I shouldn’t keep getting pulled back into the Limbaugh debate, which is becoming increasingly surreal, but some of the arguments being made in his defense are just maddening. Here’s Hanson:
When commentators bring up Limbaugh’s private life in contrast to Obama’s picture-perfect image, they only emphasize the superficial.
By commentators, Hanson means Frum, who made the unusual move for a Giuliani supporter of emphasizing the importance of the effect of a person’s private life on his public image and the image of the cause he professes to serve. Frum had the bad manners to state bluntly what everyone knows, which is that Limbaugh is hardly a paragon of restraint and self-discipline, and that he does not actually live the life of marriage and family that most conservatives think are central to any sane ethos. (To Limbaugh’s partial credit, at least he tends not to describe conservatism in moral or cultural terms, so one cannot accuse him of preaching a message he does not believe.) By comparison, as so more than a few conservatives, both sympathetic and hostile, noted during the campaign, Obama’s private life seems to be a stable one built around his marriage and children, and indeed one might say that many of the choices he made over the years were directed by a desire for stability and some measure of permanence. If we grant that symbolism, image and “branding” are what matter for most voters, which person would you want as your leading public figure?
Hanson brings up Obama’s church, which is predictable enough, but it’s an odd thing to bring up. Even on this point of comparison, Limbaugh loses by any serious conservative standard. Limbaugh made a joke during his speech the other day that God thinks He is Rush Limbaugh. Yes, it was a joke. It was also blasphemous, and just the sort of thing you might expect from a non-observant individualist. There were more than a few people on the right who held forth quite confidently about what religious beliefs Obama did and did not “really” believe, whether his conversion was sincere or politically-motivated, whether he was a Christian and if so whether he was an orthodox one. Do they think Limbaugh would stand up to similar scrutiny very well? Or would that also be superficial?
One wonders whether there were many conservatives during ’99-’00 who would have said that it was “superficial” that Bush was a reformed alcoholic, born-again Christian who had remained faithful to his wife of several decades in contrast to the President he was replacing. Maybe it was politically irrelevant, but many conservatives put a great deal of stock in the character argument as an argument for Bush (to a large extent because he had so few qualifications for the job he was seeking, as we unfortunately discovered later). In fact, during those immediate post-impeachment election years the theme of restoring integrity and dignity to the White House was an explicit campaign theme repeated time and again by supporters of then-Gov. Bush.
But why go back to 2000? Does anyone remember what happened just last year? Wasn’t it Palin’s personal biography, and specifically her family and her children, that made her the focus of such intense loyalty and support as well as criticism and hostility? Didn’t conservatives make her family life into a central argument for why she had credibility on social issues, despite her complete lack of any record on these issues when it came to policy? Didn’t conservatives primarily celebrate her because of who she was and how she lived, rather than what she had done (which necessarily wasn’t much)? However, when it comes to Limbaugh, this is suddenly a superficial way of looking at a public figure, because it does not work to the advantage of the talk show host.