Not that it will matter to some readers, but let me start by
1. Once again saying Rush Limbaugh was wrong to speak as he did of Sandra Fluke. I am not a Limbaugh fan, and think talk radio is, generally speaking, a bad thing for conservatism, because it encourages tribalist emoting at the expense of thoughtful discourse. (There are exceptions, e.g., Dennis Prager).
2. I have no patience for the outrage trolls on the Left. John Cook of Gawker (of all places) despises Limbaugh, but he is surely right here:
I am sick of spending all my time talking about how we talk about what we talk about when we talk about policy, instead of talking about actual policy. I am sick of recriminations and demands for retractions and counter-retractions and shocked outrage and line-drawing and line-crossing and apologies and non-apologies and boycotts and petitions. I am tired of watching every national debate inevitably pirouette out of the realm of morality, or merit, and into a rhetorical funhouse where insults bounce from mirror to distorted mirror. It’s our dominant mode of political debate now: We don’t evaluate arguments for their logic or elegance or force (or lack thereof), but for their appropriateness relative to metrics of racism, sexism, patriotism, religious bigotry etc.
It’s true that there’s no figure on the Left quite like Limbaugh, but it’s also true that certain figures on the Left pursue a “total war” campaign against people on the Right they deem as impure, and deserving of being driven out of public life.
3. But Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck , to name but two, also practiced a version of this, from the Right. What we see, more and more in American political life, is the politicization of everything, and the concomitant idea that one’s opponents are not only wrong, but evil, and must be destroyed.
4. Meanwhile, I’m seeing a very serious debate about religious liberty quashed while we all talk about what the bigmouth vulgarian Rush Limbaugh said about the ridiculous Sandra Fluke. The mainstream media are happy to promote this story line, because it suits their prejudices.
5. As I said the other day in this space, the Left wouldn’t treat Limbaugh like a Republican pope if there weren’t so many Republicans lining up regularly to kiss his ring, and to treat his daily broadcast like ex cathedra pronouncements. In a post titled “Conservatism’s Limbaugh Problem,” Ross Douthat writes:
The best evidence that conservatism has a Limbaugh problem, in this sense, isn’t so much the fact that the nation’s most popular right-wing talk show host sometimes says offensive things that create a backlash against the American right as a whole. Rather, it’s that when the spotlight isn’t on Limbaugh, and when his excesses aren’t front-and-center and thus impossible to deny, too many conservatives — including not just finger-in-the-wind politicians, but some of the country’s most sagacious conservative intellectuals — are weirdly reluctant to acknowledge that there are any valid critiques of him at all.
Remember last year, when Limbaugh, eager to blame the Kenyan Muslim socialist in the White House for supporting a war on African Christians, defended the terrorist fanatics of the Lord’s Resistance Army? Remember in January, when the much-married Limbaugh called the adulterous Newt Gingrich a “victim” of the sexual revolution — this, in a broadcast critical of Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne? I don’t think most, or even many, GOP figures share Limbaugh’s views on these issues. But they really are scared of him, and I don’t understand it. It’s not the case that every time Limbaugh mouths off about something, Republican leaders should feel the responsibility to distance themselves from him. But you can’t call him merely an “entertainer” when he says something obnoxious, but consider him “leader of the opposition” (as a Clinton-era National Review cover once proclaimed) when it’s to their advantage. (N.B., in 2009, a conservative writer at The American Thinker denounced GOP chairman Michael Steele for insulting Rush with the “just an entertainer” line; in fact, said this guy, apparently with a straight face, Rush is a “political philosopher” in the tradition of Burke).
This weird relationship the establishment Right has with Limbaugh is unhelpful, to say the least. It will be a good day when Limbaugh can mouth off, and it doesn’t embroil the GOP and the broader conservative movement in an absurd melodrama. Yes, I know the MSM loves this stuff. But the Right has made it far too easy by reflexively kowtowing to Limbaugh. (George F. Will on GOP leaders: “They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”) If any good can come out of this depressing debacle, it will be that the Right will have a Murdoch Moment over Limbaugh, and break his spell. Limbaugh is going to continue being Limbaugh. It’s who he is, and it’s what’s made him rich. It would help the GOP and the cause of conservatism if the Right would nut up and put some daylight between itself and Limbaugh. Do you know what percentage of Limbaugh listeners are in the 18 to 29 year old demographic? According to a Pew study, only 15 percent. Whatever else he is, Rush Limbaugh is not the future.
(Note well: I am not going to let the comments thread turn into a festival of liberal trolling. If you have something constructive but critical to say about Limbaugh, talk radio, and the Right, say it, and I’ll happily approve it. But if you’re just going to vent about what a bunch of sexist, bigoted, hate-mongering savages Limbaugh and his listeners are, save yourself the time, we’ve heard it all before earlier this week.)