What’s the Rush? 3/12/09
If the ongoing kerfuffle over Rush Limbaugh has taught us anything it is to remind us that nature abhors a vacuum. Without a consistent coherent voice from within the Republican hierarchy, Rush has emerged from the usual staticky background noise to essentially inherit the mantle of party spokesman almost by default.
Not that the bloated bloviator of blighted blather isn’t enjoying himself. He’s probably reveling in his narcissistic glory even as we speak, especially since he now knows that he is essentially immune to any kind of concerted attempts by the Republican proletariat to rein him in. As we have already seen, every time Republican pols have tried to distance themselves from the Rushian onslaught they’ve gotten smacked down big time.
But let’s not entirely blame Rush for that. When you have a political movement that’s essentially been discredited, disavowed and disowned by a large majority of Americans, and whose message - such as it is - is one of desperate negativity utterly bereft of ideas and programs, about the only thing left is to act like spoiled brats and hold their breath til they turn blue (not exactly a favorite Republican color when you think about it). Under these circumstances, Rush has merely stepped into the void, finding himself, I suspect, a tad surprised at his sudden elevation to, take your pick, party elder, party leader or party spokesman.
But he’ll take it. Hell, why shouldn’t he? As someone who has spent the better part of two decades carrying the water for his beloved movement, to find himself not just the soundtrack but the figurehead of his malevolent brand of conservatism has to be a, well, rush, one you don’t even need a prescription for so how good is that.
The problem for Rush’s supporting cast, which is to say the national Republican delegation, is that those who have rhetorically stepped up have jumped the shark even more than Rush has, creating the dog and pony show that has short-circuited the efforts of the few remaining grownups in the party to craft a reasoned and effective Loyal Opposition.
So much for the Republicans. But the Democrats aren’t exactly covering themselves in glory either, sending mixed signals about how to handle this thing. To my mind they’re batting .500, showing us their dark side as well as their moxie. In turn: Rush should just shut up. Not cool. But taking Rush’s rhetoric and flinging it back in his and the Republicans’ face? Definitely cool.
It is counterintuitive for a progressive administration to start rattling sedition sabers. We need to keep the airwaves humming now more than ever, even if some of the stuff is as rank as anything put out by Father Coughlin or Westbrook Pegler in their respective heydays. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that our fragile democracy ought never even consider repeating the mistakes of the Weimar Republic during their economic and social disorder. So no matter how ugly it gets it’s still better to have Rush broadcasting from his Florida estate than from an undisclosed location somewhere in Idaho.
On the other hand, it is refreshing to see that the Obama administration ain’t takin no crap either. Remember that this is a Chicago-based White House, a major sea change from the Texas mob we’re still cleaning up after. These guys understand the Chicago Way, so memorably evoked in The Untouchables, which I suspect has taken a lot of people by surprise. We’ve gone from Texas-style backslapping to big-city bitchslapping, and unless or until the Republicans get their act together they better get used to getting cuffed around for the rhetoric of their putative leader and the obsequious kowtowing of his cowering minions.
Rule of thumb? By all means keep bringing a gun to a knife fight, while at the same time celebrating and defending the absolute right of the Rush Limbaughs of this country to “entertain” us with the kind of programming that probably sounded a lot better in the original German.
Bottom line, it ain’t about Rush it’s about us. It’s about whether we the people actually got the memo. We’ve spent the first decade of the twenty-first century learning what civil liberties really mean to us through the simple expedient of having many of them systematically eroded, subverted or simply ignored. Dissent, a notion completely anathema to the Bushies, must now once again be allowed to flourish, even and perhaps especially the rhetorical excesses and political nihilism of Rush and all who sail in him.
So here’s where we find out if we’re better than that. Keep talkin’, Rush. It’s still public air, and thank heaven for that. But for the foreseeable keep in mind that when you take on this administration, remember the Sopranos because you better come heavy.