All these highbrow conservative attacks on Limbaugh keep missing the point.
1) There is a certain sort of genius there that can do 15 hours of talk per week, ad hoc, and hold an audience of 20 million plus for over 20 years. There are about one or two others out of some 300 million who can do it. It may not be the same as digesting Reinhold Niebuhr or rereading the Federalist papers, but it is an uncanny talent and for over twenty years it has energized conservatives and reflected a certain populism that was lacking in its Wall Street/silk-stocking past. One could give Air America 1 trillion dollars in subsidy and it still could not match Limbaugh’s audience.
2) Unlike many of his critics, Limbaugh is consistent, and that’s why he maintains his audience. He is not going to wake up in the morning with vero possumus infatuation. Long before Barack Obama came along, he was warning his listeners about another populist maverick (from the Right) Ross Perot, and why they should not jump ship for him. For millions of conservatives the problem is not Limbaugh’s occasional over-the-top riffs that are part of the talk-show genre, but NY-DC trimmers and triangulators who get caught up in fads and waves of popularity and adjust accordingly — as if they do not have the innate common sense to see that borrowing another trillion and more dollars to cure the problems brought on by borrowing annually a half-trillion dollars is, well, insanity.
3) When commentators bring up Limbaugh’s private life in contrast to Obama’s picture-perfect image, they only emphasize the superficial. I don’t think Limbaugh would sit for 20 years listening to a white-supremacist preacher G-D-ing America. I don’t think, like a Moyers, he would care all that much to learn who on his staff is gay. As is not the case with a Bill Maher or Michael Moore, those around Limbaugh like him, because they sense he is, for lack of a better word, a regular guy. That’s why he can go on about his mansion and plane since his audience senses it is more caricature than snootiness. And if you did not actually hear conservative elites tsk-tsking Limbaugh’s weight, marriages, and past addiction, then you would have to invent them doing so. We saw all that with Palin and the demonization of her multiple pregnancies, blue-collar husband, twangy speech, and Idaho B.A. Yet the reason why a Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush was elected twice — and not George Bush primus — was precisely because they could resonate with the middle classes in both a cultural and social sense, an ability that transcends money but has everything to do with attitude. What scares many is not the sometimes slobby but authentic image of a blunt-talking Rush Limbaugh, but the polo-shirted pre-packaged personas of an Obama, John Edwards, or John Kerry.