His broadcasts since the Newtown shooting are an apt illustration of his self-contradiction and lack of intellectual integrity.
There's been a lot of talk about the "national conversation" these last few days. If you're like me, it's something you observe and engage on the web, via Facebook, and on Twitter. Many Americans watch TV news. There are, finally, the Americans who get their information via talk radio. Regular readers know that I delve into that world sometimes. As in any medium, there are good and bad talk-radio hosts, but it happens that the most popular of all, Rush Limbaugh, misinforms his audience on a daily basis through a combination of inaccurate facts and poor reasoning. His intellectual heirs, guys like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, unfortunately aren't much better.
Tens of millions of people frequent the information ecosystem that these guys create, so they can't be ignored. Fortunately, the Internet has helped to diminish their credibility. Once upon a time, a Republican who didn't himself listen to talk radio or tuned in only briefly could dismiss its critics as disgruntled leftist partisans without having to confront any of the most indefensible rhetoric. Today, talk-radio nonsense doesn't just drift off into the ether. It exists in transcript form on the web. It's hard to imagine today's hosts retaining their influence as the web generation ages. Their minimal success with the 35-and-under audience bodes well for our but not their future.
That's partly because of how they respond in the aftermath of a national tragedy like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. We've all been following different threads of the "national conversation." I've contributed to it in posts titled "The U.S. Already Had a Conversation About Guns -- And the Pro Side Won," and "Why 'If We Can Save Just One Child ...' Is a Bad Argument."
And Rush Limbaugh? What follows are all direct quotations from his show, via the transcripts provided on his website, spoken in the days since the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. I've juxtaposed certain quotes to bring home the absurdity of a man too many in the conservative movement still regard as a useful ally and a figure worthy of awards and accolades. Some of the statements are discrediting in themselves, but what really brings home the death of intellectual integrity is the self-contradiction of confidently asserting all of these things. When convenience requires it, America is in a uniquely degraded state; if rhetorical points can be scored by asserting the opposite, suddenly things were much worse in previous decades; liberals are politicizing the Newtown tragedy; the next moment, Obama is to blame; the mainstream media irresponsibly passed on inaccurate information when waiting would've been more responsible; talk radio is superior, but it passed on all the same faulty information.
Enough from me. Here's the man himself:
- "I've had people really excoriate me in the email for accusing the left of seeking to politicize the event. Some of you leftists, you want to maintain here that the Democrat Party has not sought to politicize this? It's the first thing that came to their mind. The first thing that came to their mind was the hope that they could link this to a conservative."
- "Obama got it right. This is the fourth mass shooting during his first term. It averages out to one a year. (interruption) No, I'm not making any correlation. That's for you to make. If you want to play that game, go ahead. It is interesting we were supposed to be unified and loving one another and at peace and all these wonderful New Age things by now."
- Isn't that how the homeless became homeless? They used to be institutionalized and a bunch of liberals came along and said, "They have rights! You can't keep them there"?
- "We're no longer talking about what will happen unless we do something about it. We're living it. We're living the collapse. We're living the implosion of our culture and our society. Politically, morally, religiously, you name it, and it all stems from the fact that no one is allowed to have values. Values are judgmental. You have no right to impose values on people."
- "Mass shootings are actually down in this country compared to years past. There were a lot of them in the fifties. There were a lot of them in the twenties and thirties. But it doesn't matter because this one happened and it was bad, and we were not alive in 1929 so who cares. A lot of people weren't alive in the fifties, so who cares. It's just bad now, and there's an agenda to be advanced."
- "We cannot deny that all around us the institutions and traditions which used to provide the guardrails for our culture and society have been corrupted, and those guardrails aren't there anymore. They were torn down, actually, a long time ago."
- "If you can point to a time in American history when it was worse than it was today, just to keep a little perspective, that helps. But no, no, no, no. 'This is the worst!' Because there's a political agenda that has to be advanced. So we're not gonna talk about 1927, we're not talk about dynamite, we're not gonna talk about Waco, 'cause that doesn't help the agenda. And don't discount the importance of the agenda."
- "I sit here in full knowledge that were I to open up and share with you my genuine, real thoughts about what's going on in this country, I'd be brought up on charges."
- "A lot of young people are spending a lot of time on the World Wide Web. I came across a post last night at, of all places, Gawker.com. Gawker.com is a ... is a ... Basically it's a militant homosexual site, entertainment. Not militant. It's a gay site."
- "People only believe what they're told, and if they're told a bunch of crap repeatedly day in and day out, that's what they're going to end up believing, particularly low-information people."
- "They were in such a hurry to sensationalize the news, again, because they wanted to advance their agenda, that the basic rules of journalism got thrown out, like two sources or three sources, just went out the window."
- "I'm sorry, folks. I'm repeating things that could very well just be not true. It's in the media. I don't know. "
- "I mean, it's striking how for three hours -- well, at least an hour and a half on this program and hour and a half after, everything I told you turned out to be wrong. We were just passing it on from the networks as we got it."
- "These people that are wrong, wrong, wrong, they are the primary news source for a vast majority of people in this country."
- "You know what the biggest killer of innocent people ever devised in the world is? The biggest killer of innocent people ever devised is poverty, which can be brought about by communism/socialism. Poverty. Now, do we have people among us advocating policies which perpetuate and create even more poverty? We do, don't we? Yes, we do. Poverty is a lethal weapon, and we have policies in place to expand it right now."
- "If you were able to deal with patients that you properly diagnosed in the way in which you've described, what would happen is some Hollywood producer would come along, hear about it, and make a movie about how one of these people so treated actually came up with the cure for cancer, but nobody was willing to listen because they were insane and that would put pressure on society not to put these people away. It's what we've done with the homeless. Every Christmas season, you have some leftist come along and say, "The homeless are the modern day equivalents of Mary and Joseph. They are wandering around and there's no room at the inn."
This quote struck me as particularly amusing, given the source:
I've had a deep concern for a number of years over what I have seen throughout the young population of this country is this quest for fame. This desire to have everything known about them, just vomiting details about themselves all over Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, whatever. To me, it's been a serious problem. Fame is a very seductive thing. See, everybody wants to be known, and everybody wants their life to matter. Everybody wants their life to have meaning.
And finally, an exchange with a caller that gave me a laugh:
RUSH: Why can't we accept that some people epitomize evil?
CALLER: They won't accept that. They have to look for something else. The first thing is, "Is he a right-wing extremist? Is he a member of the Tea Party?" Okay, if it's not that, then it's the video game, it's the movies, or it's the way you raised them.
RUSH: Again, you've swerved into it. They do accept that certain people are evil.
CALLER: If they're on our side?
RUSH: The Tea Party is evil.
RUSH: They're like Nazis. George Bush was Hitler.
RUSH: They do believe that certain people are evil, and it is those people they blame for all of the troubles in society.
CALLER: But they don't believe that they're evil in a way that they feel that people like Mother Teresa are good. You see what I'm saying? They're evil because we have made them evil.
RUSH: Halliburton's evil. Dick Cheney is evil. Intellectually, I still don't understand that. Dick Cheney, to the left, is Darth Vader.
CALLER: Oh, yes! Mmm-hmm.
RUSH: I mean, he embodies evil.
RUSH: He is the evil emperor and Darth Vader combined into one.
CALLER: George Bush was Satan.
CALLER: Yes. Was that because of his parents? No. People are just ... Some people are different. Some people are hard-wired different.
RUSH: Well, now, but wait. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. The people we're talking about are not evil. Cheney's not evil. Halliburton's not evil. George Bush isn't Satan. So they're wrong about it. But I still like your question.
Much of the foregoing is too incoherent to sum up coherently, and not every bullet point is in itself reason enough to criticize the man or his radio program. But considered together, the takeaway is that one of America's most influential voices is a mess of self-contradiction, hypocrisy, victim-mongering, and a striking lack of self-awareness. And he offers zero insights original enough that they can't be found elsewhere among communicators who avoid his discrediting pathologies.