Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why Rush is Wrong (by David Frum, Newsweek)

Why Rush is Wrong

I confess: I listened to Rush for ten years. I saw the light and haven't listened for the last ten (except when it seems to be a moment to remember). This is an astute argument for how Rush Limbaugh represents his own interests more than those of conservatives (and the true ones still garner my respect).
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise—and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.


Kansas Bob said...

You and I are on the same page on El Rushbo.. somebody in the GOP needs to stand up to him.

Searching For My Willoughby said...

I've never listened to Rush much. Even back in my old 'Republican tunnel vision' days, he bothered me. Arrogant, bombastic, disrespectful people, even if I agree with them on certain matters, leave me feeling ill. The contrast between Rush and our President is striking.

Mike said...

The Rise of Rush to be the vanguard of the Rep party clearly shows the lack of leadership within the GOP.

The clarion call to return to the "heart of republican values" will fall on many a deaf ear if the leaders are folks like Limbaugh and Colter.

JN said...

Lets see how long before this guy apologizes.

Watchman said...

But isn't this usually how the prophetic voice works? It comes from a source that is oft disdained and not quite appreciated, but carries with it an element of truth that might need to be considered?

julieunplugged said...

Watchman, I think Rush served that purpose back in his "See I Told You So" days when he was on his ascendancy. He hasn't been a meaningful prophet in a long time... too connected to his reputation, his money and his power. Prophets usually have "rise from obscurity" as part of their "thing" too.

It's one reason that I liked old U2 lyrics better than this time around... honestly. ;-) And I love me some U2.

JN said...

Rush Limbaugh is "prophetic". That's a reach.

Mike said...


Hope you can excuse this rather intrusive non-sequitor comment but this interests me...not Rush or what he says but the fact that folks can listen to people like Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson for years and soak it all in like a sponge and then thru (what?) they start to slip away from adherence to these ideologies and see things quite differently. On the whole I don't see many people in our age bracket doing this...radically changing their worldview. And although mid-life seems to bring about other changes that may seem obvious i.e. the sports car, I do not see radical ideological change in folks in this period of life. In fact if I see any change at all it is to become more of what they already believe (liberal, conservative, etc.)

If I haven't totally bored you by now I would like to know your thoughts on this.

julieunplugged said...

I know! I'm so weird!! I don't know why it happened to me, but I know I'm not alone. I've met them i all kinds of surprising places (online, of course, but even in my homeschool community and neighborhood and family).

I don't know what triggers such a change, more than just reckoning with cognitive dissonance. Some people deal with that freefall feeling of loss and disorientation by entrenching. Others risk it all in search of new answers. I followed the latter path. You can read more of my blog to find out how and why and when. I've been writing about it for years.

I don't consider myself to have found "it" either. I'm less attached to definitions and labels as a result of this excruciating process... though also liberating and empowering.

Kansas Bob said...

Not sure that you read the Frum piece in Newsweek Mike but many of us resonate with what he said. I think that it is sad how so many folks as you say "become more of what they already believe". Social conservatives like me have woken up and seen how we have been used and manipulated by Republican leadership and talk radio hosts.. the current capitulation by "pro-life" senators to the Sebelius nomination is further evidence to me that we have all been played by politicians.. our heartfelt advocacy for unborn babies has been used by politicians who only give us lip service.

Others may feel that the same old El Rushbo rhetoric will bring change to our country but I am not buying it.. after 25+ years of voting ideology/rhetoric I have had enough.

Mike said...

agree that it is more than cognitive dissonance (although I think that may be part of it) me there was a growing sense that life was a lot more complex than what my worldview allowed for...this growing complexity required one of two basic responses 1)exploration or 2) entrenchment...but status quo was not an option.

It is kind of like a door that presents itself along the way of life. You can choose to ignore it and keep walking or go thru it...but you know going thru it you will not come out the same person...or to use a Matrix analogy, it is swallowing the blue pill.

Elena said...

The piece was full of logical fallacies. Yea, Rush is full of himself, arrogant and bombastic and Obama seems calmer and self-assured. None of that means that they are right or wrong. The writer seems to want to critique the delivery and not the message!

And Julie, I think you're wrong about Rush not connecting - his ratings today are at an all time high - obviously he is connecting somewhere.

My own experience is the opposite of yours I suppose. I was a lifelong Democrat. My family had a picture of John Kennedy on the wall next to Paul the VI. But that all changed for me during the first Clinton campaign. I did not see how I could be pro-life and a Democrat and I thought if Clinton could pick a pro-life VP, I could stick with him. He chose Al Gore and that was it for me.

Started listening to Rush shortly thereafter and yea, I had to turn off the radio after the first five minutes at first, but the more I listened to the actual message, the more I saw the reasoning and logic behind it.

And if I felt the Democrats had logical compelling reasoning, I'd be with them. They don't.

Kansas Bob said...

John Stewart and Oprah also have good ratings.. only means they provide good entertainment.. not that they are connecting in any meaningful way.

Of course in the last presidential election Oprah stomped all over El Rushbo :)

Elena said...

I guess I would need the definition of "defining in a meaningful way." What does that mean exactly?

Your last sentence is also the logical fallacy of appeal to the majority.

Kansas Bob said...

Meaningful way means in a way that really influences a person's voting. I could be wrong but I think most people don't really pay attention to entertainers for advice about important issues like voting.. who cares what Conan O'Brien or El Rushbo thinks.. they are both just jokesters making a lot of money from what they do.

Agree with you about my last sentence.. it was my lame attempt at humor.

Happy Sunday!

julieunplugged said...

Funny to see this discussion revived! :) I loved Rush. Listened daily for ten years. Thought he made all kinds of sense. Quoted him. Read his book.

Then I read other books, listened to other points of view (discovered Rush's penchant for truncating data and spinning it). I'm still more inclined to fiscal conservatism than big government. Otoh, there was no way in hell I was going to vote McCain in after the debacle of GWB for 8 years. Why reward Republicans (my life long party) with another shot at it after they proved themselves contemptible and reckless?

Obama represents a complete shift away, while still managing not to be bombastic and cavalier. The man is smart, for one thing. I'm willing to give his ideas a chance. That's how it works in America. If one set of ideas fails, give someone else's ideas a shot.

There is no way (in my mind) that Obama can fail as miserably as GWB did (that would take herculean effort!). So for me, we're already ahead.

As far as Rush goes? Entertaining, if you like mid-life preservation of white male power. I just don't.

Kansas Bob said...

"mid-life preservation of white male power"

-now that has me chuckling.

Elena said...

OK, well this is intriguing. And I've asked other people who voted for Obama this question so maybe it's good to pose it here.

What pieces, books, articles etc. did you find so compelling that made you vote for Obama. I am sincerely interested in this.

I do try to listen to MSNBC and I subscribe to the Huffington Post, but I gotta tell you the ad hominems and other fallacies they like to use really don't support their cause in my eyes. And I have yet to find a compelling argument for why a pro-lifer should even consider voting for a Democrat.

julieunplugged said...

I became attracted to Obama when I read The Audacity of Hope (before he was even running). I started following him pretty closely after that. I was studying John Rawls at the time (Justice as Fairness) and learned a lot about what a liberal (i.e. constitutional) democracy is.

As I reviewed that material (and you have to understand, I've been working on these issues within myself for ten years - spent two years studying the pro-choice position and feminism on my own in the early 2000's; just to get the "other side" rather than taking the pro-life view as accurate) and thought about the betrayal I felt by GWB (someone I enthusiastically voted for the first time, and almost didn't vote for the second time - abortion being the one reason I couldn't vote Kerry), I realized that Obama articulated nearly every single idea I had come to reconsider and embrace.

My sticking point? Abortion.

But you know what? Of all the Democrats, Obama seemed to actually grasp the pro-life impulse and conviction. Republicans, by contrast, use it as a wedge issue (clearly they aren't committed to it at all - every time they are in power, nothing happens!).

I finally saw that there was no way a legislative change would ever happen under either R's or D's (and really, McCain is not "pro-life" - that is a reinvention for this past campaign). So abortion (legislation to change it at the legal level) was no longer a reason to choose to vote Republican because clearly nothing would happen now either.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, somewhere between 600K and 1 million civilians have lost their lives in a war based on out and out lies. As a Christian, following the teachings of Christ, I cannot support a president who would lead us into a war that costs human lives (civilians no less) based on lies to the American people... I don't see it as justifiable at all.

I can do something to stop killing people: vote for the candidate wanting to end the war. Neither candidate would make any effective difference in the legality of abortion, so that issue went "off the table" for me.

Kansas Bob said...

For some of us (Julie not included) the vote last year wasn't about being pro-Obama but being anti-McCain. IMO the GOP lost their chance of winning the election when 3 so-called conservatives split the vote in the primary.

Elena said...

Yea, GWB had his faults and the Republicans were idiots for running a guy like McCain against a young charismatic guy like Obama.

Nonetheless, I wouldn't say that the gains against abortion were nill under GWB. He put two very strong constitutional judges on the SCOTUS during his administration and the partial birth abortion ban was also passed. That was huge.

And while Obama may understand the pro-life position he is hardly empathetic with it. I found his support for infanticide for babies surviving abortion to be appalling.

Abortion is sort of my litmus test. I think it says a lot about the world view, morals and character or a person. And that's why I could never in good conscience support Obama.

I do plan to read both Obama's books this summer though, to try to understand as best I can his point of view.

Kansas Bob said...

Abortion used to be my litmus test too.. for like 25+ years.. GOP poser-pro-life politicians love it when we only vote that one issue.. we are so easy to manipulate when we do.

Elena said...

You might be right on the Bob. On the other hand look what happens when you don't vote prolife.