Rush Limbaugh: An Economic Interpretation

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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."


" 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.




[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.





Dino Manalis Added Mar 17, 2017 - 4:43pm
I listen to Rush, I don't agree with all his views, but he's generally correct.  With respect to CEOs, they should receive an executive salary, but profits have to be shared among all employees to show that everyone benefits when a company performs well, while bonuses ought to be rewarded on a competitive basis to any employee who demonstrates exceptional qualities beyond normal work requirements.  It could be a good idea for the company; humanitarianism; or something else.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Mar 17, 2017 - 5:06pm
I can't imagine anyone who's views are more opposite of mine in each and every imaginable way than this played out blowhard. Isn't his ridiculous radio program on the way out, or did they actually renew it after all? 
Leroy Added Mar 17, 2017 - 5:51pm
I think that is a fair misrepresentation of Limbaugh.
Bill H. Added Mar 17, 2017 - 6:59pm
The old windbag caters to those who need what they consider an "authority figure" to do their thinking for them.
Just like we are seeing with the Orange Buffoon.
Jeff Michka Added Mar 17, 2017 - 8:35pm
As Bill H writes: The old windbag caters to those who need what they consider an "authority figure" to do their thinking for them. Just like we are seeing with the Orange Buffoon.  - An we've all these WB rightists trying their daily "Rush" to be insultingly "hip," but they still can't do the imitation.  Perhaps an oxycontin addiction would help them like it did "Flush."  World class hypocrite, too.
J. Riddle Added Mar 17, 2017 - 9:27pm
Limbaugh was a hardcore, lock-'em-up Drug War guy who said horrible things about Jerry Garcia and Curt Cobain when they died, raking them over the coals as worthless human beings because of their drug use, and the whole time, he was strung out on pills. When he announced that he was going deaf--very likely a side-effect of his drug abuse--it seemed like more than just a bit of divine justice, it was a metaphor for his entire act: deaf and all mouth.
J. Riddle Added Mar 17, 2017 - 9:30pm
"I don't agree with all his views, but he's generally correct."
He withstands fact-checks as badly as any other major rightist media figure. One of the things that spurred me to write that book all those years ago was when Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting did a report called something like "Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error," which documented dozens of fictions, falsehoods, misrepresentations he'd peddled. Limbaugh's response to the report only made it worse, adding further lies to try to cover for the old ones (FAIR tore it to shreds as well).
J. Riddle Added Mar 17, 2017 - 9:35pm
Politifact, for example, has never been able to rate a single Limbaugh assertion as entirely "true," and of those it has examined, has only found two that were "mostly true." A full 81% of his comments the org has checked over the years turned out to be "mostly false", "false", or "pants on fire" lies.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Mar 17, 2017 - 9:37pm
It's hard to believe but my father use to be a big Rush fan back in the 1980's when he (my dad) was in his teens and had just came to America. I like to think it was because of his youth and inexperience because he did evolve beyond such madness thankfully! 
Louis E Weeks Added Mar 17, 2017 - 11:21pm
Rush is a commentator, the radical left attempts to transform him into more than he really is.  Rush gets paid to be over the top, he is not and has never been a news reporter so attempting to judge him by that standard is childish.
I will give Rush credit on a few things though, like he predicted the Tea Party was going to make a large impact on the Republican party and politics in general from the start, everyone else who were considered "smart" said the Tea party would not accomplish anything.  so on some ways Rush has a better measure on the public and society than most.
Let's not forget that once Trump won the nomination, Rush predicted that Trump would win and win big against Hillary when all the smarter people said Hillary would win.  Sometimes you have to give Rush credit where it is due, he certainly saw something nobody else saw.
Bill Kamps Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:04am
J. Riddle I disagree with very little of what you wrote except this:
He withstands fact-checks as badly as any other major rightist media figure
This should include ALL media, right or left. 
Until people like Rush, the media was almost exclusively left leaning.  This is not to say it is a good thing now that we have dueling media, on the left and on the right, both spewing nonsense, and both that treat spin as facts.  That are "stats that prove" Obama was a great President, and the left leaning folks are happy to trot out those facts, just as Trump is now assembling his facts to "prove" that he is fixing all the problems.  Meanwhile nothing really gets done, we are just spinning factoids, not accomplishing anything.
Leroy Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:24am
"Rush is a commentator, the radical left attempts to transform him into more than he really is.  Rush gets paid to be over the top, he is not and has never been a news reporter so attempting to judge him by that standard is childish."
I couldn't agree more, Louis.  I've always suspected that Rush was a liberal in sheep's clothing.  He preaches what sells.  I remember him being quite liberal on the 2nd amendment.  He opposed the confiscation of guns not because it violated the Constitution but because it wouldn't work.  If today he sings a different tune, it is because it sells.  He is a paid entertainer.
J. Riddle Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:48am
"This should include ALL media, right or left."
"ALL media" don't hold up to fact-checking that badly. So no, it shouldn't. Nearly all American dedicated right-wing media have integrated lying as a fundamental technique in their messaging. The corporate press (which is, itself, conservative) doesn't do that, nor does most liberal media (which is relatively tiny anyway).

"Until people like Rush, the media was almost exclusively left leaning." exactly the same way it was almost exclusively unicorn.
J. Riddle Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:50am
"he is not and has never been a news reporter so attempting to judge him by that standard is childish."
And aren't those people who don't like their wildly popular media personalities lying to them such silly people?

"I will give Rush credit on a few things though"
That is why you fail.
Louis E Weeks Added Mar 18, 2017 - 9:14pm
That is why you fail.
I do?  how interesting you shift to a personal attack every time you lose a debate, lol.
I seem to be doing pretty well as often as you have to turn to childish personal attacks to try and compensate my far lefty friend, lol.
You are wrong, Rush is a commentator, not a news anchor, his job is to sensationalize and entertain and he seems to be doing it very well.  I think maybe people like you are jealous of him that is why you attack him so much.
John Minehan Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:25pm
Limbaugh is a very talented broadcaster.  Additionally, 29 years of doing political talk at a national level have given him a very good read on political trends, as Louis Weeks points out.
People almost universally say he is a pleasant man and a true professional.
I suspect he has not necessarily been a happy man, but success in his chosen field is probably a great consolation.

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