure the name similarities will be fodder for political cartoonists, but what can you do?  Remember this, Limbaugh?

Why did Romney’s company have such a stupid name, anyway?  I know it’s spelled differently, but “bane”  means “a person or thing that ruins or spoils”.  Who names their company anything like that?  If I had a company, I wouldn’t name it “kanser”.

And, on the topic of Batman and politics, I just can’t resist posting this clip that made the rounds in 2008.  Make what comparisons you like:

I’m going to talk about Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke here, but first, a reading from Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West:

The abundant proliferation of primitive people is a natural phenomenon, which is not even thought about, still less judged as to its utility or the reverse. When reasons have to be put forward at all in a question of life, life itself has become questionable. At that point begins prudent limitation of the number of births. The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature… Instead of children, she has soul conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of “mutual understanding.” [Chapter 13, p. 245]

That part is from the chapter wherein Spengler is contrasting city people and rural people. It is kind of like “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse“, as written by a pessimistic, nationalistic German philosopher. Reading Spengler is very disturbing  to a cosmopolitan liberal such as myself, since I can’t help but sense a hostility on his part towards that type of person. And yet, the other types he liked so much are also those least likely to ever read the works of an obscure philosopher, so there it is.

But you are no doubt wondering: why did I drag a long-dead and half-forgotten German nationalist writer in today? Well, first I wanted to note that he is noting a difference in attitudes towards birth control between city people and rural people. This difference matches up nicely with the broader differences between cosmopolitan city-dwellers and nationalist farmers that we often see. (I talked about this a little in this post about why Sarah Palin likes “small town America” so much.)

Alright, enough of that. What are the nationalists in our own day and age up to? Well, as you all have heard, Rush Limbaugh has been calling Sandra Fluke various insults and making disgusting insinuations and suggestions. That is quite a reprehensible and loathsome thing to do–not to mention unchivalrous, if we use the language of Limbaugh’s longed-for days before feminism. His full comments are these:

Well, what would you call someone who wants us to pay for her to have sex? What would you call that woman? You’d call ’em a slut, a prostitute or whatever.

He is, in addition to being rude, completely wrong. These terms do not apply, and moreover this is not even what Ms. Fluke is asking for. She is actually asking for insurance companies to cover contraceptives. At best, Limbaugh could argue that people are paying indirectly by causing these companies to raise rates, but then one can just as easily argue that those who refuse to take steps to ameliorate the disastrous effects of changes in the climate are forcing me to pay for their reckless behavior, since increased storms mean increased insurance costs.

In any event, part of Limbaugh’s job is to shock people, and this he has certainly done, yet again. I am not optimistic about attempts to make companies pull advertising–though it’s certainly worth a try–because I fear that there are a great many people who agree with him. Whether they have come by their opinions honestly, or simply by dint of listening to Limbaugh is hard to say, but as long as he has a fanbase, he will continue to have advertisers.

On being accused of misogyny, Limbaugh quoted H.L. Mencken’s definition of a misogynist as “a man who hates women as much as women hate one another.” I am not sure why he mentioned this, or what it means, or how it is relevant, but there you have it. And then Limbaugh said the following amazing statement to explain why he is not “a Danger to the Women of America”:

They want to blame me as being the person they should fear, when in fact the people doing all these things I just said I have no power to do, the Democrat Party is doing. That’s who everybody’s afraid of in this country… They’re afraid of Democrat Party.  They’re afraid of the Obama administration.  The Obama administration will take away your birth control, and if you let ’em do that, they’ll tell you when you can and can’t take it. And then they’ll tell you when you can and can’t have sex, and then they will tell you when you can or cannot have an abortion!

You give them this power, that’s what they want.

Now, I think I kind of understand what he’s trying–and failing–to say here. It’s similar to the idea that Gerald Ford was expressing when he said “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

Except that has no relevance here. Fluke was asking for the government to make contraceptives cheaper. Now, it is certainly true that the power of the State is such that it could take this away, also. However, they would only take it away if the control of the state were handed to people who want to do so–the Rush Limbaughs of the world, in other words.

So, this last statement is a brilliant exercise in what Orwell called doublethink, but we have come to expect that from Limbaugh. But what’s worse is that I suspect he must have a sizeable number of listeners who agree with him. As Ferrerman mentioned, there are many others who think like Limbaugh. It would be a fine thing if he were punished for his remarks, but the truth is that the real problem with Limbaugh and his odious sentiments is not that he says them, but that when he says them, he is, alas, speaking for many others.

UPDATE 3/3/2012 7:41 PM: Limbaugh apologizes to Fluke. I have to say, I’m surprised. I would have expected his show to end before he would do that.

Nameless Cynic made a very good point in his comment on this post. He questioned whether Rush Limbaugh believes the stuff he says. It may be that saying controversial things is the best way for Limbaugh to generate interest, he will say them even if he doesn’t believe them. It is, as Paul Simon might say, “the principal source of his revenue”.

This is a worthwhile observation, and I have to say it seems quite possible. If you could get paid millions of dollars to say stuff you didn’t believe, would you do it? I suspect lots of people could find some way to justify it. (The phrase “sheep are meant to be sheared” springs to mind.)

If Limbaugh is a charlatan, where does that leave us? Is there anything to be gained by analyzing his statements, or is he simply not worth even thinking about?

Well, that depends. The reason Limbaugh’s pronouncements are controversial is that lots of people believe them and lots of other people don’t. Thus, it is important to recall that even if Limbaugh knows everything he says is a contemptible lie, many other people apparently do not. His claims sound right to them.

It’s important to draw a line between the radio persona Rush Limbaugh and the actual man Rush Limbaugh. If the latter really doesn’t believe what he says, the former is evidently an avatar for the beliefs of many other people. He speaks not his own mind, but the minds of his listeners. He allows people to hear their own subconscious, but with a better speaking voice.

If this hypothesis is correct, then it might still matter what Limbaugh says, because he is still articulating the thoughts of conservatives throughout the country. Or, one might even say, he is telling them what to think. It can be hard to tell which is which.

Edward Bernays, who is often credited with making huge strides in the field of propaganda, once wrote:

“In almost every act of our lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”

(Bernays is sometimes compared, rightly, to Machiavelli. When reading either, it is impossible to tell whether or not they knew how creepy their ideas sounded. Both are almost outrageous enough to be in the Modest Proposal genre, but not quite.)

So, maybe Limbaugh is one of the “small number of people”–or else an agent of theirs–and they are simply telling the “ditto-heads” what to do. The fact that they have been persuaded to call themselves “ditto-heads” is itself a bit of evidence in favor of this idea.

And so we come back to how this post got started: Limbaugh’s comments on the 1950s. He may or may not believe the 1950s were better. If he does, he has enough money to create for himself a virtual 1950s lifestyle, and indeed, this he may be well on his way to accomplishing. But if he does not, and is only a charlatan, then why did he bring it up?

It must have been because he calculated that lots of other people believe it. His listeners are largely white men, and as Thingy pointed out in her comment, these are the people who have by far the most to gain from a return to the 1950s social climate. (However, it is hard to imagine that Limbaugh personally could do any better for himself in the ’50s than he has done in the present. And taxes were higher in the 1950s…)

I don’t think Limbaugh could come and out and say just anything and make his loyal fans believe it. Maybe some of them, but not anything like most of them. I mean, if he told them to go out and kick puppies, I think they’d balk at it.

Personally, my feeling is that people are more resistant to propaganda than they are given credit for. They can usually tell when they are being manipulated to think something, unless the propagandist is very good at his job. Limbaugh is pretty good at his job. And the reason for this is that he tells them what they want to hear.

In Paul Graham’s essay “The Submarine”, about Public Relations firms, he noted:

“A good flatterer doesn’t lie, but tells his victim selective truths… Good PR firms use the same strategy: they give reporters stories that are true, but whose truth favors their clients.”

If you read the links about Bernays above, you may have observed that the word “propaganda” and the phrase “public relations” to him meant basically the same thing. “Propaganda” came to be a pejorative term, and so “Public Relations” or “PR” was substituted. This is known as a… PR move.

Back to Limbaugh: he is indeed “favoring his clients”, only they are called “listeners”. If this idea is correct, then Limbaugh’s claims might still be important to understanding politics, because they tell us what the conservatives want to hear.

Rush Limbaugh believes that “the Left” will attempt to ban the sport of football. This strikes me as unlikely, although it is possible that the game will decrease in popularity in a few more decades, for that is the way with all such pastimes. And if that should come to pass, Limbaugh has left himself with a convenient scapegoat: the nebulous “Left”.

While making this prediction, Limbaugh mused:

“You know, nothing in the fifties, Leave It To Beaver was never as great and peaceful, painless, and idyllic as people’s memories make it. But there were things about the past that were worth preserving that aren’t being preserved. We have a genuine cultural rot taking place and an overtaking of our culture — the chickification and the New Castrati and so forth. I’m just telling you, it’s gonna happen. Somebody is going to propose banning football as it’s played, whether that thing the league fears or not happens — and it may even be a member of the media that suggests it.”

The first three sentences of that excerpt are fascinating. The first and second are so because Limbaugh immediately and instinctively thinks of the 1950s as a “good time”. He is careful to qualify it, of course, but it’s still the first thing that sprang to his mind as an example of things “worth preserving”. It’s not even relevant to his football point, because football didn’t really catch on until the 1960s. It’s a gut reaction.

(It also ought to be noted that, in a convenient coincidence given the topic of my last post, that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was talk of banning football, but it was nixed by Theodore Roosevelt, who simply called for changes to the rules of the game, rather than its abolition. The parallels with his approach to socialism previously discussed may be of interest.)

The third sentence of Limbaugh’s is really quite something. He, like most nationalists, is quite keen on preserving traditional gender roles. However, it seems to me that one could oppose football even from a nationalist perspective, by arguing that harming oneself in a meaningless game is simply not a productive way of serving the nation. Not that I am interested in making such an argument. I like watching football, after all.

I may be wrong, but I believe Limbaugh has articulated an entire worldview in these three sentences. The 1950s are supposed to have been the zenith of “traditional values”. (Here’s what I have to say about that story.)

The 1950s are really quite important, I think. I have never tested this, but I suspect it may be possible to know a person’s politics quite completely by listening to the tone with which they say “the 1950s”. For the cosmopolitans, it is a time of repression and discrimination and ridiculousness; for the nationalists… well, you have just seen for yourself.

A final note: I wonder if the Limbaughs of the world ever stop to think that the groundwork for the prosperity in the 1950s was laid by FDR. Probably not.

Conor Friedersdorf  has a good analysis of Rush Limbaugh’s somewhat, but not wholly, sarcastic opening monologue from his program yesterday.

For some reason, it made me think of the scene from the film Lawrence of Arabia when the calculating diplomat character, played by Claude Rains, says:

“[A] man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.”

“The other night, from cares exempt,
I slept — and what d’you think I dreamt?
I dreamt that somehow I had come
To dwell in Topsy-Turveydom!”

Really, I don’t know what to make of this very strange excerpt from Rush Limbaugh’s show. He said:

“[L]ook at all the things that were built in five years during the Great Depression: The Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building came in ahead of schedule, built during the Depression, back in the days where we actually built things. And back then there wasn’t talk of extended unemployment benefits. There wasn’t talk of national health care. That mind-set just didn’t exist. And because those things didn’t exist people had to do what they could to fend for themselves, and if that meant picking up, moving to San Francisco, working for whatever you got paid in a dangerous job like building the Golden Gate Bridge or the bay bridges or the Hoover Dam or the Empire State Building, it’s what you did, you found work wherever you could.”

Um… wasn’t building all that stuff part of a government program; and under a Democratic President, no less? Isn’t that supposed to be, like, Socialism? Or else “Liberal Fascism“? I don’t think any of that exactly shows off the virtues of the free-market, at any rate. I may be wrong, but I would have thought Limbaugh would be railing against such awful, awful Government things.

If anyone reading this happens to have more knowledge on this subject, I’d appreciate some enlightenment.

(And yes, for those of you wondering, evidently I lied about not blogging till I could finish that big post I’m working on. I can’t help it.)

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh uttered the priceless line: “The American people have just rejected liberalism. They need to be told that’s what they did.”

That is everything you need to know about the Republican media right there.

I wonder how many people really think that this past election marks some sort of seismic shift against Democrats for any meaningful period of time. I think most people are smart enough to notice that one major party rarely stays down for very long in American politics.

Roger Ebert writes:

“We know, because they’ve said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time — now, not later — for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh must join, or let their silence indict them. Limbaugh in particular must cease his innuendos and say, flat out, whether he believes the President is a Muslim or not. Yes or no. Does he have evidence, or does he have none? Yes or no.” 

I would venture to say that if people still believe President Obama is a Muslim at this point, they wouldn’t be convinced otherwise even if the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, Eisenhower and Reagan arose and told them so. And besides, Beck and Limbaugh still have to keep their audience interested, and there’s nothing like some innuendo for doing that.


I meant to blog about this at the time, but I didn’t, so here it is now:

A week after the Gulf oil spill started, Rush Limbaugh said:

“You do survive these things. I’m not advocating don’t care about it hitting the shore or coast and whatever you can do to keep it out of there is fine and dandy, but the ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and was left out there. It’s natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Which, like virtually everything Limbaugh says, upset people. But he is right–sort of. But he also makes a huge mistake.

It has always seemed to me that people draw a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural”, but really they shouldn’t. After all, are machines not made from naturally occurring elements? People have merely interacted with these elements to produce a new organism which produces different output. It is as natural a reaction as one could wish.

Strictly speaking, anything which can be said to exist is “natural”, precisely because if it were not natural it could not exist.

Limbaugh seems to assume that because the oil will be absorbed “naturally”, it is okay. When in fact the planet’s reaction–perfectly natural though it may be–may have dire long-term consequences for the living creatures currently inhabiting it.

So yes, it is literally impossible to harm “nature”. Nature is everything. The worst we can hope to do is to alter our environment so as to make it unlivable. (Which, by the way, I don’t think the oil spill has come close to doing.) But the point is that just because something is “natural”–which everything is–has absolutely no relevance to whether it is good for human life or not.