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:

In the course of a long and sometimes incoherent explanation of why he “apologized” to Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh said something I hadn’t heard about before:

What this was all about was the president of the United States acting extra-constitutionally, mandating that Catholic churches and their schools provide contraceptives, abortifacients.  He doesn’t have that power constitutionally.  He cannot mandate these things…

That was the original purpose of the hearing.  [Darrell Issa] was to get facts into the record that otherwise would not be aired, but [Issa’s] committee is made up of Republicans and Democrats and there are rules and procedures that are followed in calling witnesses.  So the Democrats tried to play a game with Darrell Issa and his committee, and he rejected it.  What they did was, they requested a witness for his hearing, a man named Barry Lynn to make their points for them…

At literally the last minute the Democrats decided they want Sandra Fluke… not because she had any special knowledge or credentials like Barry Lynn has, but because her optics as a woman and a college student, a 30-year-old college student and an activist on Democrat issues, by the way.

Limbaugh’s source for this information is this article in The Washington Examiner. I have to say, this is an interesting point, and if true, it does indeed paint the Democrats in a bad light, though not at all for the reasons Limbaugh thinks.

Barry Lynn is the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It would have been idiotic for the Democrats to have an expert on that issue–even one sympathetic to their side–testify on this issue because it is allowing the Republicans to draw them into their type of battle. The Republicans wanted it to be “separation of Church and State” issue, not a public health issue. And the Democrats, by the sound of things, were very nearly stupid enough to go along with them.

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.

On his show today, Rush Limbaugh was talking about James Taranto’s interview with Jeffrey Bell in the WSJ.  Bell’s argument is that “social conservatism” is very useful for winning elections for Republicans. He, and Taranto and Limbaugh, all seem to feel that this is a novel idea. It sounds to me like he’s just reiterated Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas?, except without the part about how, once elected, Republicans immediately go back to pursuing their economic agenda.  But in fairness, as I haven’t read Bell’s book, I don’t want to dismiss his work.

So, what is this “social conservatism”, anyway? Well, I guess it’s opposition to abortion, contraception, homosexuality, agnosticism, atheism and so on. Bell defines it broadly as opposition to the sexual revolution. And, in the Taranto interview, he elaborates:

Mr. Bell notes that social conservatism is largely a working-class phenomenon: “Middle America does have more children than elite America, and they vote socially conservative, even though they might not necessarily be behaving that way in their personal life. They may be overwhelmed by the sexual revolution and its cultural impacts.”Mr. Bell squares that circle by arguing that social conservatism is “aspirational” and “driven by a sense in Middle America that the kind of cultural atmosphere we have, the kind of incentives, the example set by government, is something that has to be pushed back against.” [Italics mine]

Since Bell’s whole book is about social conservatism, this seems surprisingly vague. Maybe he’s just saving up the real “nuts-and-bolts” description of social conservatism for his book–you don’t want to give away the big plot twist on the posters, after all. Still, it’s kind of weird.

As usual, my opinion is that everything begins to make a lot more sense if instead of “social conservatism”, you insert the word “nationalism”. I hope talk about this more thoroughly later this week, but the short version is that I have come to believe that “nationalism” covers far more than just jingoism; it pretty much accounts for all the things that are typically labeled “social conservatism”.

Anyway though, for now, let’s just focus on Bell’s point, which is that this is a winning strategy for the Republicans. Of course, he’s right. I think we can all agree on that. He even makes a point very close to one I made awhile back about the Democrats being willing to trade extending the Bush tax-cuts for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So, he’s basically right in his assessment of how this dynamic works.

Where I think he’s wrong is when he implies that “the Left” is “imposing” social liberalism on people. Forgive me, but I don’t quite see it. “Liberalism” is derived from the Latin word for “free”. Liberalism is about freedom. Is it possible to impose freedom? Maybe, but it’s an odd way of putting it. You could say the Founders “imposed” freedom from the Proclamation of 1763 on the colonies, but it sounds strange.

Since what the social liberals are arguing for are things like “freedom for gays to serve in the military” and “freedom to use contraception”, I don’t quite understand why you would choose to couch this as “imposing” it. You could argue that perhaps these are freedoms that people ought not to have. I happen to disagree with that, but it’s an argument you could make, because it is widely agreed there are some things that people are not free to do. But that is different than saying these ideas are being “imposed” upon people.