Rush Limbaugh Intends to Stay Relevant

One wonders, not with much hope, of course, how long it will be before Rush Limbaugh “jumps the shark.”

I don’t mind dissenting opinion; my days of looking at all conservatives as though they were inherently evil are long behind me. It is my belief that differences of opinion, even passionate differences, are what drive progress. If we all adhered to the same ideology, even my own, we would lose a vital aspect of political debate, and eventually fall into a kind of intellectual stagnation.

Rush Limbaugh, however, is the exact opposite of the kind of ideal that we are looking for when we talk about mature, intellectual debate. Everything he stands for is a regression to the low brow and positively vitriolic in an almost prehistoric fashion. The very point to Rush’s public existence is not to foster a better understanding of any of the issues, or even of the other side so that we could open up a dialogue and foment solutions to the challenges that face us. But instead it is to cultivate discord and broaden the distance between people of differing world views and ideologies.

And I’m pretty sure that I haven’t written anything that is news to anyone.

Indeed, Rush has already made his mark on this race with his “Operation Chaos”, itself an exercise that goes to prove that for as much as Rush claims to love his country, it is somewhere halfway between joke and playground for him. Of the mission in which the marching orders were for dittoheads to vote to prolong the Democratic primary, Rush has said that he had fun.

For many of us, our votes represent our hopes and dreams, and for many more, they reflect an almost desperate urgency to reverse the true chaos enacted by Bush and his policies foreign and domestic. But for Rush it’s little more than a game–a very lucrative game.

And he plans on causing more of a ruckus, the Politico article linked above pointing to how he’s going to try and get Republicans to “crossover” and vote for McCain. It’s all a big game, one that Rush admittedly is being forced to choose between an ideology that he hates, and a politician that he hates.

I could offer condemnation after condemnation for Rush Limbaugh, and I’m sure there are others that will, but what’s the point? For the man who is king of talk radio, the words of even the most powerful bloggers on the web could hardly reach his ears, and even if they did, I don’t think Rush would do anything but thrive upon the seething antagonism from those on the left.

There are points of interest, however, that I do think bear mentioning. For one, there is the reinforced fact pointed out in the Politico article that Rush doesn’t like McCain. In fact, a lot of conservatives still don’t. Truth be told, I want to know who John McCain’s base really is. It’s not the Religious Right who don’t ever seem to have forgiven him for showing them the cold shoulder in 2000. It’s not the economic right who are likely not all that impressed with his lapdog ability to repeat “lower taxes,” ad nauseum, but lacks a grounded understanding of economics to turn that into any kind of viable argument.

Which would leave the neoconservative hawks as McCain’s base, but these hawks are, by and large, greatly at odds with the American public. Everyone else is backing McCain because he has an (R) behind his name. In other words, for Republicans this year, the election is not going to be about excitement for their candidate, but hatred for their opponent.

This may or may not appear to be enough, but I think Republicans, and Rush Limbaugh specifically, are setting themselves up to learn what we learned in 2004; that hate is not enough. The Democratic party’s hatred for George W. Bush had unified us by an astonishing margin. Kerry raked in more cash and won more votes than any Democrat running for president before him, and he still lost.

Because the hate wasn’t enough. There are likely an unknowable number of variables that feed why this happened, but I think the big one is that you may be picking up new votes, but you’re not winning converts. Focusing your efforts around the hatred of the man (or woman), as opposed to being structured around ideas puts you at a serious disadvantage: what if voters you are wooing don’t hate the candidate?

In such a way, politics based upon the personality find fault in their limitations, while politics based upon ideas can encourage debate and can create room for minds to be changed.

What we’ve seen thus far in the past and in this election hints at what we will see this Fall. I think the Republicans are going to be as ugly and antagonistic as ever, with McCain waffling back and forth between trying to stop them, and trying not to lose support within the base, and in some cases actually going along for the ride.

Which brings me to the second point I wanted to add on, and one that I think could bode poorly for Rush in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t foresee Rush ever ceding his audience in droves, and thus his success. But it is possible that a gamble on behalf of the Democrats could clip his wings when it comes to influence.

This all centering around the risky, though potentially brilliant “new kind of politics” brand that Obama has made a central part of his campaign. The risk for such a campaign strategy is great, for it makes it difficult to hit back when attacked, and it makes going on the attack yourself a proposition that bears the burden of hypocrisy.

But with that risk comes the potential for great reward. As we saw recently with the “losing his bearings” scuffle that came late last week, if it works properly the “new kind of politics” is itself a potentially lethal political strategy. Every time an opponent attacks, the candidate is given a free hit-back. “You’re the old kind of politics”, which is capable of being followed up with another attack so long as it is relevant.

And with every attack from the opposition that is weathered comes the strengthening of the candidate’s core theme.

As I say, it’s all very risky, but on a broader scale, what if it truly does change politics? If Obama’s political strategy becomes successful, those who spout poison will likely turn into poison. Rush Limbaugh and his ilk will always have a place in the media markets, but if they don’t produce electoral success, and, in fact, only bring about electoral peril, it is quite likely that their audiences may never shrink, but their influence will.

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