The Late Molly Ivins on Limbaugh

Talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021) is no longer taking calls from his devoted listeners. Texas writer Molly Ivins summed up Limbaugh for Mother Jones in 1995:

One of the things that concerns a lot of Americans lately is the increase in plain old nastiness in our political discussion. It comes from a number of sources, but Rush Limbaugh is a major carrier.

I should explain that I am not without bias in this matter. I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn’t actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle.

I have a correspondent named Irwin Wingo in Weatherford, Texas. Irwin and some of the leading men of the town are in the habit of meeting about 10 every morning at the Chat’n’Chew Cafe to drink coffee and discuss the state of the world. One of their number is a dittohead, a Limbaugh listener. He came in one day, plopped himself down, and said, “I think Rush is right: Racism in this country is dead. I don’t know what the n____s will find to gripe about now.”

I wouldn’t say that dittoheads, as a group, lack the ability to reason. It’s just that whenever I run across one, he seems to be at a low ebb in reasoning skills. Poor ol’ Bill Sarpalius, one of our dimmer Panhandle congressmen, was once trying to explain to a town hall meeting of his constituents that Limbaugh was wrong when he convinced his listeners that Bill Clinton’s tax package contained a tax increase on the middle class. (It increased taxes only on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.) A dittohead in the crowd rose to protest: “We don’t send you to Washington to make responsible decisions. We send you there to represent us.”

[Note: If this sounds quite familiar, a Republican official from Pennsylvania was discussing Sen. Pat Toomey, one of the Republicans who voted to convict last week, and said: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to ‘do the right thing’ or whatever”. Now back to Molly Ivins.]

The kind of humor Limbaugh uses troubles me deeply, because I have spent much of my professional life making fun of politicians. I believe it is a great American tradition and should be encouraged. . . . So what right do I have to object because Limbaugh makes fun of different pols than I do?

I object because he consistently targets dead people, little girls, and the homeless—none of whom are in a particularly good position to answer back. Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people, as Limbaugh does, it is not only cruel, it’s profoundly vulgar. It is like kicking a cripple.

On his TV show, early in the Clinton administration, Limbaugh put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and asked, “Did you know there’s a White House dog?” Then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old at the time and as far as I know had never done any harm to anyone.

When viewers objected, he claimed, in typical Limbaugh fashion, that the gag was an accident and that without his permission some technician had put up the picture of Chelsea—which I found as disgusting as his original attempt at humor. . . .

The reason I take Rush Limbaugh seriously is not because he’s offensive or right-wing, but because he is one of the few people addressing a large group of disaffected people in this country. And despite his frequent denials, Limbaugh does indeed have a somewhat cultlike effect on his dittoheads. They can listen to him for three and a half hours a day, five days a week, on radio and television. I can assure you that [cult leader] David Koresh did not harangue the Branch Davidians so long nor so often. But that is precisely what most cult leaders do—talk to their followers hour after hour after hour.

A large segment of Limbaugh’s audience consists of white males, 18 to 34 years old, without college education. Basically, a guy I know and grew up with named Bubba.

Bubba listens to Limbaugh because Limbaugh gives him someone to blame for the fact that Bubba is getting screwed. He’s working harder, getting paid less in constant dollars and falling further and further behind. Not only is Bubba never gonna be able to buy a house, he can barely afford a trailer. Hell, he can barely afford the payments on the pickup.

And because Bubba understands he’s being shafted, even if he doesn’t know why or how or by whom, he listens to Limbaugh. Limbaugh offers him scapegoats. It’s the “feminazis.” It’s the minorities. It’s the limousine liberals. It’s all these people with all these wacky social programs to help some silly, self-proclaimed bunch of victims. Bubba feels like a victim himself—and he is—but he never got any sympathy from liberals.

Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger in our emotional lives—your dad wallops you, but he’s too big to hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of young white men without much education and very little future. . . . Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and aiming their anger in the wrong direction.

In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you couldn’t talk politics with a conservative without his getting all red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver with indignation—just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now we’re seeing the same kind of anger again.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] . . . has a sweet, gentle faith that truth will triumph in the end, and thinks it is sufficient to point out that Limbaugh is wrong. I say it’s important to point out that he’s not just wrong but that he’s ridiculous, one of the silliest people in America. . . .

It’s important to show people that there is much more wrong with Limbaugh’s thinking than just his facts. Limbaugh specializes in ad hominem arguments, which are themselves ridiculously easy to expose. Ted Kennedy says, “America needs health care reform.” Limbaugh replies, “Ted Kennedy is fat.”

Rush Limbaugh’s pathetic abuse of logic, his absurd pomposity, his relentless self-promotion, his ridiculous ego—now those, friends, are appropriate targets for satire.

Hoping for the Best & Getting the Worst

David Roberts is a writer for Vox who I don’t follow on Twitter anymore (he’s @drvox, but not a doctor). I don’t follow him because he’s so good at pointing out how bad things are. But somebody linked to what he posted today:

Untitled2

Among the many reasons this is horseshit, this whole genre of liberal-scolding rests on the premise that the offended heartlanders are responding to what Democrats actually say — the intramural debates in which people like (NY Times columnist Maureen) Dowd are involved. They’re not! 

By & large, Txxxx’s base has no idea what Dems actually say or do. They are responding to a ludicrous caricature they see on (Right Wing) media & RW social media. They are responding to lies & conspiracy theories. Dems changing how they talk *won’t change any of that*. 

It’s very weird how America’s elite journalists/pundits/etc. wring their hands over “post-truth politics” & the problem of misinformation, but then turn around & treat the things voters do as a direct response to Dem “messaging.” Voters rarely HEAR Dem messaging. Because — stop me if you’ve heard me say this a trillion times — the RW has a giant propaganda machine that carries their messages directly to the ears (& id) of their voters. Dems lob messages out into the (Main Stream Media) & hope for the best.

Unquote.

He could have added “& often get the worst”.

One More: All We Need to Know About the Republican Convention, Part 3

A few more thoughts from Paul Waldman of The Washington Post (I’ve removed several of the most painfully ridiculous quotes from last night’s horror show):

No one doubted that the Republican convention would be filled with insane fearmongering, bizarrely dishonest attacks on Joe Biden, and tributes to the party leader’s magnificence so over-the-top that they would not be out of place on North Korean state television. But watching the first night’s proceedings, something else came into focus: an entirely different President Txxxx from the one we all know, one whose actions and character are completely at odds with what we’ve watched over the past four years.

To put it simply: This is Txxxx fan fiction.

For the unfamiliar, fan fiction allows fans to take well-known entertainment properties and write their own scenarios into them, creating everything from brief stories to entire novels. What if Kirk and Spock were lovers? What if you threw Harry and Hermione into the “Star Wars” universe? What if the singers from “Pitch Perfect” had to fight zombies?

Or what if Txxxx were a caring, compassionate, totally non-racist person who saved America from the coronavirus pandemic? Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?

So Republicans decided that the way to handle the crisis affecting all our lives was to present an alternate timeline, a bizarro-universe story in which rather than spending months denying the coronavirus would affect the United States and claiming it was about to disappear, Txxxx was in fact the only one who realized how serious it was.

“One leader took decisive action to save lives: President Dxxxx Txxxx,” said the narrator of a video laying out a fantasy in which Txxxx personally wrestled the pandemic into submission.

Speakers were brought in to testify to how fantastically Txxxx performed and how much America benefited. . . .

You’d never know that over 174,000 Americans have died of covid-19, or that while many of our peer countries, such as Germany, Canada, and South Korea, have the pandemic largely under control to the point where their daily death tolls are in the single digits, America is still ravaged by the virus.

But not in the GOP fanfic. “Just imagine what 2020 would have looked like,” said cancer survivor Natalie Harp, had Txxxx not done such a magnificent job. “Millions would have died. Millions more would have been infected.”’

Just like in all those countries unfortunate enough to lack the benefit of Txxxx’s leadership, like … um … well, anyway, the pandemic is pretty much over, right?

Then there was the rewriting of Txxxx’s character. That Txxxx we all know, the petty, vindictive, crude, selfish narcissist who only seems comfortable around other humans when they’re telling him how great he is? Forget that guy. The convention gave us a fan-fiction version of Txxxx, one brimming with kindness and compassion.

“I’ve seen up close a man who has a deep love for family,” said RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, who literally was forced to change her name because Txxxx found the “Romney” in it displeasing. (She’s Mitt’s niece.) . . .

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told us “how much he truly cares about people” . . .

Former football star Herschel Walker testified too to Txxxx’s boundless love for ordinary people. . . .

Walker also insisted that Txxxx — he of the racist birther lie, “s—hole countries,” and too many bigoted remarks to mention — is actually a great friend to Black people. . . .

Four years ago, the Republican Party said to America: Why not the worst? What if we searched far and wide to find the most corrupt, immoral, ignorant, narcissistic, impulsive, childish, bigoted demagogue in all the land, a guy who cheats on his taxes and has been accused of sexually assaulting women and is a literal con artist, and made him president? Which we did, and we all know how it worked out.

So now they ask: What if we imagined that none of that actually happened? If we imagined a Txxxx who is kind, gentle, and compassionate, and the worst disaster of his presidency, the one that has destroyed so many families and left the economy devastated, never occurred? What if that spectacular failure was actually a tremendous success? Wouldn’t that be great? . . .

These Things Didn’t Hurt Them Much

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi apparently still believes starting an impeachment inquiry would hurt the Democrats in the 2020 election. It’s hard to understand why, since publicizing the president’s clear unfitness in televised hearings and forcing Republicans to endorse his behavior, if they chose to, would almost certainly hurt the Republicans.

David Roberts, who writes for Vox, cites an article that says impeaching Bill Clinton didn’t really hurt the Republicans (even though Clinton’s misbehavior was infinitesimal compared to this president’s). Mr. Roberts is angry and has a question:

Impeaching Clinton didn’t hurt Republicans much; stealing the 2000 election didn’t hurt them much; launching a disastrous war based on lies didn’t hurt them much; walking the US blindly to a global recession didn’t hurt them much.

Running a series of fraudulent investigations into fake Obama scandals didn’t hurt them much; gerrymandering didn’t hurt them much; abusing the filibuster didn’t hurt them much; stealing a Supreme Court seat didn’t hurt them much.

Working with hostile foreign power to elect a criminal didn’t hurt them much; running multiple concurrent state-based schemes to suppress or deny minority votes didn’t hurt them much; running concentration camps for children on the border didn’t hurt them much.

Building a whole parallel media apparatus devoted to propaganda didn’t hurt them much. Lying — relentlessly, endlessly, about climate change, about crime, about immigrants, about taxes, about EVERYTHING — didn’t hurt them much.

The U.S. right’s accelerating evolution into a party of lawless minority white rule, which has involved shitting all over truth, decency, and every democratic norm still standing, has not hurt them much. A really good question to ask is: why?

Well, one reason is that there are plenty of Americans who relish Republican bad behavior. Concentration camps for children? Hey, their parents shouldn’t have brought them here. The president is using his position to rake in the cash? That shows he knows how to play the game. All politicians are crooked anyway.

Another reason is that having “a whole media apparatus devoted to propaganda” helps a lot. The right has a national television network (Fox Television) and cable channel (Fox News) that both push right-wing propaganda while claiming to be more accurate than their middle-of-the-road competition. Talk radio shows all over the country push the same propaganda. The internet offers a steady stream of the same nonsense. These outlets feed off each other, creating a vast echo chamber. As a result, it’s easy for Americans who lean right to absorb Republican Party bullshit 24 hours a day. They can avoid the networks and newspapers that practice traditional journalism and, if they hear something troubling anyway, they can reject it as “fake news” from the “liberal media” since it’s not what they heard on Fox and Friends.

Thus, when Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman, declared that the president should be impeached, one of his constituents was curious:

Cathy Garnaat, a Republican who supported Amash and the president said she was upset about Amash’s position but wanted to hear his reasoning. She said that she will definitely support Trump in 2020 but that Tuesday night was the first time she had heard that the Mueller report didn’t completely exonerate the president.

“I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn’t heard that before,” she said. “I’ve mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn’t heard anything negative about that report, and President Trump has been exonerated.”

Millions of our fellow citizens don’t know what the hell is going on, either because they aren’t paying attention or because they’re immersed in “news” and commentary that’s seriously misleading. Throw in voter suppression, gerrymandering, the absurd Electoral College system, the over-representation of lightly-populated rural states in the Senate, outrageous hardball politics, journalists who fear being criticized by the right, feckless Democratic politicians and some fortuitous circumstances (James Comey’s big mouth, for example) and it’s easy to understand why the Republican Party isn’t hurting at all.

It doesn’t look like Bloomberg, Soros, Gates or Bezos are going to buy Fox and clean house, so how can we fight the Fox infestation? One thing we could do is find a way to make Fox TV and Fox News less profitable for the Murdoch family. Elizabeth Warren declined to be interviewed on Fox because she didn’t want to make it look like a legitimate news operation. If more politicians, actors and other notables refused to appear on Fox, if Fox’s corporate sponsors were pressured to take their business elsewhere, if Fox was subject to a national boycott, maybe the Murdochs would change direction. We need to do something, because, as a famous Republican once said, back when it was honorable to be a Republican, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

P.S. — If you want a taste of what they’re seeing, take a look at this random selection.