Why Do People Listen to Rush Limbaugh?

Despite the fact that he is batshit crazy, Rush Limbaugh continues to reign supreme over the GOP. The conservative talk show host has styled himself as the voice of the Republican Party, even as he spews hate-filled rhetoric and brazenly reiterates his hope that the president fails in his attempt to rescue the country from one of the worst financial crises in history.

His posturing is met with only quiet muttering by more moderate conservatives. Meanwhile, politicians who vocally challenge Limbaugh end up slimily backpedaling within one news cycle.

Why does Limbaugh inspire a strong enough following among many conservatives to warrant public respect by GOP heavyweights, who, undoubtedly, also privately think he’s batshit crazy?

In a recent article on AlterNet, Deepak Chopra suggests that Limbaugh’s popularity has little to do with what he’s actually saying. Instead, what keeps people tuning in is Limbaugh’s style -- that particular brand of loudly blared bile perfected by conservative talk show hosts in their decade of dominance over the airwaves.

According to Chopra, shock jocks like Limbaugh:

... exist purely as steam vents. The common citizen gets to be pissed off by the millions, unrelentingly, without cease or solution, and in return, he is praised. To be outraged is to be morally superior.

Your anger strips away tolerance, sympathy and regard for "the other." Hence the almost imperial bearing of Limbaugh, the bland certainty that because he never stops being angry, he never stops being right.

AlterNet readers had a chance to vent in response to the article.

Kcdrew writes that we shouldn’t underestimate the danger Limbaugh represents by viewing him as a distraction or a catharsis for bitter voters:

No, you can't merely be "entertained" by Rush "Porkulus" Limbaugh. You could, if he weren't any harm to people, but he is, and that's the problem. What he does to those same illegal immigrants, women, gays and all the rest of us he doesn't like is real damage.

If it were only a joke, it would only be funny and entertainment. He does damage.

And that's not funny.

peacefullaim1 also argues that Limbaugh is no joke:

While I admire and respect Dr. Chopra, I'm with you, kcdrew, on this one. Limbaugh brings out the worst in his listeners. There is something unhealthy to the point of sinister is the way he matter-of-factly states the most absurd and hateful things. He, quite literally, makes me sick...

John Annis agrees:

You're absolutely correct, and people would do well to consider that by according him any status, including that of Court Jester, they are giving him credibility.

Vile reptiles like Limbaugh have split the American public, perhaps irretrievably, and you will have to live with the consequences for years to come. It's not a prospect I could countenance, and I am surprised at the idea that this creature should be given any more breathing space.

In many European countries, a lot of what he says would be considered inflammatory and inciting, and he would be dealt with appropriately. After all, who needs this kind of filth? Don't we have enough hatred around without paying some hatemonger $400 million over the next few years just to spread more?

If you treat him like a clown but still listen to him, you are part of the problem. Why don't you just park him in the nearest psychiatric facility and move on?

But bizeeb is spooked by the seeming call for censorship in John Annis’ comment:

"In many European countries, a lot of what he says would be considered inflammatory and inciting, and he would be dealt with appropriately."

Censorship is never the answer. I hate defending people like Limbaugh, but if you think he shouldn't have the freedom to express himself, then you are in the wrong, not him.

Annis counters:

This is how liberals allow people like him to flourish, by allowing him rights which he would not be prepared to allow the rest of us.

If we have a Muslim preaching hate every weekend, and inciting other fanatics to rise up against us, then this is regarded as incitement to violence and/or hatred, and is a criminal offense.

If we have neo-Nazis (for want of a better term) holding meetings to further an agenda of anti-Semitism, then they are breaking the law.

If we have people like the odious Westboro Baptist Church spewing their anti-gay filth, then they are breaking a law and will be punished -- in fact Fred Phelps would not be permitted access to this country (the U.K.).

This is not about censorship; it is about the rule of commonsense law. We do not have people like him here, and he would not be permitted a platform. Show me one thing he has ever said which is positive and constructive and designed to be inclusive. Who needs this?

This is not about someone's right to free speech. It is about keeping a bowl of pus boiling in the kitchen and putting up with the stench because of some imaginary "freedom." You try exercising your "freedom of speech" in a public place controlled by the fascists and see how far you get before you are arrested.

Bizeeb does not agree:

That's pure B.S. Rush Limbaugh does not go on the air and urge his listeners to commit crimes. (Jesus, I can't believe I'm defending Rush Limbaugh!) He says the usual Reaganesque crap that conservatives have been saying for 30-plus years.

Further, do you think that Germany's banning of Nazi symbols such as the swastika is appropriate? If so, you're not really in favor of free speech. Claiming support of free speech while allowing certain "overly offensive" things to be banned, is not support of free speech, it is supporting censorship.

Biflspud calls out both liberals and conservatives for engaging in smears and politicking at the expense of intelligent discourse:

Both left and right are attempting to brand each other in order to deflate the other side's arguments without actually considering them. Look at the current and continuing efforts to brand Obama as a socialist Muslim -- regardless of the logic of the stimulus package, we are told we need not think that hard, because being a socialist, Obama filled the stimulus full of socialist agendas.

So, with Limbaugh rearing his ugly head, the left is spinning him as the face of conservatism. Conservatives are like Limbaugh, and they want you to lose your job.

It's clever politicking, but it's not discourse. Then again, we haven't had relevant political discourse in this country for decades, so it's not surprising that we see little more than clever gamesmanship.

But Lilly points to something that’s different about the conservative version:

Millions of Americans are chronically full of rage. It's a short step to justifying that rage by turning it into a feeling of persecution (I am angry at being denied what I deserve because I am white, Christian, male, etc). And persecution, in turn, justifies aggression (what's being done to me is unfair and I'm not going to take it any more). This puts the aggressor on moral high ground. It is exactly there, on the moral high ground, that such as Limbaugh and [Alaska Gov. Sarah] Palin do their evil dance, assuring the already rageful that not only is their rage justified, but that a conduit exists between their rage and something that's happening in reality. Limbaugh is a propagandist, and Palin is a rabble-rouser. Does anyone remember the 1930s in Europe?

kegbot1 agrees that we should well remember what talented rabble-rousers often represent:

No matter how much people tried to make America a bastion of liberty and freedom (and succeeded for the most part, albeit in fits and starts) there has, almost from the beginning, been a strong streak of fascism lurking just below the surface in our society.

I think, if we engage in pop psychology, that there are, in any population, a percentage of people with authoritarian/strong-father personalities. They seek the comfort and security of a strict order where everyone is made to behave under an enforced set of social and legal rules. Throw conservative Christianity in that mix (perfectly constructed for that kind of mind), and this is what you get.

Zooeyhall has another explanation for Limbaugh’s popularity:

I live in Nebraska, and this horrible man's voice is blaring from almost every radio you hear. A sad commentary on the people in my state.

I would just like to add one other observation. This thoroughly unpleasant man is not just a "steam valve" for so many others' frustration. He is also a role model for many others out there -- reaffirming their own ruthlessness and harshness. I see it in so many managers, CEOs and others. This is the worst legacy of the guy.

frantic1971 brings up an intelligent solution:

We need to offer a viable alternative to Mr. Limbaugh. Rather than just sputtering -- as many posters here -- that his listeners are "idiots," "racists," "hicks," "right-wingers," etc.

I know many people who listen to him, and these people are not evil. They are just ordinary folks who are concerned about their jobs and their precarious economic situation. So when when Rush rants against illegal aliens, they are going to agree with him ...

Like it or not, the stark fact is that Limbaugh has definitely had success, and that millions of people listen to him faithfully. And I submit that this is due almost as much to a failure of the Left as it is to whatever dubious "gifts" that Rush has. We (Progressives) cannot just fall back on condemning all these people with smears and our own prejudices. Somehow we need to recognize why it is that the right-wing radio and Web sites are attracting so many. We need to offer an alternative.


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