Rush Limbaugh’s Appeal

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.


In Defense of Eavesdropping

I can’t help myself.

If I’m waiting for an airplane, eating at a restaurant, walking out of a movie, setting up at a triathlon, I tend to listen in to other people’s conversations going on around me. Awhile ago, when eating out, my better half “caught me” smiling at someone else’s conversation and shot me her elementary teacher “disappointed in you” look. I suspect she would prefer it if I focused lovingly on her eyes all the time, waiting patiently for whenever whatever is communicated. 

But her disapproval is misguided because eavesdropping is a form of curiosity, a positive attribute. 

Admittedly, one’s curiosity in the form of eavesdropping can take publicly acceptable and unacceptable forms. I don’t sneak onto the phone as family members are taking calls, I don’t sneak into their email accounts, and I don’t move closer to you at the airport or in the restaurant so that I can hear your conversation. 

One reason I don’t do those things is I don’t have to. To generalize, relative to many other people around the world, Americans are loud, so a lot of times people consciously make their conversations public. I trust you’ve met Loud Cellphone Person once or twice. “I’M DOWN AT THE GATE! Pause. WHEAT! ONION! GREEN PEPPER! BUT NOT TOASTED!” I’m not as fond of eavesdropping on LCP because 1) the content is usually inane and 2) I don’t like having to imagine what LCP’s friend is contributing to the conversation. It’s like watching Serena hit the ball without Venus on the other side.

Listening to talk radio is a form of eavesdropping. Reading is a form of eavesdropping on other people in other places and other times. When we go to a theater, pay $10 to see a film, we sit down with a hundred other people and in essence say, “Let’s all eavesdrop together, shall we?” Why is listening to the radio, reading and watching film, all windows of sorts into other people’s lives, perfectly okay, but listening into a conversation in the chairs, booth, lobby, or bike rack next to me is not? I don’t think all the people on the radio, in print, and on film have given their implied consent.

When I listen in to what other people are saying, and by extension thinking, I’m expanding my perspective on the different ways people interpret their surrounding and make sense of the world. It’s a natural activity of a social being. 

All of us do it, in different forms and to different degrees.

I’m okay, you’re okay.