Of my own free will, I listened to the first 45 minutes of Rush Limbaugh’s talk show Monday. As expected, he was angry at those who suggest his ilk are partially responsible for creating an environment in which extremists feel freer to act on their extremist beliefs.
I find small doses of Rush interesting from a communication perspective. How does he attract such an incredibly large audience? Most liberals, who can’t get past his content, are loathe to admit that he’s a talented and skilled communicator.
Are his ideas more insightful than other radio hosts with smaller audiences? Do people tune in each day because he’s an original and brilliant thinker whose insights challenge, surprise, and enlighten? Of course not, of course not.
My Limbaugh-listening friends would answer this way, “Wrong again Ron, it is his content. Rush skillfully fills a huge void created by the left-wing mainstream media. He taps into what me and a lot of other people believe about small government, the excesses of multiculturalism, and free market capitalism.”
My liberal friends might offer up hypotheses that denigrate his listeners. “Rush doesn’t believe half the stuff he says. He’s grown fabulously wealthy by figuring out how to tap into people’s fears, and worst, most basal instincts. The lowest common denominator in action.”
I believe Rush succeeds in attracting such a large audience for three reasons.
1) Rush does believe what he says. He truly is as conservative as an analysis of his thousands of transcripts would suggest. If his passion for his beliefs was manufactured, it would have subsided a long time ago.
2) Rush has created separation from the competition by being more more consistently ostentatious than the typical conservative talk host at your local radio station. Your local personality might be irritating, Rush is incendiary. Most ideologues are content to ruin the occasional dinner party, Rush isn’t afraid of a national furor.
3) Most people are overwhelmed by the complexity of contemporary life and appreciate Rush’s simplified, nostalgic vision of life where moderates and moderation is excoriated. Rush provides answers. People find comfort in his absolutist, broadest possible brush, black and white world inhabited by good and bad guys, patriots and dissenters, nationalists and internationalists, capitalists and socialists, one enlightened and one evil political party.
My vision for this blog as a place for “people who find meaning in essential questions, ambiguity, conceptual thinking, and nuanced discussions” is at complete odds with Rush’s modus operandi. Were Rush to read my “what this blog is about” statement, he’d laugh heartily, and say, “Good luck with that.”
But I don’t need luck. All I need is some counter-cultural readers who want to help create an alternative.