I’m not sure that anyone who comments on politics regularly wants to be talking about Rush Limbaugh as much as we have over the past several weeks, but RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s decision to first repudiate Limbaugh and then apologize to him, combined with the White House’s strategy of tying the GOP and Limbaugh ever closer, guarantees that we’ll have Rush Limbaugh to kick around for some time to come:
If White House officials were trying to elevate Rush Limbaugh to the leader of the opposition, they may have succeeded.
After the radio host delivered a raucous red-meat speech Saturday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” the next day: “He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party, and he has been upfront about what he views, and hasn’t stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added his voice yesterday, saying reporters should ask Republicans “whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said . . . in wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country.”
Limbaugh, a master at drawing media attention, has filled a vacuum for the GOP since the election, and Emanuel’s comments served only to further boost his prominence. Limbaugh fired back on his show yesterday, saying the White House is trying to “malign me, take me out of context” and “attach it to the Republican Party in general, because President Obama wants no debate.” He said that this is “a game of manipulation emanating from the Oval Office,” and that he wants Obama’s “socialist” policies to fail, but added that he does not want to see the economy and stock market tank.
But White House officials contend that, with Limbaugh commanding more airtime than any other prominent Republican, they are obliged to respond to his call for the president’s failure — which they are more than happy to equate with financial ruin.
Not surprisingly, there’s been much commentary about this whole kerfuffle on the right and while much of it mirrors Michelle Malkin’s wrist-slap of Steele for daring to criticize Limbaugh, and others such as Rick Moran and James Joyner contend that Steele made a tactical mistake by potentially alienating Limbaugh’s “base” (by the way, he’s a talk show host, he has an audience, not a base) there are other voices questioning the adulation being given to a talk show host.
Ace at Ace of Spades is one of those asking such questions:
1) The American public does not share the zeal for partisan attacks that most partisans, such as myself and most of you, do. Politicians are political animals who savor such fights, mostly, but have to pretend they’re above it and really would rather just make nice and work out compromises and give handjobs to unicorns. Steele shouldn’t be slammed too much for a lie forced upon him by his job description.
1) a. This is especially true now, given we’re in the minority and will suffer politically if we’re perceived as opposing Obama just to oppose him. Hence, Steele’s posturing as someone who’d really, really, really like to work things out with Mr. Obama, if only he had the chance.
1) b. Distancing oneself from bomb-throwers is part of that posturing.
2) Limbaugh is an entertainer. Not just an entertainer, of course, but he’s appealing largely because he’s so entertaining. And being entertaining often means making impolitic statements — and not being gray, boring, bland, and inoffensive. Which is what most politicians and “serious” public intellectuals strive for. Again, I don’t see the big deal on this. Part of what makes Rush listenable is that he’s allowed to say things others in the public realm can’t.
3) As great as Limbaugh may be, we’re in serious danger if any criticism of any public figure on our side becomes forbidden.
Ace is, I think, correct. Limbaugh may be great for rallying troops on the right, but it’s fairly clear that, due to both his hyperpartisanship and his style, he alienates the people in the middle that the Republican Party needs to win back if it is going to get out of the wilderness anytime soon. For that reason alone, any association with Limbaugh is potentially a problem.
As David Frum points out, the Obama Administration knows what it’s doing, and so does Limbaugh:
Here’s the duel that Obama and Limbaugh are jointly arranging:
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.
And where does the future of Republicans or their ideas lie in all of this ?
As Publius at Obsidian Wings points out, it’s clear that Limbaugh doesn’t really care:
Limbaugh is an entertainer. Period. Full Stop. Steele was right about that. He’s not a policy guy – he’s not a party guy. He’s a glorified – though very successful – shock jock. He wants to cause outrages. He craves press – negative press; positive press; it doesn’t matter. Basically, any attention for him – in any form – is a good thing.
For this reason, his incentives are completely different from the institutional GOP’s. To be frank, he has more professional incentives to root for the Democrats than for the Republicans. It’s much easier to shock and rabble rouse in the opposition. You don’t have to pull punches. You are free to play up the persecution complex so central to the Rush bloc of the GOP.
The Steele incident, though, shows precisely how Rush’s skewed incentives come into play. If Rush were truly invested in the GOP, he wouldn’t devote a show to attacking Steele. But that’s not his thing – that’s not his essence. He’s an attention-seeking entertainer. So he feels completely free to light into Steele and hope for more publicity. And if those attacks hurt the GOP’s cause, well, he doesn’t really care because he has no professional incentive to care
He is, as he’s often said himself, a businessman who’s job is to make obscene profits.
That’s fine with me, I’m a capitalist, so is he. What he’s not, or at least shouldn’t be, is a political leader.