Passions are running high out there. I won’t publish the nastier stuff about me (or Douthat). Just suffice it to say there are people who believe I deserve to die of eye cancer for comparing Rush to Olbermann (even though I didn’t do it the way they think I did). There were also quite a few folks who think Ross, and to a lesser degree, David Frum are right. But the vast bulk of the mail is in defense of Rush. So far, I think they have the better of the argument.
Just substitute Daily Kos for Olbermann in Douthat’s piece and you have an pretty good analogy. Kos DID have that role in the last election cycle. Liberalism did quite well in the last election cycle if I recall, to my disgust.
A few quick points.
1. I think Frum would have gotten more mileage if he’d brought up the Chris Farley versus Patrick Swayzee Chippendale Dancer competition from SNL. Even if Farley had much better moves stylistically the likelihood is that the public would be more attracted to Swayzee. When ordinary people see conservatives going nuts for Farley they may question the tastes of conservatives. A lot of folks are blinded by style over substance. Of course, this also gets toward Rush’s point that conservatives need a stylistically impressive standard bearer to champion their ideas. The more virtuously upright, charismatic, charming and intellectually spry, the better.
2. Rush would have been better off saying, I want America to succeed, but in such a way that we all understand it is succeeding in spite of, not because of, Obama’s policies. And I don’t want any of the infringements Obama may make on American’s individual liberties to be irrevocable. In the 1990s under Clinton’s tax the rich plan, the economy was stagnant for two years. After Republicans won control of congress the combination of welfare reform, a cut in the capital gains rate, the rise of the internet and the implementation of NAFTA helped to propel the economy forward in spite of the tax increases, but unfortunately many people gave Clinton’s liberal policies undue credit.
3. It would be nice if Republicans in office could learn to not fall into liberals gotcha traps. When asked about Limbaugh just say “Rush is an impassioned and articulate spokesman for individual liberty and has built a deep connection with a large segment of the American public who appreciate his candor and good humor. His job is to inform and entertain millions of Americans everyday of the week. Our job is to propose substantive legislation that will strengthen this country and maintain the individual liberty that Rush and millions upon millions of Americans hold dear. For that reason we think it reasonable for the administration and the Democratic leaders in Congress to keep their eyes on the ball and talk with us about how to improve our laws for the benefit of all Americans rather than singling out individual Americans for ad hominem attacks.” Repeat ad nauseam to whatever follow-up occurs.
4. If Republicans would get out front with policy alternatives rather than merely reacting Rush could be a cheerleader rather than a leader.
5. It would be interesting to see Douthat and Ruffini in a cage match given Ruffini’s recent argument that conservatives in many ways have conceded to the liberal conceit on cultural understanding. Douthat and Frum would appear to represent prime examples of “victims” of this worldview. The truth is that the GOP needs more leaders front and center who can discuss Neibuhr and NASCAR with equal aplomb and both the intellectual and populist wings of the conservative movement have to be comfortable with that.
Sorry, but Douthat is even less perceptive than I previously imagined. Rather than acting as spokesman for the conservative opposition, Rush is goading the nominally conservative leaders in the Republican establishment to step up to the challenge, to match their performance as leaders to their positions in the party. It is surprising that Douthat misses Rush’s objective altogether. Simultaneously, Rush is trying to keep hope alive and energized within the conservative base.
For a self-styled conservative intellectual to equate Rush to Olbermann surely is a calculated insult. But very few conservative intellectuals are prepared to offer leadership in the conservative movement these days. Most seem far more interested in compromising conservative principles to accommodate the demands of neocorporatism in America.
Dear Mr. Goldberg:
I think that you are all missing the point on Limbaugh, although I think that your point is much better taken than those of wanna be hacks like Douthat and Frum. Limbaugh isn’t simply the opposite of Oprah or Olberman or any single commentator/personality. Rush, and to a lesser extent some of the other talk radio people, are the opposite of the entire MSM for the conservative base. The left has, as Kissinger said, “preempted the categories” for so long that we fall for this argument every time, that Rush is just another personality, just a Jon Stewart for the right, an entertainer. But the left owns the media, it can afford to have various personalities that diverge from the whole. Rush is not a personality for the right, he is the equal of the entire MSM for the right. Obviously, you don’t have to agree with him or even like him and you can still be conservative. But there is a reason for those audience numbers and when conservative “intellectuals” demean him as just an entertainer or an Oprah for the right, I think that they are showing their true feelings concerning all the unwashed masses of conservatism. I don’t think that NRO is guilty of any of this, by the way. I think that their coverage of Rush has almost always been fair, unlike many NROers coverage of Palin. Again, I don’t think that you have to like him or agree with him in order to be a conservative in good standing. But he should be seen for what he is, he is an institution, not a personality. Thanks for all that you do.
Ross seems to be missing a crucial point. Rush does not want to be considered the leader of the conservative movement. He said as much on his show today. He is, however, the only person right now that can articulate a cogent full-throated conservative argument. We would like a Jindal or Palin to step up, but it is not happening. Rush simply makes the clearest and most concise arguments, and happens to be very entertaining at the same time. Not a bad combo for speaking engagements. Also, Rush knows that the conservatives are not in a mood for capitulation. Something the Republicans have not yet figured out. So, until this void is filled, I believe we will see more of Rush in this natural (if unwanted) role.
Thanks Jonah for you excellent work.
It should be noted that Rush’s big mouth probably cost the GOP a senate seat in MO in 2006.
Not a fan of David Frum but his piece is right.
I think your Update 1 on the Ross vs. Rush post gets it right, but I’d take it even further. On what grounds do we rule out Rush and rule in any of the writers in NR, or the editors of major newspapers, or syndicated columnists? Few of them have special qualifications; they just have opinions and a talent for expressing them. If Rush’s opinions are cogent and attractive enough to attract a big following, why should we be embarassed to listen to and heed him, any more than we’re embarassed to lift a piece of analysis from one of Ross’s own writings?