Picking up on a post by Hugh Hewitt comparing Limbaugh to Oprah, Ross writes:
But if you accept the parallel with Oprah, then you also need to recognize that if American liberals treated someone like Ms. Winfrey the way the adoring CPAC-goers treated Rush – not just as a great communicator and entertainer, but as an arbiter of what their movement is and ought to be, and what their party should be standing for – they’d look like starstruck fools. And rightly so.
I don’ think this is right. I think you can compare Rush to Oprah in terms of their success, talent and cultural prominence without having to say they are identical sorts of entertainers. Oprah entertains and Rush entertains, but their acts are very, very different. Rush doesn’t offer emotional guidance for family squabbles. Oprah doesn’t doesn’t talk much about congressional races.
Better comparisons — though still flawed — would be between Rush and Jon Stewart or Garrison Keilor or (ack) Michael Moore. Again, I think the comparisons aren’t perfect, but all three of these guys are “entertainers” and many, many liberals do take them very seriously without necessarily looking like fools. (Michael Moore is a unique case because he’s such a horrible person, but I don’t think taking agitprop documentary-makers seriously is on its face a sign of foolishness).
I’m not a fan of being “starstruck” about anybody in politics (or, frankly, outside of politics). But the upshot of Ross’ post is that it is fundamentally unserious to take Limbaugh’s views seriously or to be a big fan of his because he’s just an “entertainer.” Maybe that case can be made, but I don’t think he does it with his Oprah comparison.
Update: Some more thoughts on this. I was just noodling this a bit more and I’m not sure what I wrote is right. Why, for instance, is Limbaugh less serious a spokesperson for a point of view than, say, Keith Olbermann or, for that matter, Bill Moyers? Olbermann, who started out as a sportscaster, says things his ideological opponents don’t like into a TV camera. Limbaugh says things his ideological opponents don’t like into a radio microphone. Limbaugh’s more successful at it. Again, I think people look foolish when they are starstruck — particularly starstruck in large crowds — about anybody. But, I’m not sure that the adjective “entertainer” takes you very far analytically here at all.
As for the substance of Ross et al.’s opposition to Limbaugh, I have no problem with them objecting to Limbaugh’s ideas. I think sometimes Limbaugh’s critics have the better argument and sometimes Limbaugh does. But it sometimes seems like the objections to Limbaugh often boil down to frustration with the guy’s influence and success more than anything else. Fine. If you think he’s wrong, that’s worth complaining about. But the fact that he’s had Oprah-like success should A) tell people something important about the salience of his message and B) shouldn’t be seen as prima facie proof that he shouldn’t be listened to.
Update II: This sounds right to me. From a reader:
Following up on your point on the corner.
Most of what Rush does is discuss policy and policymakers. He does so in a studied and unique manner. He educates and does so in an entertaining manner.
I have had some teachers in my life, ( far too few) that were able to relay their points in a serious but entertaining way. Those lessons have stayed with me far longer than the more rigid manner of others.
I took Hugh’s message to be one of equating success in a medium as opposed to content.