Friday, March 24, 2017

Fantasy Faction Food Fight

One of the fantasies peddled by the right-wing Rage Machine collided rather violently with itself this week and sent to the canvas the Republican plan to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, perhaps for the count. "President" Trump has tried to blame Democrats for the problems the plan has faced. The truth is that it has gone down in flames as a consequence of a fight within the GOP, as one wing of the Fantasy Faction battled it out with the other.

Turning to the Wall Street Journal, one sees a manifestation of this fight, an editorial crowing about how the awful GOP healthcare "reform" bill is actually great and pouring derision upon the other denizens of the Faction for not embracing it. With no sense of self-awareness, the pro- segment of the Fantasists are here dubbing the anti- segment "the Freedom-From-Reality Caucus." Entertaining, sure, but another painful indication of how badly political discourse on the right has entirely collapsed.

An outline of the basic problem: Republican hostility to Obamacare isn't based on any sort of realistic evaluation of that law or its effects. It's born, instead, of the persistent demonization of the law by the right-wing Rage Machine. Fox News and co. rage against it and blame it for every problem in American healthcare, though most of those problems long predated Obamacare and are, at best, only tangentially related to it. As a political matter, it's quite easy for Sean Hannity to rant and rave against Obamacare day after day. It's a lot more difficult for legislators to replace it. Over the course of eight years during which they've cast dozens of empty votes to repeal the law in full or in part, Republican legislators have made no serious effort to develop any real alternative to it. Obamacare was the Republican alternative. When Obama embraced it, every Republican fled from it solely because Obama adopted it and they feared any cooperation in further shaping it would be presented to their constituents by Rush Limbaugh as collaboration with the enemy. Now, having achieved domination of all three branches of government, they've finally been put in a position to deliver and they don't have anything to deliver. They have no plan. They've made no effort to develop any constituency for any alternative. The portion of their voters who listen to Lou Dobbs want them to repeal it. But that's all.

So the new congress came into session in January and the Republicans who lead it had to come up with something. Simply repealing the law and returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo, initially favored by many, wasn't a politically viable option; that would leave consumers entirely at the mercy of the insurance giants and bring back all the ever-escalating problems that led to Obamacare in the first place. Republican legislators rushed to cobble together some sort of "reform" plan.[1] The result was an abysmal, half-assed effort that, thrown together in a matter of weeks, takes the already-awful Obamacare and makes it even worse. That "worse" is born out by every means of measurement. More to the point, the provisions of the bill have no substantial public support. The bill exists solely so Republican legislators can tell the audience for the Rage Machine that they repealed the awful thing that black guy did. That wouldn't help pols when they had to face their angry constituents, the people who would be entirely screwed over by the changes. The bill was a fantasy crafted by one wing of the Fantasy Faction ("President" Trump threw his weight behind it).

But while that wing was hoping to garner the approval of the Rage Machine via the bill, the other immediately recognized the practical political problem it represented. While Repub legislators may play the political game of blaming on Obamacare rising premiums, high deductibles, etc., the smarter ones realize these are problems rooted in the basic for-profit health insurance model. They have no interest in embracing single-payer healthcare, the one serious alternative that would do away with that model and its problems, nor would the Rage Machine allow them to do so even if they wanted, but if they vote for anything at all, they realized they'd then be held responsible by voters for the state of healthcare after that, including all of its problems. This wing of the Fantasy Faction, the "Freedom Caucus" Republicans who have been more responsible than any other elected officials for demonizing Obamacare and creating this situation, have now bailed on the "reform" plan, calling it "Obamacare Lite." For the reasons just outlined, they're probably not going to be getting behind any other reform effort either. Why should they? The ire directed at Obamacare by the Rage Machine--and by these legislators through the Machine--has proven a remarkably effective means of organizing their supporters. They want to keep Obamacare around as their whipping-boy.

Here's what lurks behind all of this: American healthcare is on an unsustainable course. It can't go on like this.

Here's a truism: It's impossible to effectively govern anything based on fantasy.

The Rage Machine, which is made up of nearly ever major rightist outlet in the U.S., grew out of--among other things--the fact that there exists so little public support for right-wing policies. The American rightist elite use it, in light of this, to drain most of the actual substance from politics, presenting political discourse as a simplistic, good-vs.-evil struggle of personalities, with, of course, themselves as the heroes. In their telling, a fact, as the concept has always been understood, doesn't exist. The "truth" is whatever the Machine says it is. Their followers are told to stop thinking and get behind the heroes of the tale. This has created the Fantasy Faction, those who have convinced themselves that the largely fictional political narratives they get from Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage are reality and those who exploit this state of affairs for their own ends. It's one of this writer's most persistent themes over the years (in his political writing, at least).

When it comes to government, the Machine amounts to an unelected, unaccountable rightist elite that never have to deliver anything more substantial than wind but that are allowed to wag the dog. In this just-concluded healthcare drama, we've just had a "reform" effort be invented in order to play to a fantasy then be killed because continuing to play to the same fantasy was judged by some to be more important. Any concern for the public interest is just as entirely M.I.A. as reality itself.

--j.

---

[1] The rush was dictated in part by certain political realities--Republicans know they'll probably lose big in the 2018 midterms--and in part by the desire to translate the spoils from eviscerating Obamacare into a massive tax cut, which could, as a consequence of congressional rules, be presented as revenue-neutral and passed with a simple majority, rather than having to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Democratic Party "Unity" & Its Discontents

Written for Writer Beat:

 Mario da Cruz, one of the new kids on the Writer Beat block, has just written an article about "unity" within the Democratic party. It's a pretty good one and gives a brief history of the present internal party conflict between liberals and "neoliberals," whom he calls "Establishment Democrats." I was writing a response to it, it ran a bit long and decided to make it an article in itself.

Up front, it must be said there's one standout flaw in Mario's analysis. In context, it's really only a side-issue but it is worthy of note. In discussing whether liberals should break away from the Democrats and form a third party, he writes:

"It’s easier and more effective to take over one of the two mainstream parties, as the Tea Party has been doing over the last six years, culminating in the election of President Donald Trump."

The "Tea Party" never took over the GOP. The "Tea Party" was never anything more than an astroturf project and, in effect, hasn't even existed as a thing for years now. It, in fact, never really existed in the way it was portrayed. The point of astroturf is to project the phantom of a grassroots movement where there isn't really one. The biggest success of the "Tea Party" was in getting journalists and commentators to use the label as a shorthand for disaffected reactionaries. The ascent of Trump has to do with a number of other factors having to do with the degradation of a large segment of the American right, under the lash of the right-wing Rage Machine, into a form of protofascism. As a consequence, conservatism is virtually without a public voice in the U.S. now. The teabaggers were just a manifestation of this decadence; they were never driving it.

Disaffected reactionaries have now made the Republican party apparatus and its elected officials so extreme, they're now well to the right of even most of the party's own voters. They hold grossly disproportionate power, which is an effect of things like gaming the system--the House is held by Repubs solely because of extensive gerrymandering in several blue states--and the two-party system itself--when it comes to expressing dissatisfaction with the party in the White House, they're the only game in town.

The crisis presently faced by the Democrats--the central focus of Mario's article--is entirely different. Their problem is that the party apparatus and its top elected officials don't represent the party itself, the people who actually vote Democratic. The "neoliberals" combine socially liberal policies, favored by both Democrats and, in general, the overwhelming majority of Americans, with rightist pro-business policies, adopted to attract Big Money donors. Typically, they also hold rightist war-hawk views on foreign policy, which is often an extension of that same pro-business alignment. There's no real public support for these rightist policies and the real constituency of the "neoliberals" is that Big Money donor class. The progressives are currently attempting to break the "neoliberals'" hold on power and bring the Democratic party in line with its own voters.

The Clintonite "neoliberals" are fighting back. So far, they've managed to hold on to their leadership positions in the party. In congress, the Democratic leadership is the same tired old faces, the retiring Harry Reid yielding to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi continuing to run the House Demos. When it looked like the liberal-backed Keith Ellison would ascend to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, the "neos" recruited former Labor Secretary Tom Perez for no other reason than to prevent that from happening. After they dumped on the press a pile of scurrilous opposition research against Ellison, Perez was elected absent any real platform and the triumphant "neos" voted not to reinstate the Obama-era ban on corporate PAC donations to the party, which had been lifted during the 2016 cycle at the insistence of the Clintonites.

The big problem with "unity," to return to Mario's argument, is that the "neos'" notion of it has always been for the progressives to simply sit down, shut up and fall in behind whatever corporate shill they cough up. That approach just led to a disastrous defeat at the hands of the most despised presidential candidate in the history of polling, a loss that, in a sane world, would have entirely discredited the "neos" for the foreseeable future. A strong sentiment among the progressives is that the "neos" had their chance and blew it, and given the present state of the party under their stewardship--the number of party officeholders at perhaps an historic low--it's just about impossible to make any case to the contrary. There really isn't any public support for the items that set the "neos" apart.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressives' most prominent voice in the capitol, was given a purely ceremonial position in the Senate leadership in an effort to coopt him and is treated  poorly by the "neoliberals" but he's the most popular politician in the U.S. and his major policy proposals are supported by huge majorities of the party and of the general public, including, in many instances, even majorities of Republicans. In last year's Democratic presidential primary, he captured the youth vote by overwhelming numbers. They're the future of the party, which can either embrace them or be swept aside by them. That shouldn't be read as making it sound easy. The "neos," if they want, can put up a hell of a fight. While the liberals have the numbers, they have massive money resources and the corporate press on their side. Any "victory" in such a war would be purely pyrrhic though. The most likely course for the "neos" is the one upon which they've already embarked--trying to coopt the left.

How this plays out will be one of the most interesting political stories of the next few years.

--j.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rush Limbaugh: Political Analyst

Series Introduction:

Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, I wrote a book about Rush Limbaugh. I'd followed his career as he'd as he'd risen from relative obscurity to the biggest thing, literally and figuratively, on the radio and the de facto voice of the Republican right. For many years the Boss of the Republican party, as Keith Olbermann used to call him. The rise of right-wing media in general has meant he has much less influence these days but he has remained the top-rated commercial radio talk-show all these years.

My book, which was titled simply "Anti-Rush", was written in the mid-'90s, when he'd been at the height of his power and influence. It was never published and, in fact, never finished but I spent a few years on it and it was a pretty big one. Unfortunately, I lost most of it (and a lot of other things) in a computer crash. I still have part of it, material that survived on some old quarter-inch floppies. They're gone now too, along with some of their content, which was lost in subsequent years. I posted some material from my Limbaugh project on my News Reviews blog on what must have been a slow day back in 2015 and over the years, I've posted bits and pieces of it, including what I'm about to put up here, in other places around the internet. Eventually, I'll probably put up everything from the book that survives in any sort of readable form. Why not, right?

Some general notes: In the text, "TWTOTB" refers to Limbaugh's ghost-writer's first book, "The Way Things Ought To Be" and "SITYS" to his second, "See, I Told You So." When this was written, Limbaugh had moved into late-night television, a show that ran for four years and probably ended right around the same time as work on my own book (I don't exactly remember). In some instances, I've straightened out some bad sentence structure--left unattended, it calls to me in the night--but I've mostly resisted the urge to clean up the text, which is the unfinished work of a much younger writer. There are, unfortunately, no footnotes--the cleaned-up, completed version is lost forever--but at least most of the time-and-place data for the Limbaugh comments, which would have ended up in the footnotes, are cited in the text. I apologize in advance for the way this can bog down the text with multiple "on his radio show", "on his television show", etc.:


Observers who are unaware of him could be forgiven if, upon being exposed to Rush Limbaugh for the first time, they mistook him for a Marxist caricature of a conservative capitalist, a satire. To draw an audience, he adopts a sort of populist pose but because his populist stylings are just an empty pose, there's no consistency in it. Limbaugh's views are class-based, in a way any commie would eat for breakfast and seeing the GOP as the best vehicle for enacting policy based on them, he's a die-hard Republican party man.

In Limbaugh's universe, "Republicans vs. Democrats" is treated as good vs. bad. The only time Republicans are less than good is when, in his view, they're not conservative enough. The only time Democrats are any better than bad is when they're conservative. This structure--this fairy-tale--is his standard narrative and when engaged in political analysis, he molds the details to fit it, rather than offering a narrative shaped by those details. In order to maintain his overarching narrative in the face of changing circumstances, he freely abandons his own prior analysis for new ones that are often the exact opposite and then switches back again. His political analysis is a study in contradiction.

Limbaugh spent a great deal of time in TWTOTB writing about the nature of politics and elections. For example, he asserted:

"The real debate about where this country should be headed takes place every four years when we vote for president."

On congress:

"Congress isn't supposed to set day-to-day policy in our system of government... It is supposed to write laws that have broad applications and that set down the parameters within which the President can carry out his policies"

Of the Democratic-controlled congress:

"They have ignored the people's will on countless occasions and dismissed the fact that the voters have endorsed conservative policies in three presidential elections. People are not fools when it comes to electing a President. People know that election is a defining one. They study the candidates and they care about their decisions. They don't do that very often with elections for Congress."

Events subsequent to the publication of TWTOTB led Limbaugh to consign the whole of this analysis to a Memory Hole and to advance a new one that contradicted the previous one in almost every particular. The first of these events was the election of Democrat Bill Clinton as president. Suddenly the idea of the president as the embodiment of where voters wish to send the country didn't sound so appealing. The second was the Republican seizure of both houses of congress in 1994. Suddenly, Limbaugh decided this was one of those occasions when the decision about what direction the government should take was made in a congressional election and that it was the duty of congress to “set day-to-day policy," to the extent that he repeatedly declared the President had been made "irrelevant" by congress.

Clinton was, of course, elected by a significantly larger number of Americans than later elected the Republican majority in congress but for two years of the Clinton administration, Limbaugh began each episode of his show by describing the state of affairs under that presidency as "America Held Hostage." When, in 1994, Republicans gained control of congress in a sparsely attended off-year election, he dubbed the campaign "Operation Restore Democracy" and proclaimed it a success. Then, as the subsequent "Republican Revolution" got underway, he began to open his program with "America: The Way It Ought To Be."

Limbaugh couldn't quite decide why Republicans won in 1994. At first, he was clear on what had happened. On his television show the day after the elections, Limbaugh said of the results, "It was a total repudiation of one man--Bill Clinton--a total repudiation of his policies and where he wants to take this country... The Clinton agenda is dead. The people didn't want it." The notion that the vote was essentially a negative reaction against a much-demonized Clinton administration was close to the truth. Republicans then had to govern though, and this required Limbaugh, their mouthpiece whom congressional Republicans eventually made an honorary member of the Republican "class" of 1994, to change his analysis. Soon, he was saying the public hadn't voted negatively after all. Indeed, he maintained, it had given Republicans that most mythical of all political beasts: a Mandate For Change. On his TV show (1-17-95), he said: "Go back to the campaign. The Republicans campaigned expressly and exclusively on substantive issues, the Contract with America." He added that Republicans could have gone negative but didn't: "[They] took the high road and stuck straight to issues." On his radio show in May 1995, Limbaugh said of the Republican candidates:

"They had plenty of negatives on Clinton, and they could've just run against the President but they didn't do that. They came up with an agenda of things that they said defined them. 'This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we're for. This is what we're going to do.' It's called the Contract with America. It gave people a reason to vote in the affirmative and I firmly believe people want to vote for ideas, for people, not against."

This portrait of principled conservative Republicans boldly eschewing readily available sleaze in favor of real issues bore, of course, little resemblance to the actual 1994 congressional campaigns, wherein the most popular RNC canned ad used by Republican candidates all over the country was one in which the face of their Democratic opponent morphed into that of Bill Clinton. Nor, more importantly, is it a fact that voters cast their ballots in any significant number in response to the Contract With America, either pro or con. Exit polling showed that fewer than 12% of voters from either side had ever even heard of the Contract. A Time/CNN poll taken immediately after the election asked "Which is most responsible for the Republican victories in Congress?" Half the respondents chose "voter disapproval of Clinton's job as President." Only 12% cited "voter support for Republican programs." As a caller on Limbaugh's own show noted (in March 1995), even as late as five months after the election, a plurality of the public, 47%, were still telling a USA Today poll they'd never heard of the Contract.

At this point, a further word about the 1994 elections seems appropriate. One of the longstanding trends in American politics is that the party in the White House always loses seats in the midterm congressional elections. In the Republican takeover of congress, fully 92% of incumbents were reelected--hardly the "revolution" Limbaugh and various other commentators described. Turnout was low and exit polling showed that nearly half of those voting Republican were simply voting against the incumbent. As often happens in off-year elections, a small but well-organized, heavily financed and active minority was, due to low voter turnout, able to exert a sufficiently disproportionate influence to swing the overall outcome. As Limbaugh pointed out on his radio program only weeks before the "revolution," (Sept. 26, 1994), "Out-year elections, the party in power always loses."

Limbaugh knew this before the election. After, he embraced the fantasy that those elections represented a public mandate for the reactionary policies of the newly-minted Republican majority. He quickly began using this as a bludgeon against opponents of those policies, portraying any dissent as an attack on the public and on the notion of democracy itself. On his radio show (March 2, 1995), he said "That's what the election last year was all about; the people having a say in what happens to them." Responding to Democratic criticism that the Republican agenda in congress was extremist, Limbaugh said (radio show, Feb. 1995):

"...these people are telling the American people--they're not just talking about Republicans in Washington in Congress--when they talk about those Republicans in Washington in Congress, they're talking about the people that the American people voted for and elected, so Algore, whether he knows it or not, is insulting everybody when he says these people [Republicans in Congress] are extremists. And most people are not extremists and they don't take kindly to being called extremists."

On his radio show (September 25, 1995), Limbaugh was still stating that liberal congressmen, by opposing Republican policies in the 104th Congress, "are also insulting the people who voted for them, which is far more people than voted for the Democrats the last time around. They are engaging in a very risky strategy here by insulting the very people who made all this happen--the voters--which is what liberals have always done. They've just gotten away with it up until now." This concern for democracy was, of course, nowhere in evidence during the previous Democratic-controlled congresses, which, though they were elected by larger (and usually significantly larger) margins than the 104th Congress, were nevertheless subjected to unrelenting criticism on his program. It certainly wasn't there when Limbaugh characterized the rule of the president and congress elected two years earlier as "America Held Hostage."

Speaking of which, Limbaugh can't get Clinton straight twice running. He has repeatedly expressed his outrage with Clinton for governing against the popular will. On his radio show (Feb. 1, 1995), he said:

"To say he [Clinton] went against the tide is nothing new. He's always done that, from his first initiative--gays in the military--to that massive health care plan. He's always been at odds with the American people. Don't forget. I was one of the first to point out to you that I have never seen an administration which is attempting to govern against the will of the people as much as this one has. In my lifetime, I've never seen an administration which is so hell-bent on going against the will of the American people, but this one is."

Later that same year, public discontent with the policies of the congressional Republicans quickly grew into a festering hatred. Polling information from all the major news outlets was pouring in showing that huge majorities were opposed to every major Republican policy initiative. An ABC News/Washington Post poll less than three months after Republicans assumed control of congress asked, "Are Republicans doing what you want?" Only 35% said yes, while an overwhelming 62% said no. The same poll showed similar majorities, from 57%-77%, in opposition to what Republicans were putting forward on tax policy and welfare reform. Nowhere, though, was public opposition to these policies stronger than in the area of environmental protection. A Harris poll from August is typical of public reaction. Only tiny minorities favored less strict regulation of toxic waste disposal (2%), water pollution (4%), air pollution (7%), and wetlands (15%). Republicans had tried to weaken protection in each of these areas but between 52% and 80% of respondents said they actually favored stricter regulation in regard to each. And 60% said they opposed the efforts of the Republicans to limit the powers of the EPA. At this point, Limbaugh's outrage against those attempting to govern against the will of the public not only disappeared, he did a complete back-flip on the subject and began urging Republicans to ignore the public. In October, he advised "It's time to stay bold. It's time to ignore the polls."

And when it comes to this sort of thing, Clinton just can't win. On his radio show (164), Limbaugh commented on a news item about what he considered an excessive amount of money spent by the Clinton administration on polling:

"You, me, most of us... have principles, and it is their principles that guide their beliefs and it is those beliefs that guide their desires. Those beliefs and desires guide the way people go about achieving what they want, and when a person is firmly rooted in principle, it's easy to spot. They're consistent. You know exactly what they stand for. You know exactly what their objectives are--they tell you. Rudolph Giuliani is a name who comes to mind, a recent politician... You can see that Rudolph Giuliani is a man firmly rooted to his principles. You could say that about Reagan. Now, you might disagree with them, as I know some people did, but you knew what Reagan stood for... You may disagree with it all day long but you knew what he stood for."

He recalled that during the 1992 campaign, he implored Clinton's supporters to call and "name one thing for me that this man has stated that you want him in the White House to do. They couldn't. Nobody could... All this time, nobody could specify what Bill Clinton stood for. To this day, you can't really specify what Bill Clinton stands for." He continued:

"This has bugged me. It's bugged me that so few people cared, so few people seemed to notice that there were no guiding principles here. Well, this story explains why: there are no guiding principles. There are only focus groups."

This analysis, which Limbaugh has offered repeatedly, flatly contradicts most of his other commentary about Clinton, wherein he portrays the president as, instead, a committed ideologue. On hundreds of occasions, he's described Clinton with phrases like "hard-nosed ultra-liberal" and even "socialist" and has spent hour upon hour detailing why he thinks they're appropriate. This version of Clinton, the one spun by Limbaugh virtually every day, has shown a fierce, unwavering dedication to his alleged liberal principles over all other things. The reality of Bill Clinton, essentially a conservative opportunist, is nowhere to be found in Limbaugh's commentary.

Limbaugh condemns Clinton for ruling against the will of the people while also condemning him for allegedly ruling by polls, in accordance with the will of the public. He praises congressional Republicans who come to power during the off-year elections he'd earlier dismissed for ruling in accordance with the will of the people and goes so far as to say criticizing them amounts to an attack on the people who elected them, then, as the public clearly opposes their agenda, urges those same Republicans to be "bold" by ignoring the will of the public. He says the public makes the real decision about where it wants the country to go during presidential elections, then when the public chooses Clinton, treats it as "America Held Hostage." Clinton stands condemned both for being solid in his convictions and for not having any convictions.

This is what passes for political analysis in Limbaugh-World, a place where the sky must be a very different color indeed.

--j.


Other pieces of the Limbaugh book:
Rush Limbaugh: Plagiarist
Rush Limbaugh: An Economic Interpretation

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rush Limbaugh: An Economic Interpretation

Series Introduction:

Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, I wrote a book about Rush Limbaugh. I'd followed his career as he'd as he'd risen from relative obscurity to the biggest thing, literally and figuratively, on the radio and the de facto voice of the Republican right. For many years the Boss of the Republican party, as Keith Olbermann used to call him. The rise of right-wing media in general has meant he has much less influence these days but he has remained the top-rated commercial radio talk-show all these years.

My book, which was titled simply "Anti-Rush", was written in the mid-'90s, when he'd been at the height of his power and influence. It was never published and, in fact, never finished but I spent a few years on it and it was a pretty big one. Unfortunately, I lost most of it (and a lot of other things) in a computer crash. I still have part of it, material that survived on some old quarter-inch floppies. They're gone now too, along with some of their content, which was lost in subsequent years. I posted some material from my Limbaugh project on my News Reviews blog on what must have been a slow day back in 2015 and over the years, I've posted bits and pieces of it, including what I'm about to put up here, in other places around the internet. Eventually, I'll probably put up everything from the book that survives in any sort of readable form. Why not, right?

Some general notes: In the text, "TWTOTB" refers to Limbaugh's ghost-writer's first book, "The Way Things Ought To Be" and "SITYS" to his second, "See, I Told You So." When this was written, Limbaugh had moved into late-night television, a show that ran for four years and probably ended right around the same time as work on my own book (I don't exactly remember). In some instances, I've straightened out some bad sentence structure--left unattended, it calls to me in the night--but I've mostly resisted the urge to clean up the text, which is the unfinished work of a much younger writer. There are, unfortunately, few footnotes--the cleaned-up, completed version is lost forever--but at least most of the time-and-place data for the Limbaugh comments, which would have ended up in the footnotes, are cited in the text. I apologize in advance for the way this can bog down the text with multiple "on his radio show", "on his television show", etc.:


Rush Limbaugh is an enthusiast for war. Loves it. Promotes it. Hates anyone who opposes it, even makes them out to be traitors. There's one sort of war to which he's very opposed though, or so he says. When it comes to "class warfare," the Rotund One professes to be a strict peacenik. He, in fact, denies there even is any such "war," which is another example of his rhetoric falling woefully short of his own reality. His show is, in fact, a daily, relentless pursuit of class warfare. The basic axioms that guide him:

1) The rich = good, and
2) The less-than-rich = bad (or, at least, less than good)

These are, of course, entirely self-serving--Rush Limbaugh is a very wealthy man from a well-off background. Possessed of a strong authoritarian streak, he holds that a public needs a strong government to herd it around, keep it in line, be its "moral teacher." When he employs "anti-government" rhetoric[1], it's almost always aimed at government "interference" by progressive reform efforts with the prerogatives of the wealthy and the powerful, who apparently don’t need that strong authoritarian hand.

This brand of naked elitism isn't the sort of thing that generally draws a great deal of admiration from most people, much less a mass audience for a media personality, so Limbaugh adopts a populist pose to woo listeners. Being a mere pose though, it has no substance. He's just making it up as he goes and because his populist-style rhetoric doesn't emerge from any genuine conviction, it becomes very inconsistent, often hilariously so. He can't keep his made-up story straight. Monitoring his program for any extended period reveals a commentator who is forever becoming entangled in positions he's taken that are a complete contradiction to those he'd taken earlier. Usually, he just plows right on ahead anyway, and if many of his listeners seem to notice, they certainly aren't allowed to point it out on his tightly controlled show.

That isn't to say he's entirely lacking in consistency. He gets snagged by contradiction whenever he's trying to play the populist. He is, however, rigorously consistent when it comes to those guiding axioms. When he armors up to wage class warfare, he's unyielding. That's when he's speaking from the heart. That's the story he can keep straight.[2]

Limbaugh perpetually sings the praises of the wealthy and the powerful, referring to them as the "successful," the "achievers," the "producers," those who work harder than anyone. He'll have no part of any suggestion that these individuals are anything less than the most virtuous citizens in the country, representing the best in society, those who should be studied, emulated, all-but-worshiped. America should be "holding up successful people as role models..." (SITYS). At the same time, there is, in his commentary, an ugly undercurrent of the inverse--that the poor, the unemployed, the minority, the powerless are lazy, shiftless, amoral parasites on the successful, the personification of all that is bad.

In TWTOTB, he can write that he would be "just as opposed to rich people getting subsidies from the government as poor people." It was an easy, populist-appealing thing to write at the time; no one was making much noise in opposition to government subsidies for the wealthy. But in Nov. 1994, when Clinton's Labor Secretary Robert Reich suggested cutting back on corporate welfare, Limbaugh, who has been quite enthusiastic about any opportunity to cut off aid to the needy, became absolutely enraged--ranted about it for three days. On his tv show he said "Secretary Reich, how dare you, sir" equate giveaways to corporations "to having welfare moms having to now play by the rules" and compare corporate welfare to "a free lunch." On his radio program, he was positively indignant that Reich would dare "equate giveaway payments to people who are not productive," which he called "real welfare payments" (emphasis his) with corporate welfare. "To call that welfare is, I think, real arrogance and condescension and ought to show you exactly what these people think."

In fact, Limbaugh has actually insisted that the wealthy should receive more government services than those less well-off. On his radio program (April 4, 1995), Limbaugh said "the people paying a greater percentage of what they earn, if they earn a lot, then they ought to have more access to services... Now, I know that's going to aggravate a lot of you people but deal with it, because it's true." On his radio show (April 3, 1995), he decided the ideal tax "would be where each citizen pays the same amount. Pick a number, everybody pays the same number is the fairest of all. The fairest of all is the same dollar amount." Such a scheme would find a significant number of Americans at the lower end of the scale owing their entire annual income to the government--a telling remark about his notion of "fairness." Three years earlier, in April 1992, he'd offered a long monologue with this as its theme:

"It's time to get serious about raising taxes on the poor... Tax them. Let's balance the budget on the backs of the poor."

He wasn't serious, of course, but he wasn't entirely kidding either. Referring to that particular show in TWTOTB, Limbaugh said this was merely an example of his "demonstrating absurdity by being absurd" but that "I meant everything I said, save for the bit about actually taxing the poor. Other than that, I was dead serious and honest." With this in mind, some of the other things he said in that monologue are illuminating. A few examples:

"The poor and the lower classes of this country have gotten a free ride since the Great Depression when it became noble to be poor."

"The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples... They're the ones who get all the benefits in this country."

"...do the poor pay anything back? Do they pay any taxes? No. They don't pay a thing. They contribute nothing to this country. They do nothing but take from it."

Quite a contrast with his adoring comments about the wealthy.

Limbaugh hates the idea of a mandated basic wage for those employed at the bottom of the income scale. The minimum wage is one of his long-running targets and he has argued forcefully and at length for getting rid of it entirely ("I think it ought to be abolished." radio 1/24/96). When, however, congress was considering a proposal that would have limited to $1 million/year the amount corporations can write off as compensation for their executives, Limbaugh exploded: "They [the government] have no right to determine what's enough. It's none of their business what a company... pays an individual. They shouldn't set limits on it of any kind. It's none of their damn business what people earn, and we're headed down a dangerous road if we're going to let a bunch of people in Washington define 'enough'... That is unacceptable to me, totally unacceptable."[3]

Limbaugh despises the graduated income tax and forcefully rejects the notion of taxing proportionately more from those who are able to more easily absorb the burden in order to tax less from those who can't afford it. "Why punish achievement? Why punish people who work hard?" (Limbaugh on Donahue) On his radio show (April 1992), he decided "we can't continue to rob the rich. We have been punitive against the rich in this country."[4] The U.S. should, he's argued, "scrap the capital gains tax" (SITYS) but capital gains are already taxed at a much lower rate than wages and are the source of half the income of the wealthiest Americans. From whence is government revenue to come, then? When various regressive tax "reform" schemes--the "flat tax," the national sales tax, etc.--became all the rage among Republicans, Limbaugh became an enthusiast of them. The common element of these schemes is that they sought to shift the tax burden further away--and in a radical way--from those who can afford it and on to those who can't. Limbaugh became enamored of them all. When a caller pointed out to him that this would mean a big tax cut for the wealthy and a big tax hike for everyone else, he argued that such considerations are inappropriate, because it's no one's business what anyone else earns!

The punchline to all of this is that Limbaugh, while offering this running commentary dictated, root-and-branch, by elite class interests, poses as the staunchest opponent of "class warfare." On his radio program (1995), he offered up a typical rant against liberals, who, he said, are

"encouraging class hatred. They are encouraging class resentment. They are dividing a wedge between income groups in this country... It does not promote a nation of unity in spirit, togetherness--however you want to call it. It promotes a nation of resentment and class hatred. On purpose!" (emphasis his)

This is probably the single subject about which he speaks more than any other, how liberals and lefties divide up the nation by class, how they attempt to turn everyone against the rich, how this is such a damnable practice. "Liberals need to stop preaching class hatred," he tells us in SITYS. Nothing--and that "nothing" should be heavily stressed--nothing elicits more vituperative invective from Limbaugh than "redistributionists", "socialists," those who "engage in class warfare." While he wages class warfare every day. Rush Limbaugh is a very wealthy man. He rarely seems to have the best interests of his country in mind when he purports to speak for them. He looks out for his own interests quite well though.

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[1] It isn't true "anti-government" rhetoric, as would come from an anarchist; it's rhetoric aimed at government by liberal democrats, and liberal Democrats.

[2] His close attachment to the Republican party is an extension of this and he's remarkably consistent in pimping for what he sees as the interests of it and of his pet candidates, those whom he feels will more closely approximate the policies he favors.

[3] By the proposal Limbaugh was discussing, companies could still pay their executives whatever they wanted--they just wouldn't have been able to write off over $1 million a year.

[4] The "punishment" meted out to the wealthy in the U.S. has resulted in income inequality and a concentration of wealth that are both approaching record levels.

--j.