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Monday, April 2, 2012

Rush Limbaugh's Republican Problem

By: Carl Wicklander

The fallout from Rush Limbaugh’s comments about a Georgetown University law student may finally be settling.

Conservatives like L. Brent Bozell III took the occasion to demonstrate that liberals have said worse things about conservatives than Rush said about this young woman. I’m loathe to sound like my second grade teacher, but one can’t help noticing many are using bad behavior to defend or at least look past other bad behavior.

A few perceptive conservatives have noted that Rush shifted the narrative in the health care debate with his poor choice of words. By referring to a young woman as a “slut” and “prostitute” for testifying in favor of subsidized contraceptives Rush made the narrative about his words and not the atrocity of taxpayer-funded birth control pills or the abridgment of religious liberty.

This is a fair point to make and is indeed perceptive. Rush’s words were distracting and not for the first time. It just so happened to backfire. I’ve written about the following incident before but in the aftermath of his recent kerfuffle it bears reiterating.

With Rick Santorum’s strong showing in the Iowa Caucuses, the inevitable reports were surfacing that the former senator was a big government Republican. On his January 4 program, Rush read from an article by Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute detailing Santorum’s history of supporting Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind, and earmarks.

As with contraceptives in the health care legislation, Rush changed the narrative. Instead of even acknowledging Santorum’s record, Rush reverted to a classic straw man.

Instead of either justifying or condemning Santorum’s support for Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind, and earmarks, Rush discussed how there were good types of big government: police, courts, and protecting the unborn and conservatives like Santorum supported them. By ignoring the actual charges of big government treachery levied against Santorum, he addressed irrelevant issues and declared Santorum clean.

Here’s another way of looking at it: I’m married to a beautiful woman. However, I am also carrying on a secret, steamy affair with another woman. Now my personal enemies are going around town saying that I am a lousy husband because I’m cheating on my wife. Then Rush Limbaugh, or some other spokesman on my behalf, comes out and says this is nonsense. Carl Wicklander obviously loves his wife and is a good husband. He is a good husband because he buys his wife fancy jewelry, takes her to elegant restaurants, rubs her feet after work, and even protected her when an intruder entered their house.

All the things my spokesman said do sound like good qualities in a husband. But notice that nobody claimed I was a lousy husband because of the luxuries I doted upon my wife. No, the basis for my lechery was the affair which went unmentioned by my spokesman. I am no more a good husband because of what I should be doing for my wife than Santorum is a small government conservative for supporting arms of the government that are permitted under the Constitution.

It’s hard to say whether this particular monologue had any impact on Santorum’s later support. After Iowa it was nearly a month before he won another contest. But it still illustrates the point: Rush is in the business of supporting Republicans. It’s also one of the reasons prominent Republicans never denounced Rush when he’s said objectionable things in the past. Why would GOP pols repudiate one of their most effective spokesmen? Sure, Rush might be embarrassing from time to time, but they can always count on him to rally the troops and support the party when the GOP really needs it. People who’ve said Rush was or is the leader of the Republicans have it exactly backwards. Rush is an obedient servant of the GOP because he is the one that gives them cover.

And here is the real problem with Rush Limbaugh. It’s not that he is a sexist, bigot, or homophobe, as his liberal detractors claim. It’s that he is a distraction – a distraction from real conservatism.

When there could have been a loud independent voice to express conservative opposition to George W. Bush’s big government shenanigans, Rush was his most vocal supporter. If there was ever a question that there was no difference between the GOP and conservatism that was it.

It is somewhat fitting, though, that a man who is frequently fashioned as the intellectual head of the Republican Party was reprimanded for calling someone a “slut.” It makes him the appropriate spokesman for a political philosophy that years ago whored itself to the GOP.

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
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