Sunday, March 1, 2009

Limbaugh at CPAC

If you missed it, go check it out -- it's actually rather instructive.

As a disembodied voice that's broadcast across the airwaves, Limbaugh is without peer. Limbaugh on TV, however, is another story altogether (There's a reason why his previous TV effort tanked).

In the broadcast booth, Limbaugh is in complete control. That's just not the case when he's in front of a camera. During his speech at CPAC his passion careened perilously toward mania. Without commercial breaks to give him a breather Limbaugh's speech tended to ramble. What feels like confidence on the radio just comes off as arrogance on TV -- the garbage line about this being his "first address to the nation" -- which he repeated over and over again and was clearly designed to set in contrast with President Obama who had just given his first address to a joint session of Congress earlier that week -- was lame and transparently self-serving at best. Limbaugh's excitability animates his radio show, but the accompanying visual just makes him look panicked and frenzied.

That energy may make conservatives love him all the more -- see Andrew Brietbart's ode to Limbaugh here, for example -- but that's not what the country needs right now. Limbaugh doesn't really come across as a guy who can keep a level head in a time of crisis and if you think Barack Obama turned into an economic pessimist since taking office, then take a listen to Rush, who literally talks the very fabric of America falling apart at the seams economically, culturally, politically, socially -- hell, one even suspects the NFL is about to feel the cold boot of socialism on it's neck. (Incidentally, Limbaugh's track record of forecasting doom isn't all that great.)

And the unfortunate thing is that it's not what conservatism needs right now either. Rod Dreher has an absolutely devastating post on the intellectual falacies inherent in Laimbaugh's conservatism, arguing convincingly that it's an incoherent mess ("ideologically-driven right-wing Rousseauism;" see the Economist for a little more insight on this one) that boarders on "Lenninism" in it's antagonism for any opposition. Dreher calls Limbaugh's speech "conservative crack" -- euphoric in its delivery, but presumably catastrophic in its effect on the nervous system of the movement. John Derbyshire's timely piece on talk radio calls it Happy Meal conservatism:
There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.

It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”

In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans.

Dreher's not the only one who is lamenting Limbaugh;s performance. David Frum is agast at the possibility of a conservatism headed by Limbaugh and knows he will lose the perception war:

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.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise – and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

So where does that leave conservatism? The short answer is in the lurch. Limbaugh's speech was an instructive look at just how diluted the conservative movement has become, but it wasn't the most illuminating moment. That dubious instance occurred when Tucker Carlson, of all people, tried, um, valiantly (?) to assess the major problem with conservative "journalism," i.e. that there really isn't much to speak of in terms of reportage. Local radio talker Charlie Sykes seemed to emphasize the antipathy for Carlson's plea for conservative to start, you know, reporting the facts when he posted this over the weekend:

As newspapers shrink, the number of reporters covering local and state governments will shrink with them. Can the alternative media -- in particular bloggers -- fill the gap?

Sad to say, I'm as skeptical as this guy. Instead, I'm afraid we will see a shift of power and influence to insiders, who won't have to worry about the scrutiny of the unwashed and who will now be able to spin their version of reality more easily. Bloggers, after all, cannot opine on things that haven't been reported on in the first place.

(emphasis added)

Well why can't those bloggers do a little reporting themselves?

The answer is that it's hard work. It takes years to develop contacts and the skill set need to discover information that is important for the public to know. It takes time to learn the mechanics of government, of political parties, etc. -- and patience isn't something the blogosphere is noted for at the moment.

Most importantly, however, it takes trust. Someone like Sykes or Limbaugh can't be reporters because there is no reason for at least half the population to believe that they are going to get a fair shake from these clowns. Likewise with the blogging brethren. That's why it's important for news gathering organizations to at least appear to be objective and the best way to do that is to get the basic facts right (like, as Carlson suggested, spelling someone's name correctly). That kind of information dissemination was apparently roundly rejected by the the attendees at CPAC, which leaves one with little wonder that conservatism can't get its ducks in a row.

Which brings us back to Limbaugh. Here's Daniel Larison:

In one of those priceless moments, Limbaugh said near the beginning of his endless speech that the Preamble to the Constitution says that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,” revealing the sort of historical and constitutional illiteracy I have come to expect from his sort. Naturally, the geniuses at CPAC gave him their Defender of the Constitution Award. This is what you get from people who so cherish the Constitution and Declaration that they cannot remember what phrases belong to which document.

Again, facts are irrelevant when it comes to Limbaugh, the most important thing is the man himself:

But strip away the platitudes and cheap applause lines about freedom, self-reliance and the virtues of capitalism, and you're left with the subject that really interests Rush Limbaugh: himself. The conservative talker with the self-professed "talent on loan from God" spoke incessantly in the first person: there were more "I's" in his CPAC address than in an Idaho potato field. One clear message emerged from the speech:

"Le mouvement conservative, c'est moi."

He's all yours. In January, when the Rush/Obama row started we suggested the following:

Obama is in the unique position where he basically gets to choose his nemesis -- why not elevate a circus clown to that position? Limbaugh speaks to only the hard right of the GOP, why not give him the platform to continue to alienate the moderate wing of the GOP until finally they just abandon ship? Let the id of the Republican party see the light of day and then see if it's still appealing to anyone who doesn't subscribe to Human Events...

Basically, Obama is not going to find opposition that is going to operate on the same level that he's woring on -- there will be no Newt Gingrich for the foreseeable future (unless maybe Eric Cantor takes out a second mortgage on his soul from the Devil and gets some gravitas and balls), so why not take on the meanest and ugliest symbol of partisanship there is?
It's pretty clear that Limbaugh has taken the bait, which is unfortunate, since it basically confirms that there really is no more juice left in the conservative movement.

MORE: Even Michael Steele's not having any of Limbaugh's snake oil.


illusory tenant said...

Good post.

In one of those priceless moments, Limbaugh said near the beginning of his endless speech that the Preamble to the Constitution says that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,” revealing the sort of historical and constitutional illiteracy I have come to expect from his sort.

I noticed this too in one of the reports of Limbaugh's "Castroesque" speech, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, as he was talking about both documents at the same time.

Although Limbaugh did write -- at least, his name is on it -- the forward to Mark Levin's thoroughly execrable "book," Men In Black, so Larison is probably on the money.

It wouldn't be the first time one of these hopeless cranks confused the Constitution with the DOI (and even when they're not confusing them, they fail to distinguish between their vastly disparate purposes).

grumps said...

And now Steele has had to take hat in hand to stand before the cameras to say that he "didn't say what he was thinking" about Limbaugh.

Rushbo gets Steele's scrotum for a souvenir and the R's get the shellacking they deserve.

Zach W. said...

What, Limbo couldn't even be bothered to wear a tie?

What a slouch.