The battle for the soul of the Republican Party goes back over 100 years, when Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and progressive Sen Bob LaFollette, battled for ideological control of the GOP, calling each other not really Republican.
Fifty years later the John Birch Society and Sen Barry Goldwater, attacking the moderate so-called Rockefeller wing of the party, elevated the conflict into a religious war, accusing the moderates of not being Conservative enough.
Now comes Rush Limbaugh, a talk radio host with what Mencken called a gift for inflaming halfwits, to prove that it doesn’t work that way, and probably never has. Three hours a day, five days a week Limbaugh whips an appallingly large percentage of the population into a frenzy, using some of the techniques, and even some of the same bogeymen of an earlier successful haranguer named Hitler. Radio, it turns out, adapts much more easily to the demagogue than the debater.
It used to be that radio demagogues, FDR comes to mind, could speak with a certain degree of authority to back up their biases, but Limbaugh has proved this doesn’t have to be the case. Except for smoking and painkiller addiction, deafness and fad diets, Limbaugh is exuberantly unqualified to speak with credibility on the main subjects of his rants. Married four times, he talks reverently of family values. A college dropout who flunked every course he took but radio, he attacks geoscientist claims of manmade global with the zeal of a Restoration Inquisitor. He excoriates ‘country club Republicans’ while spending every available minute with them playing golf. A reactionary who calls himself a conservative, he labels socialists and communists ‘fascists’ and probably hasn’t the slightest idea who Alexis de Tocqueville was.
But Limbaugh has one paramount qualification for the job, one driving reason why millions of listeners tune in devoutly every day: he’s a world class hater. He hates academics and intellectuals, especially Ivy Leaguers. He hates the upper class and well bred of our society, all the more so because they constitute ‘the establishment’ that runs Wall Street and Washington. He hates liberals in government, education and entertainment, claiming they’re out to destroy our way of life and our uniqueness. He hates ‘mainstream’ or ‘state-controlled’ media because they’re snobs and stooges for the Washington establishment and liberal politicians. He hates bureaucrats, because they’re hell-bent on controlling his life, like taking away his cigar and 8mpg vehicle. But most of all he hates moderates and reasonable men, because in his cosmology only passionate, dedicated right wing fanatics ever accomplish anything wothwhile.
Limbaugh has the largest radio audience of any talk show host ever, largely because there are millions of people in this country who fear and hate the same things he does. El Rushbo is their champion, their gunslinger, fearless, armed with only a microphone and a voice like a calliope, supported by an army of researchers digging ever deeper to locate and broadcast reams of evidence that the conspiracy is more widespread and rotten than anybody could imagine. All this with ‘one arm tied behind my back’ and what he claims is 99.7 percent infallibility. Proudly calling themselves ‘dittoheads’ to demonstrate their blind allegiance to him, worshipful callers thank Limbaugh for all he has done, and still does, to save the Republic.
And if the great ship of state ultimately founders and starts to sink, look for 25 million dittoheads to raise their voices in unison and sing, not Nearer My God to Thee, but Rush told you so.
We may be reaching a critical mass of dumb people, and Rush Limbaugh is not one of them.