Some people think it’s a strategic mistake for prominent Democrats to try to make Rush Limbaugh the leader of the Republican Party. A few of the reasons: 1) The controversy lines Limbaugh’s pockets; 2) The controversy increases the number of minds poisoned by Limbaugh’s vitriol; 3) Limbaugh benefited enormously after the Clinton White House took him on.
Some of these things are undoubtedly happening. More people are listening to Limbaugh and some of those people who started to listen will become “ditto-heads.” However, the benefits of making Limbaugh the face of the GOP outweigh any disadvantages. Before I discuss the overwhelming benefits, I’ll first discuss why the Clinton administration failed and why Democrats and progressive now will succeed.
1993 – 2009
When Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, the response by Limbaugh and other talk radio jocks was swift and decisive: Limbaugh and the various Rush clones went on the warpath. When Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster committed suicide in 1993, Limbaugh and talk radio were an integral part of what journalist Trudy Lieberman called “the Vince Foster Factory,” a group of prominent right-wing media people who were putting forth conspiracy theories that Bill and Hillary were responsible for Foster’s death (years after several investigations debunked the right’s theories, Limbaugh has continued to act as if the Clintons had murdered Foster).
How did the Clinton administration respond to this wing-nut onslaught? They put Lanny Davis on it. The Clinton administration didn’t know what hit it. That’s understandable but they did very little to counter the media wing-nuts. In fact, during the 1990’s, the only effective hits on Limbaugh were by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and a former Saturday Night Live writer, but these efforts were too little, too late. The Clinton administration’s fecklessness and ineptitude are no big surprise. I have written about how the Clintons dealt with the Unification movement (here and here). It also didn’t help that much of the mainstream media has been clueless about Limbaugh (e.g., here and here).
The year 2009 is a lot different from 1993. For one thing, in 1993, the right had a powerful media apparatus and noise machine and progressives were way behind (for a discussion of this inequality, read Robert Parry’s thoughtful analysis). That has changed since 2000. A few quick reasons: 1) The emergence of Media Matters for America in 2004. In the 1990’s Limbaugh benefited because there was no paper trail because people weren’t recording and transcribing Limbaugh’s radio show. When I started this blog, I listened to Limbaugh and transcribed many outrageous things Limbaugh said (e.g., a racist parody commercial that Limbaugh aired). When Media Matters was established, its staff could not only monitor Limbaugh’s radio show, but they had the ability to monitor Hannity, Savage, O’Reilly and other right-wing talkers. 2) The rise of the progressive blogosphere. 3) The rise of progressive commentators such as Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the increase in popularity of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
The Internet as Great Equalizer
Sure, there has been a recent increase in listeners but also an increase in people researching Limbaugh on the Internet. As I have pointed out, the net is the bane of movements and people who seek to control others. The more people who research Limbaugh on the net, the more people dislike him. It also doesn’t help Limbaugh that in the past few years,the following have occurred: 1) Limbaugh problems with hillbilly heroin have emerged; 2) Wife Number 3 left Limbaugh; 4) The infamous mocking of Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s symptoms became a national story. The upshot is that the more Americans know about Limbaugh, the less they like him, namely because he is an unlikable person.
Demography as Destiny
As Ruy Texiera and John B. Judis pointedÂ out a few years ago, demography favors the Democrats. The GOP has depended on the Southern strategy to become a white Southern party. The US is increasingly become a non-white society; the GOP has overplayed its hand and has become, to use the words of Zell Miller, “a national party no more.” There’s a strong generational component also. The real and latent bigotry as well as the terminal unhipness of the Republican right has made Limbaugh and the GOP anathema to younger voters. To an 18 to 30-year-old, Limbaugh must seem like the oldest man in the world. Polling research by Stanley Greenberg indicated that Limbaugh had an approval rating among American younger than 40 of 11 percent. Eleven percent! Having Limbaugh as the face of the GOP will accelerate the party’s “death spiral.”