The Rush to socialism

I have to admit a dirty little secret: since the election of Mr. Obama, I’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program every day. And I can’t stop. It’s actually quite embarrassing; I have to make sure that I’m turned back to FM when I have friends in the car, and I have to lower my volume as I approach red lights, for fear that the normal person in the next car might overhear me listening to the “EIB” (Excellence in Broadcasting) network.

Not since I was much younger, and even more of a leftist, did I listen so religiously to Limbaugh’s show. I would scream at the staticky AM radio and punch my steering wheel in disgust and disagreement with the self-proclaimed “doctor of democracy.” I’d listen to people call in and declare – usually in southern accents – “Mega -dittos, Rush, from American’s heartland,” before launching into their peeves regarding this or that liberal member of Congress or media outlet. (“Mega-dittos” is shorthand for “Hell yes, Rush! I agree with everything you say!”)

It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve last tuned in, and I was instantly astounded to find that the show is exactly the same; even the music used to introduce the different segments of the program is completely unchanged. Because I lived back in Jersey when I last listened, I sometimes experience weird olfactory hallucinations: “Is that a Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwich that I smell?”

The show does sound different in a couple of ways: maybe it’s the never-ending craving for OxyContin, but Rush sounds much angrier than he used to. In the old days, he was much more of a fun-loving asshole as he lamented the danger posed by “femi-nazis” or “enviro-wackos.” Now he just sounds like a pissed-off old fuck. Like someone who causes you to wave over your server and ask to be seated elsewhere in the restaurant.

Another area in which the show is different is the inclusion of the word “socialist.”

Like many others who were glued to NPR during the month leading up to the election, I assumed that calling Obama and/or his policies socialist was just a ploy by the McCain campaign to scrape up some votes, but after hearing Rush throw the term around, I think it’s actually much more involved than that.

Many of us who spend too much time thinking about such things consider past Republican success to lie in the party’s ability to bridge the gap between economic and social conservatism. The argument is basic, and suggests that both groups are too small to ever carry a national election.

William F. Buckley is credited by many to be the architect of what was to become the Reagan revolution. After Buckley’s explosion onto the scene in the early ‘60s, Republicans no longer cared if you were a Protestant member of a country club as long as they could count on your vote – you could be Catholic, Jewish, or even African American. The trick, and Buckley’s genius, were based on the idea of moralizing economic issues: in other words, that free market capitalism was not only the optimal economic model, but also the only moral economic model.

Voila! Social and economic issues were moral equivalents and fused as one.

Groundbreaking at the time, the idea is so insanely simple: paint capitalism (and individual freedom) against communism (and atheistic fascism). Obviously, during the height of the Cold War, this was an easy sell – people tend to believe all sorts of crazy shit when there’s imminent nuclear annihilation to consider.

Enter McCain and Huckabee: the real danger to the Republican party (the “vanguard of personal freedom”) is not Obama or Pelosi, though conservatives like Limbaugh will continue to rail against them till the proverbial cows come home. The last two candidates in the GOP primary highlight the real danger to the party. To diehard conservatives like Limbaugh, these two men are the horsemen of the apocalypse. They represent the splitting of the party. Remember, neither conservative faction can win on its own.

This is not to say that one is a perfect economic conservative and one a perfect social conservative, but it is clear that they both energized different segments of the party. And with Palin on deck (a woman who “went after big business”), the future for a Republican victory in ’12 doesn’t look bright in Rush’s drug-glazed eyes.

So what this all means is that the rhetoric of socialism is just a desperate effort by fiscal conservatives to sell the social conservatives on the old Buckleyesque recipe. But with no Cold War against the Atheistic commies looming on the horizon, and given our economic woes, the sales pitch will likely fall on deaf ears.

So why will I keep listening to Rush? I guess I just love witnessing his bitter old death-throes, and the smell of hallucinatory Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches aint bad either.

6 responses to “The Rush to socialism”

  1. Dave says:

    Nice one. “Socialism” scares people, but its resonance is dying as the Cold War fades into history. Socialism used to mean the GULag and Red Dawn; now it’s, um, Sweden and universal health care? Poor Rush.

  2. amare stoudemire says:

    i have a coworker who was lamenting the socialism of the left but was actually shouted down by other vaguely righwingers who pointed at the bailout headlines and asked what was so different about what her republican president was advocating. i hope that’s one of the (admittedly painful in the details) unexpected gifts of dubya, his incompetence may have killed the myth of reagan once and for all. if socialism merely becomes stimulus and joe the plumber (what circle of hell is reserved for that tool?) gets universal health coverage then what is left to demonize? of course, the problem with kansas is that once they have have their shiny new health care and their home prices have stabilized they’ll be able to spend a lot more time worrying about what the gays are up to or who didn’t hold their salute to the flag long enough. that’s what still kills me about 2000-if times were slightly worse people may have been too scared to entrust the government to an obvious fool but since they felt flush they went with likability and culture wars lite. times are serious enough that i don’t think scare words like socialism will pack the requisite punch, at least until the midterms. who knows, maybe “liberal” is next off of the endangered usage list.

  3. swells says:

    In the same student presentation on Marxist literary theory I saw yesterday and referenced in Dave’s post, the group made a handout with some “fun facts” about Marxism, and one was “Did you know Barack Obama is a Marxist and is very much in contact with its literary criticism? Or at least he was in his college years.” I just bit my tongue and let it slide, especially since it came at the bottom of the page under “John Lennon and Bob Dylan are down with Marxist criticism. So is Rage Against the Machine!!!!!” I love how “reading a text for its implied critiques of power structures” translates eventually into “the president is a commie.”

  4. Tim says:

    Hey Scotty,

    Thanks for listening to Rush so I don’t have to. Wows. Just contemplating listening to that blowhard for longer than it takes to change the station makes my blood boil and my skin crawl.

    Also, this is an excellent analysis of the right-wing’s fear of McCain and Huckabee. I’d never thought of it that way, and now it makes perfect sense.

    Have a happy Thanksgiving everybody!

  5. Jeremy says:

    I once spent a summer listening to Rush (I spent another summer listening to Laura Schlessinger… I guess because I love to be infuriated?). This was years ago. At the time, I laughed off most of his craziness and bigotry and sexism. But now he infuriates me, mostly because of how many people actually do listen to him–doesn’t he have more listeners than anyone else in radio? My only hope is that a large percentage of these listeners are people like you, Scotty, who are merely waxing nostalgic over ham-and-cheese sandwiches…

    One of my favorite Rush comments: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” Quite a guy.

  6. Scotty says:

    Jeremy, don’t mistake the subject of this post to suggest that I don’t stick around for Dr. Laura. That shit is truly intriguing!