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Dismantling the Limbaugh Syndrome

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Lo, the poor Rush Limbaugh presently caught in the fury of race politics. It could not happen to a nicer fellow.

We don't much like the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon here. This is a phenomenon that has become a syndrome. Blabber-mouth media based on innuendo and controlled, monopolized points of view has taken over and Limbaugh has been seriously responsible. It is a syndrome that has led the field of public commentary from one of professional, common and competitive search for the truth of situations and issues to one completely dominated by fiercely partisan, intellectually stunted methods. Limbaugh is not solely to credit or blame for this turn of events in American public life - the media at large, with very few exceptions, certainly plays the game to the hilt. The result is a shallow approach to character, to issues and to social reality in our public life.

Rush Limbaugh's talent is to drive huge audiences with a combination of wit and humor focused behind scathing, predictable and disgustingly partisan attacks on individuals and particular sectors of society. In the past decade, Limbaugh has certainly become the major field general in that army of rabid-wing talk show hosts who have gained way too large an audience and way too serious a place in the national American discourse.

The open secret is that Limbaugh (and his many ditto-head host imitators) rides the wave of the angry white man mode, that northern reflection of the Dixiecrat turned right-wing Republican attitude that cost Trent Lott dearly. Limbaugh's comment on black Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had all the earmarks: skirt the issue by making the media the subject of the attack, but basically attack a dispensable (all the better, black) target for the sake of making a partisan point about the liberal media in society. If possible, cast doubt on the quality of the black player by calling into question so-called "political correctness." It bombed. While the race-baiter in Limbaugh these days uses an increasingly clever language to signal umbrage at any expression of sympathy for black people's issues, nevertheless both motive and method ultimately reveal themselves.

Rush, the rabid-wing agitator, who has been the pain of so many people, is a partisan mouth constantly on the attack, no quarter given, no twist and turn of information too outrageous to use in order to bring the perceived enemy down. It plays to a huge audience because it dramatizes political discourse, and because it uses very well-developed mind-numbing techniques. Among the most useful: maneuvering listeners on a full three hours of unanswered monologue, during which a manipulative style constantly sets up real but embellished and mostly stereotyped "enemies" to bat around. With his infectious laughter and almost childish, giddy approach, the very clear and very quick and clever Limbaugh puts himself over an audience day after day.

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The mainstream media generally, pervasively and perversely these days, with very few exceptions, plays into the dirty, shallow game. We saw it in California, with so-called liberal (try liberally opportunistic) Chris Matthews, whose celebrity-pandering led the pack in Arnold-obsession, while giving virtually no time at all to Bustamante's and McClintock's quite serious and informative campaigns. Some will argue that Arnold's people ran a brilliantly timed campaign. This is partly true, but it's hard to beat both the Terminator and a Kennedy wife, with their open door invitation into every talk show in the country, from Oprah to Jay Leno, even when the candidate says nothing.

So, it is good to see any media-dominance and especially Limbaugh getting challenged. It seems fair that someone so constantly on the attack finally gets some scrutiny. Vilifying those ever-pernicious "liberals," along with their hordes of "special interests" and "race-oppressed victims," the "environmental wackos," the "femi-Nazi's" and the many other "imbeciles" and "dim-wits" that he chooses to so name, at various times including the Pope ("out of touch"), or Walter Cronkite ("fool"), Rush is by far the most propagandistic voice in the country. He nearly invented Clinton-bashing and his attacks, heard by 20 million people weekly, can and will fall basically on anyone who crosses his line, given the insider, toe-the-party-line, Republican Party operator that he obviously is.

For years, Limbaugh has overcome an audience lulled to his angry, sarcastic harangues that go on for hours on end. He rivets his audience by the drama of his rapier-like attack mode, which consistently is trained to accept the wide-brush besmirching of whole sectors of America. Sadly, these are invariably the most downtrodden and marginalized people in our society. Neo-con to the hilt, actually their most ardent field general (the rest are bureaucrats and academic pinheads), Limbaugh is a wonderful tool for the Neo-con cause, for which work he is very well-rewarded.

Problem is, as Limbaugh is finding out, his style can not actually stand up to a challenging national dialogue. Rush - think about it - never actually debates anyone on the moderate or democratic aisles, even people such as Al Franken or Molly Ivins or even a Ralph Nader - much less intellects like a Noam Chomski or a John Mohawk. His policy arguments and even his over-blown personality just don't stand up to immediate scrutiny, and certainly not to any depth of study. Limbaugh actually gets flustered quite easily - umbrage fits the man.

We despise the whole approach; it gains the people nothing to build lies upon lies of policy discerned from the logic of political infighting, where truth is so twisted in the quest to gain political advantage on opponents that only confusion and further chaos is possible. We like and yearn for the old, more balanced and trustworthy news and events information reporting.

So, by all means, shine the full spotlight on Rush Limbaugh, who has misled so many for so long. But while we are at it, let's initiate a campaign to educate all young Americans in critical thinking about how the mainstream media at large often wreak superficiality, sometimes playing us for fools. For sure, America's top talk-show mouth is not the big fat idiot comedian Al Franken proposed in his incisive book about him. In fact, Limbaugh has lost the fat. And, in fact, he was never idiotic. He is extremely clever, if insidious, and he has gone a long way in massaging and adapting a wide block of American minds to a very narrow way of looking at the world, thus limiting the ability of a serious piece of the public to respect the breadth of mind needed to arrive at sound intellectual appraisal of issues and situations.