The monologue gets provocative fast.
"The neocons are paranoid.The neocons are paranoid because Rand Paul
comes from his father's gene pool. This isolationist wing is worried
about maybe there's something more going on here than simply opposing
drone strikes. There's all kinds of ramifications. Well, they might
think he's a kook, but they're worried that he's a kook that nobody
thinks is a kook, and so they'll follow him. He's a stealth kook," Limbaugh explains to his listeners. "It's their thinking. I don't think this." [emphasis added]
The program breaks. Upon its return, a caller comes on the air:
Senator McCain really did Paul a favor by attacking him. The conservative base has no love for the interventionist Arizonan. Neither does Limbaugh.
"This incident, the Rand Paul filibuster, has turned things upside down
in Washington. And McCain's behavior is Exhibit A in this. What
happened? McCain and a bunch of other Republicans decide to go to
dinner with Obama on Tuesday night," Limbaugh said. "Now, I don't pretend to know why
the Republicans did it, but I know why Obama did it. He wanted the
photo op and he wants to make it look like he's cooperating, because the
people are not buying this sequester argument of his. It's not
For Paul fans, the fact that he filibustered on the same night of the Obama dinner is a lucky stroke.
What follows is some typical Limbaugh bloviating about how Obama is "intentionally inflicting pain on the American people via his sequester" and a nonsensical but obligatory Benghazi reference. It's only when he circles back to Paul and the filibuster that things get really interesting. There's a tantalizing tidbit about Congressional Republicans afraid of being seen as unsupportive of Paul's filibuster:
There has been such an upside down turning of the power structure.
Our office is getting phone calls begging us not to lump certain
Republicans in with the ones we're criticizing. "Hey, don't talk about
me. I wasn't at that dinner. Don't talk about me. I came out and I
stood up with Rand Paul." There has been a major, major shift here.
There's more to it than you can see inside the power structure in
Washington, inside the Republican Party. And for McCain now to come
call these guys kooks and wackos illustrates exactly what's wrong.
Limbaugh states outright that this is about foreign policy, not just drones, and that the neocons are scared:
Here's the substance of this. There is a fear among McCain, Lindsey
Graham, and others who favor an interventionist foreign policy. Think
of the neocons.Think of going into Iraq and not just securing Iraq, but
building a democracy. Nation building, if you will. Think of the
outbreak of the Arab Spring and the people on our side who thought,
"Wow, this is wonderful. This is the outbreak of American democracy,"
when it wasn't. It was the exact opposite. Rand Paul, they're asking
themselves, is he his father's son or is he on his own here? They're
worried that he's his father's son. They're worried that Rand Paul is
an isolationist. They're worried that Rand Paul's diatribe on drones
really means that Rand Paul wants to bring the military home and not use
it unless we're attacked. He doesn't like it being used in an
intervention. This is what they fear. And as he succeeds in making a
connection with the American people, they are worried, the neocons are
worried that they are being undermined by this.
The talk radio host seems to think the neocons are right to be scared:
I'll tell you why. Rand Paul made a connection with the American
people. These other people do not. He made a connection. Therefore,
he has the ability to influence and motivate people. I'm telling you
what their fears are. They thought that Ron Paul was absolute nutcase,
wacko. That's why they're calling Rand Paul a wacko, 'cause that's what
they thought of Ron Paul. Libertarian, fruitcake, nutcase,
isolationist, shut down the US military, speak positively about
Islamists, all this kind of stuff. They are afraid that's who Rand Paul
is, and they're afraid that what Rand Paul was doing with this
filibuster was not just speaking out against the use of drones on
American citizens on American soil. They're afraid that Rand Paul is
actually setting the stage for building up public support to stop the
interventionist usage of American military might and foreign policy all
over the world. It's a fear that they've got.
He isn't entirely complimentary about neocon motives:
It's also the whole notion of jealousy in power politics. Let me put it
this way. They, I think, are worried that Rand Paul might be skillful
enough to move the Republican mainstream away from the McCain, Kristol,
neoconservatism view of the world and toward a position that is not as
extreme as his father's, but is suspicious of interventionism,
suspicious of Islamic democracy building, suspicious of financial and
military support for dubious regimes.
So what does Limbaugh think? Is Rand Paul a kook, like McCain says?
He's now a national
figure. He wasn't wild-eyed and screaming and pounding. He was very
rational and very reasonable. He was asking a very simple, easily explained and understood question... So it was easily understood. It was a very simple question he was
posing, and all this was going on while our guys are out dining with
Obama, dining with the architect of this current nationwide mess. Rand
Paul was standing up opposing this while these guys were out yukking it
up with the architect of it all. You know it was a great example of the
ruling class and the country class, and the ruling class not liking what
this country class senator was doing. It's no more complicated than
that, but a lot of people are ticked off about this, too.
This is just one radio segment. Limbaugh is always liable to contradict himself. But if the neocons were to lose their grip on the Rush Limbaugh right, this is exactly what it would look like. So is this:
I want you to imagine the scene. That was their big night! The guys
at dinner with Obama, that was their big night. The next day there'd be
pictures, news stories, accounts on cable news of Republicans dining
with Obama. It's a big, big bipartisan evening. It's major progress!
They're gonna finally everything working together, getting things done.
Now, imagine you're sitting at dinner. You're at that table wherever
they were, and you've got your iPhone. You're a Republican senator or
whoever else was there.
You've got your iPad Mini, maybe, or your
iPhone, your smartphone, and all of a sudden they start going nuts and
you pull out your iPad or you pull out your phone and you look at it,
and you see Rand Paul has the nation captivated back in the Senate
chamber with a filibuster -- while you're sitting there with Obama and
nobody's noticing. You look this, and you start beating your head
against the table, 'cause Rand Paul's getting everything that you
intended to gain from that dinner.
And he's a freshman.
And he's a wacko!"Ron Paul's his dad. He's an absolute nutcase Libertarian, and he's
talking about drones? Nobody wants to drop a drone on the American
people. What the hell is this?" But he has the nation captivated. It's
caused a real reversal. Not a reversal, but the whole structure of
things has now been upset, and it's got a lot of people concerned, and
it has legs. It does have legs. So I think it's fascinating to behold,
and once again it illustrates that these guys going to dinner with
Obama, they were not challenging him.
They were not. People think this country is falling apart. People
think that this country's on its last legs as they know it, as it was
founded. People in this country are really scared. There is a
despondency among the population, a majority of the population. This
isn't just politics-as-usual. As far as the population the country's
concerned, the opposition party still doesn't get it to the point that
they're not even the opposition party!
Well, Rand Paul appeared to be the opposition, and he had the guts
and the courage to stand up and demand that they explain something to
him. And not only is he alive to tell about it, he's not being called
He's a hero to people.
So there you go.
Given its track record since 9/11, the Rush Limbaugh right is obviously totally unreliable when it comes to civil liberties, executive power, and foreign-policy realism. At the same time, its capacity for cognitive dissonance, hatred of Democrats, mistrust of Obama, war-weariness, paranoia about tyrannical government, and ideological predisposition to Constitution-citing rhetoric makes the block as suited to following Rand Paul as John McCain or Bill Kristol, especially if the latter men are ultimately arguing -- as they must if they want to be coherent -- that Obama should be trusted to wield extreme power, in secret, with good judgment and moral rectitude.
The best thing about partisan demagoguery is that the powerful have automatic adversaries to challenge them. On foreign policy, there hasn't been any coherent challenge to Obama from the right.
Hopefully that's changing.
I don't want to exaggerate the size of the Rush Limbaugh right, which seems to end up every four years with the GOP presidential nominee they least desire. The behavior of moderate Republicans matters more. What I do want to make is the modest claim that Limbaugh giving this treatment to the "Paul vs. McCain" divide -- even highlighting rather than glossing over the larger foreign-policy divisions at play -- shows that the whole GOP is already in a very different place than it was prior to Election 2012, when every primary candidate with any chance of ultimately leading the party competed to stake out the most bellicose, hawkish positions possible, led by Mitt Romney, the eventual victor. I can't help but wonder how events might've unfolded if the GOP hadn't wasted four years on the wrong critique of Obama's foreign policy