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Our Rush Limbaugh Hypocrisy

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: [1]

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” [2] 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,” [3] 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 [4] — 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 [5] 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 [6]— 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 [7]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 [8]).

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.” [9]) 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.  [10] 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.)

80 Comments (Open | Close)

80 Comments To "Our Rush Limbaugh Hypocrisy"

#1 Comment By Polichinello On March 6, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

She is asking the federal government to enforce standing federal laws on insurance coverage in an institution that is supported with my tax dollars.

LOL,no. The Obama Administration is dropping waivers left and and further left for all its buddies. This hardly the most onerous exception, so I’m not buying that, especially since the law is whatever Kathleen Sebelius decides to pull out of her ass this morning.

But you do have a point, not the one you intended though. The Catholic bishops helped pass this monstrosity, so they definitely deserve to choke on a handful of birth control pills.

#2 Comment By Polichinello On March 6, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

…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.

Don’t kid yourself, here, Rod. If it isn’t Limbaugh, it’ll be somebody else. The wholly manufactured nature of outrage surrounding the woman-child Fluke demonstrates that if they hadn’t fastened on to Rush’s joke, they’d have found something else to wail about to distract from the shamefully mooching demands she was making on her school.

#3 Comment By William “Skull-crackingly literal minded” Burns On March 6, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

If Fluke actually takes Limbaugh down, she is officially the scariest woman in America.

#4 Comment By Megan On March 6, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

the intellectual energy seems to be coming from your direction, from Reihan Salam, from Brooks and Frum, and from politicians like Ron Paul.

I absolutely agree with this, and with Rod’s post; Limbaugh’s time is limited. Just as the GOP seems to be crashing and burning, it is also churning up new ideas and a diversity of potential paths to follow toward increasing influence. The more the Rush/Tea Party faction is marginalized, the better for the GOP (I am a Democrat, so maybe that doesn’t mean much coming from me…)

It actually makes me worry, because I don’t see Democrats engaging at all in any kind of clarifying process, and it’s much needed. Plus our most articulate and philosophically pointed spokespeople are comedians (or comedic op-ed writers): John Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Gail Collins…

#5 Comment By alcogito On March 6, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

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.

Considering the fact that Limbaugh is on the air from 9-12 on the west cost and 12-3 on the east coast, it is amazing that he has even that many of that demographic slice. Who has the time or the freedom to listen at those hours? People driving trucks, working in their own businesses, or are retired, and those who are looking for an alternative to the constant barrage of liberal-think coming from their newspapers, TV news, entertainment shows and now even from Congress.

#6 Comment By Polichinello On March 6, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

I absolutely agree with this, and with Rod’s post; Limbaugh’s time is limited.

Obviously, as he’s a mortal like the rest of us. However, his imminent demise has been predicted time and again, and it’s never occurred. I suppose one day you might be right, but probably not today.

#7 Comment By JonF On March 6, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

Re: Meanwhile, I’m seeing a very serious debate about religious liberty quashed …

Well, the reason for this is not just Rush Limbaugh or his critics. It’s because some folks on the Right didn’t want to talk about religious freedom, they want to talk about Demon Pill and How The Catholic Church Is Right. Rick Santorum led the way, but there were other voices too– remember that blog piece by Patrick Deneen, urging that this battle not be fought on religious freedom grounds? Limbaugh just frosted the cake.

#8 Comment By JT On March 6, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

FWIW, it appears that (as of ’06) 95% of American women had had premarital sex. Link [11]. Which I gather qualifies them as sluts. That’s where the anger comes from, I think. You can’t call 95% of the population (assuming it’s not just one guy on the male side) sluts, particularly if you’re going to do it in a populist voice that implies you’re in the majority. Or not if you don’t want people to assume something else is motivating your comments.

#9 Comment By PA15017 On March 6, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

Nick, above, you wrote:

She didn’t ask that it be covered. She’s asking the federal government to force an institution to provide it against their conscience. I know it’s a tough concept to grasp, but do try.

If Ms. Fluke is paying for the insurance, and the insurance is actually provided by United Healthcare, then what, exactly, is Georgetown forced to provide against its conscience? Georgetown doesn’t seem to be providing much of anything except a captive audience for the insurance company and its name on the front of the insurance plan brochure.”

One thing you left out is that they are providing an occasion for a group insurance plan to exist. Without Georgetown, there’s no “Georgetown” group plan for her to join. She’d have to join some other group.

Say Georgetown does have to offer contraceptive coverage in all cases. Now, if Sandra Fluke wants to engage in behavior that Georgetown finds morally reprehensible, Sandra Fluke can, in order to acheive that, join a group brought into existence by Georgetown. Can you see how that sucks, if you’re Georgetown? Previously, Georgetown could say, “Fine if you wanna, but you’ll have to join another group, not ours”. Now, it is forced to become a facilitator for behavior it hates.

#10 Comment By R Hampton On March 6, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

I really hate arguments and/or defensive responses that amount to, “well they did it too!” Being the better person means living by principles and leading by example — and that requires more effort and personal integrity then doing whatever is necessary to “win”. And this is where Rush Limbaugh’s political advocacy conflicts with his job.

I really don’t expect ANY radio/TV talk show host (Conservative or Liberal) to be the better person when it comes to politics (the William F Buckley approach to reasoned discourse is not the way to generate ratings). These very same people continuously advocate – often with very strong language – a particular political ideology, yet rarely do they miss an opportunity to take great offense at the slights of others.

Perhaps it is ego that blinds them to the absurdity of their task: they need tell their audience that they are the better people, and ask of them to demand the same from their leaders, yet they themselves do not live by the same high standards.

#11 Comment By celticdragonchick On March 6, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

That’s not what I was arguing. Perhaps you should look into a course in reading comprehension.

You really do make a full time career of stroking your own ego.

#12 Comment By celticdragonchick On March 6, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

The wholly manufactured nature of outrage surrounding the woman-child Fluke

Unbelievable. Words fail.

#13 Comment By Peter H On March 6, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

My epiphany about Rush came in the early 90s. I used to listen to him fairly regularly bak then. I remember his response to a caller who asked him about NAFTA. Rush dismissed the topic by declaring it “boring.”

Huh? This was a guy who would opine on anything. What gives? It certainly wasn’t a boring topic in Bethlehem, PA, where I drove by union steelworkers protesting NAFTA for days on end.

But this was an issue that split his audience. He couldn’t take a position without offending a sizable portion of them, and his “I don’t want to talk about boring stuff” was his cheap way out of that dilemma.

#14 Comment By Sean Scallon On March 6, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

“because it encourages tribalist emoting at the expense of thoughtful discourse. (There are exceptions, e.g., Dennis Prager).”

Ron Paul may disagree with you about Prager but that’s beside the point.

“But they really are scared of him, and I don’t understand it. “

Even after 24 years of the “Excellence in Brodcasting Network” with “Talent on Loan from God?” Part of what makes Limbaugh powerful is getting you to believe that he is powerful. It’s always been a part of his act and the mainstream media buys into it ergo Republicans buy into it and have ever since 1994. Republicans won smashing landslide victories for President long Rush Limbaugh got into radio and the only “conservative media” was National Review. But apparently we’ve all have forgotten this as we awe at Limbaugh’s vote-getting prowess in low turnout elections the party would have won anyway.

Thus, the reason many Republicans area scared of him because they believe if they rebelled against him he has enough credibility with his millions of listeners and millions of dollars worth of advertisers to break off and form his own conservative party and movement leaving the GOP prostrate. Ronald Reagan, even as “leader of the movement” never seriously entertained something like this yet they believe Limbaugh the “entertainer” could do this. That’s why they don’t call his bluff or when they do they apologizes after bombarded by the Dittoheads (and they say Ron Paul has a cultlike following).

And it isn’t just Republicans. “Conservatives” have toadying up to him and others like him for years. Why? Because any media figure with that much popularity saying the same things you are saying only with so many more listeners (although there has been suspicion such numbers were inflated under the old ratings system) was going to be someone to pay attention to and flatter, not attack. You wanted his following to read your magazine, to go on your website because he linked to it, to read your book because he recommended it and it moved sales numbers. That’s why, Conservative INC. If “liberalism” iss an ideology which became a public policy, then “conservatism” is an ideology which became a business.

And yet for all of Limbaugh’s supposed populism he was hardly a rebel. His family was prominent in Missouri Republican politics, he always endorsed the GOP nominee no matter who they were and for the most part supported the polices of the GOP President. That should have been clear when he supported Dole over Buchanan. This is a man whose first and foremost mission is not “conservatism” but to make money for himself (“My job is to bring the biggest radio audience to my stations and my advertisers.”) Well you can’t make the big money when you’re attacking the establishment, even when you’re supposedly the most popular entertainer around. And so when push came to shove he’s always backed the establishment. And anyone who has been to his Xanadu in Palm Beach or flown on his lear jet knows, they’ve rewarded him quite well for his services.

That Limbaugh actually made an apology is actually what’s news about all this because he certainly wouldn’t have made one even a year ago. That’s means somebody is his boss or somebody told him bluntly his contract had some fine print in it he wasn’t aware of which could cost him his gig (Or maybe Mrs. Limbaugh No. 3 made him do it, who knows?). And if people do a little digging, they’ll find his ratings have slipped in many markets. There are no more “Rush Rooms” (remember those?) and one suspects much of his audience is older than 40. If Republicans and conservatives want to break the hold of the talk show hosts, the time may very well be coming. Certainly the Boehners and Gingrichs wouldn’t have said what they said about him even a year ago. Perhaps they realize it too.

#15 Comment By Dave D On March 6, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

That’s what I don’t like about this discussion. Limbaugh gets reactions because he connects with the rank and file. The beltway conservatives don’t like him, and there’s some decent reasons behind that. But trying to marginalize him is going to marginalize the real vitality in the movement, and replace it with with liberal or libertarian lite.

I mean come on, Frum? Brooks? Paul, who no one seriously thinks can get elected, and is looking suspiciously like a candidate designed to ensure Romney gets the nod? Even Rod is more of a monastic following a spiritual sensibility than someone who can energize the base.

This smells suspiciously like trying to replace Tea party sensibilities by tacking left. That’s a nice recipe for an unmotivated base and permanent minority status.

#16 Comment By cp On March 6, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

Franklin: Like most Americans they don’t pay attention if it’s not about them.

#17 Comment By sdb On March 6, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

Here’s an informative discussion about why “insuring” otherwise cheap medications is a really bad idea (and that includes cheap generic blood pressure meds, viagra, etc…):


These kinds of give aways to pharma companies are big part of why costs are so high.

I strongly doubt that the students at Georgetown are paying the full cost of their insurance. Their “premier plan” cost just under $1900/yr. The average individual insurance premium in DC is just over $6000/yr. I don’t know how Georgetown subsidizes these plans for students, but it isn’t at all clear that students are paying the full cost of their coverage.

We are going broke as a country because of spiraling healthcare costs – if providing religious employers the right to opt out of covering $9 pills is a form of denying access to healthcare we have no hope of ever reigning in healthcare costs in a sensible way.

#18 Comment By Brainy Pirate On March 6, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

I don’t understand why so many Christians find his ideas acceptable? I realized years ago that Rush has no interest in Christianity, but yet church folks hang on his every word with seemingly no awareness that he’s much more interested in the USA than in the kingdom of God. And when he calls the founding fathers “the greatest men ever”, he’s just inviting the divine wrath that the Hebrew prophets warned would come with nationalism.

For all his support of Christianity, how often does he talk about how his religious faith has made him a more loving, humble and godly person?

#19 Comment By William “Skull-crackingly literal minded” Burns On March 6, 2012 @ 9:34 pm


Comparing the premium for Georgetown students to the average individual premium in DC isn’t going to tell you anything. You need to compare the individual premium for the comparable age group. And of course, individual premiums are always going to be higher than group plans anyway.

#20 Comment By JT On March 6, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

Their “premier plan” cost just under $1900/yr. The average individual insurance premium in DC is just over $6000/yr.

I’m guessing that the number of poor, undereducated, or old Georgetown students is small. Healthcare insurance for young, well-off, well-educated people is catastrophe insurance: they’re healthy, they don’t have a lifestyle that results in trips to the emergency room, and little things are too much of a pain to go to the doctor. $1900 might be high.

I can’t imagine any reason for Georgetown to subsidize their health insurance, absent subsidies elsewhere.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 6, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

After World War II, when my father (whose family was Jewish) went to college on the GI Bill, he enrolled at a private college which required all students to attend Episcopal services. When some students complained, the Dean said “You knew that when you came here.” It didn’t really hurt him — he wasn’t devout either way, and ended up marrying a low-church Protestant, who can get along with Episcopalians without denouncing them as near-Papists.

Was this wrong? By modern standards, it doesn’t happen any more. Partly that is a conformity enforced by the breadth of federal money all institutions accept. At the time, the feds weren’t enforcing the same open admissions policy as a condition for receiving GI Bill money.

On the whole, I think it would be good if private colleges could, in a variety of ways, define culturally what they are about. Of course, there are all kinds of accreditation standards to consider. If a religious college teaches Unintelligent Design, does that mean biology degrees from that school are worthless? If a certain college has a highly respected program in X field, is it unfair to exclude students from it because they don’t want to attend Y kind of services?

The more variety the better. If five schools all have highly respected programs in X field, one Catholic, one Presbyterian, one Jewish, and two secular, nobody really needs to complain unduly. Although if the two I would fit in at are in a hot climate and I want cooler weather, but the one up north is Catholic…

People need to relax a little… both inside the institutions and outside. There is no bright line rule that really works very well.

#22 Comment By sdb On March 6, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

The average individual insurance premium includes employer provided plans for individuals as opposed to families (which was over $16k). The MEPS data only considered average cost of those under age 65. It doesn’t include those covered by medicaid or the uninsured of course, so it is biased towards the low-risk end of the pool.

Good point about differential between university risk pool and general DC risk pool. I should have thought of that. Maybe $150/mo is the total cost. It is plausible that college kids cost less than a third to insure than the average single worker.

#23 Comment By Another Matt On March 7, 2012 @ 1:02 am

However, his imminent demise has been predicted time and again, and it’s never occurred.

I think this is right – he’ll probably not even live long enough to see his own demise.

#24 Comment By JonF On March 7, 2012 @ 6:02 am

Re: they’re healthy, they don’t have a lifestyle that results in trips to the emergency room

Don’t be too sure of that. My teen years were the most accident prone of my life, and I suspect that’s true in general given the risky “I’m immortal and invulnerable” behavior a lot of young people engage in. I went to the ER three times between ages 17 and 20* (and have only been once since). How many college kids end up in the hospital for accute alcohol poisoning?
I wonder if Georgetown has a student clinic? The University of Michigan did, and it was mostly free to students. That would be another reason their insurance would be cheap.

* Tobanning accident; bad case of flu made me fear I was getting pneumonia; ran into brambles horsing around in a park at night and temporarily blinded myself with corneal scratches

#25 Comment By Nick On March 7, 2012 @ 8:09 am

Sure, Georgetown negotiates for the group plan, presumably by promising United Healthcare that a majority of Georgetown students will participate in the plan. That gives them some say in the process, but that limited role makes them only one of several stakeholders. Georgetown’s desires don’t necessarily trump the desires of the other stakeholders, including the people actually insured by the plan and the people who actually pay for it (who may or may not be the same people).

Can you see how that sucks, if you’re Georgetown? Previously, Georgetown could say, “Fine if you wanna, but you’ll have to join another group, not ours”. Now, it is forced to become a facilitator for behavior it hates.

Yeah, sucks to be Georgetown, but Georgetown’s position is significantly weaker, and its moral responsibility attenuated, relative the initial claims that Georgetown is being forced to pay for something it hates. Everyone seems to agree that Georgetown is not morally responsible if Georgetown’s employees do things that Georgetown hates with their salaries. The situation with the student health plan seems much more similar to the latter situation than the former.

I’m much more sympathetic to employers who are contributing financially to a healthplan, but even there, it isn’t obvious that the employer is the only one whose desires count. Usually, health insurance is paid partially by the employer and partially by the employee, and the employer portion is generally considered part of the employees rightful compensation (see above, employees free to do what they want with their salary). Thus, if anyone has standing to object to the government madate, it is employees more than employers.

#26 Comment By Secular Humanist On March 7, 2012 @ 9:19 am

Limbaugh is neither conservative, nor Republican. He is a self-absorbed narcissist who espouses an ideology/dogma of megalomania. He does care about healthcare, religious freedom, or socialism vs. capitalism, beyond how he can profit from these conceptual spitting contests. He’s more of a bookie or pimp than politico or pundit. I view his particular brand of “entertainment” as political porn and nothing more. It serves a purpose for those who are stimulated by base, vulgar, images and the sophomoric “dirty talk” that turns on John Q. Public. As such, perhaps we need to take a closer look at the consumers of such adolescent observations; as opposed to the purveyors. it’s sad; when Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, or Lady Gaga, or Snoop Dogg (or Michael Moore) proffer their respective, ideological world views (for profit) many wring their hands, gnash their teeth, and lament the costly “culture war”. Limbaugh is a cartoon character and nothing more.

#27 Comment By Secular Humanist On March 7, 2012 @ 9:20 am

correction – he does NOT care about….

#28 Comment By Nate Rinne On March 7, 2012 @ 9:22 am

This can only be healthy, I think:


#29 Comment By John Haas On March 7, 2012 @ 10:44 am

Here’s what I think are the deeper dynamics that are driving this whole thing. It’s certainly fair to call foul on the media’s double standard. It’s fair to consider well what Bill Maher said and compare it to Rush. And all the rest.

But when I hear Maher throw out a vulgarity, I don’t dismiss it. Rather, it tells me something about Maher: He’s a guy that despises conservatives, and will use vulgarities to impugn them.

When Rush goes on, at much length, day after day, about a private citizen, impugning not her politics, but her character, talking in great detail about her sexuality, it tells me something very important about Rush–and, of course, his audience.

And that’s why this has legs. What’s being exposed is a deep strain of contempt for women–especially young women preparing for independent careers. Women hear that. And they are rightly worried about what else these people are (usually privately) thinking and saying, and what other things they object to from the 20th c., and what they plan to do about those things.

#30 Comment By Christopher Orlet On April 2, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

A bad thing for mainstream or neoconservatism, you mean. Rush has nothing to do with traditional conservativism.