Ian Williams: What Rush Limbaugh wrought

For the last 20 years, the right-wing radio host has distilled the essence of redneck prejudice

This week, Human Events, which has been "leading the conservative revolution since 1944", is celebrating the 20th-anniversary of Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh, of course, is the right-wing radio monologuer who has "remade American politics", according to Karl Rove, or is a "big fat liar" as Al Franken has called him, in homage to the man's own distinctively rebarbative style. A distinctively American phenomenon, his partisan rants would lose any British station broadcasting him its license.

Today is the official culmination of the Limbaugh dancing week – but meaner souls will think it overshadowed by last Sunday's events, when Jim Adkisson, a Tennessee aficionado of conservative talkshows, took their hosts' invective all too literally and shot up a "liberal" Unitarian Universalist congregation, killing two and wounding six congregants watching a children's musical. Caught up in a world of conservative talk radio, he reportedly expected to be able to carry on shooting unimpeded by the spineless, gay-loving pacifists, and was surprised when they tackled him and brought him down.

In keeping with a more reality-based liberal stereotype, the Rev William Sinkford, national president of the Unitarian Universalists Association of Congregations, provocatively turned the other cheek. "This crime was the action of one man who clearly must have lost the battle with his personal demons," he said. "When I was asked if the shooter would go to hell, I replied that he must have been living in his own private hell for years."

In fact, hell is listening to Limbaugh. However, I must admit, listening to the liberal opposition radio can be like languishing in limbo. Too many of them are dourly earnest and humourless, while, evil-minded, fact-free and malicious as Limbaugh is, he is a good performer with sense of humour that is wicked in senses ancient and modern.

The distilled essence of redneck prejudice is bound to appeal to an audience. Hell, if Father Coughlin, the anti-Semitic radio priest of the 1930s were around now, he would have an audience. And for many of the same reasons. There are indeed many people out there suffering financially who feel their plight is ignored and want to hit out at clear and identifiable targets.

"I'm not making this up," is Limbaugh's catchphrase. But, in fact, he often does just that. Rory O'Connor's book Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio, details the right-wing talkshow univers,e and makes the point that it was not just Limbaugh's native charm that got him launched on the airwaves. Rather, the concentration of media ownership, under a complaisant FCC, paved his way, along with the inspired political entrepreneurship of Fox CEO Roger Ailes, who offered the show free to local stations.

Adkisson and other angry listeners are more often than not the victims of precisely those unregulated concentrations of capital that put Limbaugh on the air, Chinese goods on the shelves of Wal-Mart and them on welfare. With Democratic leaders too wary to bite the hands that write the contribution cheques, but also too residually honest to invent scapegoats, no wonder an incisive populism can win listeners

Limbaugh's audience is so overwhelmed that they suffer from amnesia on the same scale as his megalomania. As he now boosts John McCain against Barack Obama, who remembers his comment that "all the candidates on our side, for various reasons, are uninspiring, or worse"? Who remembers the campaigner for drug-takers to go "down the river", as the same pill-popping poly-prescriptive panjandrum who copped a plea deal for going into treatment? Then, maybe he thought that OxyContin, like nicotine, was non- addictive, just as, in fact, he thinks carbon monoxide is non-toxic.

Nonetheless, there are times when Limbaugh's displays inner angst and rational thinking, not least when on the horns of a dilemma over whether to prefer a Clintonian "feminazi" or a "magic negro" as presidential candidate. The woman won in this battle of prejudices but only to sabotage the Democratic candidacy all together.

Nevertheless, if there is a clear and disturbing distinction between liberalism and Limbaughism, the reverend's comment expressed it. A liberal may hate the thought, but not necessarily the thinker. For the Limbaughs of this world, gays, blacks, liberals, feminazis, Clintons, Obamas and all the rest of his Grand Guignol dramatis personae are unpatriotic, not real citizens, maybe not even human. They deserve neither rights nor respect. This is Bush's Radio G'tmo. It epitomises the ethos of the age.

Twenty years of Rush Limbaugh radio? Eight years consecutive of Bush and Cheney? Surely it's time for parole?


Ian Williams

The GuardianTramp

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