Wednesday, February 17, 2021

No More Rush

Rush Limbaugh is dead. I can't even remember everything he did that contributed to the devolution of this country. (Though this roundup from Rolling Stone is a good start.) I lived through all of it, from my late 20s onward. Combined with Newt Gingrich, he shares much of the blame, I think, for turning what Ronald Reagan started into our reality. 

Historian Nicole Hemmer gave this summary on Twitter:

Rush Limbaugh radically transformed the Republican Party. He elevated conservative media into a coequal branch of party politics, and pioneered a style of rhetoric, argument, and entertainment that would come to define conservative politics. The things we now think of as particularly Trumpian features of conservatism — the insults, the conspiracies, the blend of entertainment and politics and anger — Limbaugh had been doing it for a quarter-century before Trump showed up to the party.

He did what the first generation of conservative media activists had failed to do: he made right-wing media entertaining, profitable, and politically powerful. Though he was building on their work, he also transformed it.

He often bent the GOP to his will: his immense popularity when he arrived on the national scene in 1988 confounded GOP politicians, who chose to court him for fear of crossing him. From George HW Bush putting him up overnight in the Lincoln bedroom to Michael Steele begging his forgiveness, he was a  a precursor to the kind of loyalty politics on the right with which we're now so familiar.

He infused his show with racism and misogyny, wrapping both in jokes and satire so he could claim that critics were taking him too seriously. But it was a consistent feature of his show for decades.

Anyway, there's much more to say, but for now I'll just end by noting that the trends you've seen in the GOP over the last five years have all been visible on Limbaugh's show for decades — not just because he prefigured them but because he helped create Trump's Republican Party.

I've said before that I believe in tramping the dirt down when particularly damaging political actors die, rather than withholding criticism. David Perry (@lollardfish) gave me a historian's justification for my tendency:

Just a reminder that it is, in fact, ok to speak ill of the dead. It is not ok to shout vile obscenities in the faces of grieving loved ones, or otherwise confront people directly in their grief. But the moment of death is a moment when historical memory gets forged (trust me, I'm a historian of the making of political memory!) so go ahead.

Quoting the Rolling Stone story about the time after Gingrich's Contract with America brought Republicans to power in 1994 with Limbaugh's help,

Now that Limbaugh was the Man in Republican America...where did he want to lead the GOP? What was he for, exactly? Well, “I consider myself a defender of corporate America.” There was that. Plainly enough, he was also a champion of white male privilege and Buchanan-style xenophobia (to put it mildly). But try — even today — naming one policy that Rush Limbaugh famously pushed, or one conservative idea he advanced. What the self-proclaimed “instrument of mass instruction” really advanced, from the get-go, was a purely Manichean view of politics: Our side all good, their side all evil.

“Any Republican candidate is better than any Democratic candidate,” Limbaugh told his audience early on. Which might sound kind of innocuous on the surface. Except that, for Limbaugh, the superiority of our side and the inferiority of them was, increasingly over the years, a deadly serious matter. It became tribal warfare.

Which sounds just like today's Republican Party: no policy, no platform, just demonization of the "other side" taken to literally absurdist levels (and literally to demonizing). 

Someone else joked today that Minnesota is finally warming up after our multiple days of the polar vortex because the doors of hell just opened to admit Limbaugh. If I believed in hell, I would go along with that.

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