Courting the Jester: The Slippery Right's Love Affair With Limbaugh

When George W. Bush was campaigning for President, I thought there was no better man he could have in his corner than Rush Limbaugh. After all, who could understand the political aspirations of a privileged, party-going, service-avoiding, C-average candidate better than a privileged, two-and-a-half semester college flunk-out, with a penchant for Oxycontin and bombastic talk, who got out of the service altogether for having a hairy butt boil?

They were a match made in a spinning, blinders-on Republican heaven, where the faithful still believe that conservative politicians and their pundits, with a little bit of faith and a lot more charm, can transform failures and shortcomings into delusory gold, and rebirth multimillionaires into everyday people who really care about the plights of their Joe Six-Pack and Soccer Mom peers. Operating under the premise that if something is said often enough it will become accepted as the truth, they tend to blame the mythical devil of the Liberal Media for their public embarrassments, and don't find it odd at all when their counterparts wave off abuse-of-power reports and even court convictions as if they were the conspiratorial fantasies of an unpatriotic public. Behind the thick cigar smoke and carnival mirrors of such political propaganda, Limbaugh isn't just a barker, but a godhead with a loyal legion of followers hailing from the furthest backwoods shacks to the hallowed halls of Washington. Those followers are called, appropriately enough, dittoheads.

The slippery, delusional thought processes of dittohead candidates and their lobbying groups were never as transparent as they were during the 2008 election. In the midst of a economic crisis, with the highest national debt in the history of the nation -- after eight years of iron-fisted Republican domination -- millions of Americans were bombarded with political slogans like these:

* Who can fix our economy? Only one party will fix the damage and prevent another crisis. Vote Republican.
* Jobs lost. Spending up. Economy down. Energy prices Up. Vote Republican to end America's economic crisis.
* Vote Republican & Restore Balance to Our Economy.
* Republicans will eliminate wasteful spending, balance the budget and regain the trust of the American taxpayer.

Of course, Rush Limbaugh was there to lead the charge. And in the foggy realm of Republican obfuscation, Limbaugh is not just a college dropout with an inflammatory radio show, but an authority on capitalism, economics, defense, domestic policy, world relations and more. Never mind that Limbaugh has not passed so much as one college course in business, law or political science -- he has a$400M dollar contract with Clear Channel Radio, and a show that reaches an estimated 20 million viewers a week between 600 stations. According to figures obtained by Forbes, Limbaugh's eight-year contract is only $87M short of what Hollywood's 10 best-paid actors earned in the year between June 2007-June 2008, and $155.5M more than what the 10 best-paid actresses earned in the same time.

$400M can buy a lot of prestige in Washington, but a charismatic personality is worth much more, particularly when it comes attached to a substantial base of fans. Just ask James Dobson or Pat Robertson. Like Limbaugh, Dobson and Robertson managed to hold political sway based not on their intellectual credentials or objective reasoning skills, but on the basis of their Arbitron ratings. They were given credibility by Washington politicians not because they were giants of integrity, ethics, or reason, but because they were media giants -- willing to excuse even the most beleaguered Republican politicians, and deliver official but truth-bereft messages to their audiences, in exchange for Washington-sanctioned political standing.

Without that sanction, it is unlikely that personalities like Limbaugh, Dobson, and Robertson would have ever been considered newsworthy outside of the entertainment or religion pages. Certainly, without the sanction of Washington politicians, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal would not be doing what amounts to PR for Limbaugh.

Instead, thanks to Washington and the slavish capitulation of congressmen like Phil Gingrey-R (who backed off of his justified criticism of Limbaugh after fans inundated his office with complaints), Americans who would not normally tune in to hear the opinions of an unschooled political shock-jock, are being inundated with his ridiculous, uninformed messages.

Businesses need tax cuts. The US corporate tax rate is obscene. It is the highest of all industrialized nations. It's 35%. Cut it. Cut it in half. - excerpt from Rush Limbaugh's stimulus plan.

Taking his cue from dogmatic Republicans who can't stop repeating the mantra of corporate tax cuts long enough to address the truth, Limbaugh used his PR opportunity to mislead more Americans than usual. The 35% tax rate is born from a paper figure that has little to do with the reality of what corporations actually pay. At the risk of repeating information that seems to bounce right off the collective conscience of the dittoheads, the fact is that despite the high bracket tax rate on paper, many corporations pay no taxes at all, and those that do pay, don't pay anywhere near 35% after deductions, incentives, and loopholes.

America has known many charismatic media personalities but Republican politicians, perhaps still impressed by the number of conservative evangelicals thought to be delivered by television and radio preachers in the Reagan and Bush years (as if they would have voted otherwise), seem especially inclined to lend credence to Rush Limbaugh, even at the expense of their own reputations outside of the Republican party.

I don't think President Obama was being flip when he told congressional leaders that "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." Rather, it seems he might have been responding to the lack of original thought and leadership within the Republican party, and the seeming eagerness of Republican politicians to hand the intellectual reins of their platform over to whatever colorful pundit they think can best deliver them voters in the next election. If it's a strategy, it would seem to be one as disastrous as the Palin pick, and if it's a habit, it's one that surely needs breaking if the Republican party is to recover from the Bush years with any integrity.