12 November 2008

Seems Like Old Times

One of the many delights of the in utero Obama presidency is hearing the right wing radio commentators waxing apoplectic over the horrors that await America now that it's been taken over by the Marxists and the terrorists. If one of these clowns doesn't give him or herself a heart attack while ranting away, it will not be for want of trying.

Actually, I'd be more concerned for the well-being of the listeners, many of whom seem to take the paranoid flapdoodle of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage et al. far more seriously than the hosts themselves do. These past few days I've heard quavery-voiced callers ask Rush in all earnestness whether they should be stockpiling ammunition or preparing to flee the country. Whereas I've always harbored a sneaking suspicion that for all the expressions of alarm delivered in those mellifluously measured foghorn tones, Limbaugh could just as easily be preaching the socialist gospel if market research showed that demographic to be potentially more profitable.

The first time I regularly listened to Limbaugh was during the summer of 1990, when I was living deep behind the Redwood Curtain in Arcata, California, where few radio signals penetrated from the outside world. The only AM station that came in loud and clear during the daytime was one almost toxically right wing operation over in Eureka, and while at first I found it objectionable that there was nothing else to listen to in the way of news talk (on the FM dial there was the insufferably smug NPR/college radio programming of KHSU, but apart from the couple hours a week when they played punk rock, it was even more unlistenable), Rush's flamethrower invective gradually drew me in with its almost scatological vehemence.

Being quite a bit further left of center at the time than I am today, I began by being outraged at the blatant distortions and hatemongering, but eventually I saw the humor in it, and his ability to so viciously skewer the sacred cows of the PC and identity politics left felt naughtily exuberant in the cloistered, intellectually constipated realms of Northern California radicals and libsymps.

It was sometime that summer that Rush pulled what I still think was one of his cleverest stunts ever (presuming you don't count the ability to turn an outraged-loudmouth-at-the-corner-bar act into hundreds of millions of dollars): pretending to have "seen the light" and undergone a conversion to liberalism. For about a week he turned everything he had been saying on its head as he preached - very convincingly - the standard left wing gospel as his listeners called in, sometimes literally in tears, begging him to return to the fold.

When Rush finally fessed up to having been funning us all along, I was less impressed with his rationale for the hoax (something about demonstrating how easy it was to fall into believing cockamamie notions) than with his ability to pronounce diametrically opposed viewpoints and make each of them sound equally sincere. Ever since then I've never been fully convinced that he believed anything at all.

Sincere or not, Rush's views carried the day, and with the Republican hard right in the ascendancy, entered into what had begun to pass for the mainstream. Ironically, his seemingly all-pervading success proved to be his own worst enemy; as the 90s gave way to the Bush II years, Limbaugh was increasingly consigned to the last place a controversial radio host wants to be, that of boring irrelevance. With little to complain about, and with more fiery and, it must be said, more intelligent or at least more clever right wingers having stolen his thunder, Rush retreated into drug addiction and cranky grumbling.

So if he's a religious man, Limbaugh should be on his knees thanking the Almighty for the Democratic renaissance and the coming of Obama, which should provide him with sufficient cod-outrage to propel him into an extremely lucrative old age. Ditto (so to speak) for his fellow travelers, most of whom have already turned with a vengeance on McCain (or are claiming to have never really believed in him in the first place) and are plumping for Sarah Palin in 2012, which, unless Obama screws up massively in his first term, can only be a blessing for satirists in general, Saturday Night Live in particular, the Democratic Party, and all those who would like to see the rabid religious right wing of the once-respectable (albeit still mostly wrong) Republican Party wither into extinction.

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