No One on The Corner Has Swagger Like Rush

Jerry Taylor dares to criticize Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity at National Review:

While I will admit to not listening to their shows, the snippets that I have caught over the years have irritated. One can agree with a majority of their vision regarding what constitutes good public policy and who is worthy of my vote while being annoyed by the manner in which their arguments are being made and chagrined by the dubious logic and dodgy evidence being forwarded to buttress their arguments. One can also be driven to frustration by the seemingly endless parade of political red herrings and conspiracy-minded nonsense that I have heard both of them traffic in.

I am certain that charges of “elitist!” will flood my inbox over this. But do either of these guys actually convince anyone (elitist or not) outside of the choir? Limbaugh’s popularity numbers suggest not (are any available for Hannity?). I think P. J. O’Rourke gets it right on this matter.

Katherine Jean Lopez responds (note her failure to grasp that “snippets” are all that most Americans hear as they formulate their opinion of conservative leaders):

Listening to “snippets” of talk radio will never do the job these men do daily justice. Have you listened to countless calls from on-the-fence or outright hostile listeners these guys take? If you have, I doubt you’d dismissively ask “do either of these guys actually convince anyone (elitist or not) outside of the choir?” Everyone loves to say Rush is an “entertainer,” which is absolutely true — he is entertaining — but he’s also a teacher. As I say to young people all the time, listen to him consistently and you hear someone who knows what he believes in. It’s why he’s so adamant that conservatism not be watered down or remade.

Popularity ratings are all fine and good, but more people hear what Rush has to say than know what the Cato Institute (or The Corner, alas!) is saying today. Rush and Sean are incredible assets for the conservative movement. And conservatives ought to appreciate and even celebrate that.

You might not agree with everything. You might do it differently. But I think our time is better spent each doing our part rather than shooting at those who are doing theirs — and successfully.

I think Ms. Lopez is mistaken on several points. An attentive listener who tunes into Mr. Limbaugh daily, as I once did while driving around the Inland Empire as a beat reporter, quickly grasps that conservatism isn’t the intellectual force behind his program. Of course, he does hold certain conservative positions, puts forth some bits of sound analysis, lays claim to some policy stances that I share, and loudly proclaims his allegiance to movement principles. At his core, however, he is an opportunistic rhetorician: if an opportunity to skewer a liberal arises he’ll take it, never mind the underlying principles, or even whether he defended a conservative for a similar sin two months prior; when loyalty to the GOP conflicts with adherence to conservative principles (e.g., 2000 to 2008) he generally sides with his party; he prefers capitalistic “creative destruction” to community preservation, which is fine and defensible but isn’t particularly conservative; often when he flouts political correctness, his purpose isn’t to speak unpopular truths — I’ll defend anyone doing that — but to rile his critics and make himself seem daring to an adolescent segment of his listeners.

Mr. Limbaugh’s most spurious arguments succeed in part because he is the preeminent talent in his medium. One unhappy consequence is that, insofar as he is a teacher, his pupils are prone to regurgitating monologues whose idiocy is laid bare when they are delivered by less talented communicators. I admit that I am vexed by Mr. Limbaugh partly because he is intelligent enough—and a talented enough communicator—to succeed even if he eschewed the constant red herrings, misrepresentations, double standards, unnecessarily pompous rhetoric, and spurious arguments. Sean Hannity at least has the excuse that his sole comparative advantages as a pundit, beyond his faux-friendly demeanor, is a willingness to transparently spout disingenuous talking points, manipulate his medium so that arguments are won on volume rather than substance, and antagonize guests in a most ungentlemanly manner. Were I raising a kid who argued at the dinner table as bombastically as Sean Hannity argues on television, I’d wash his mouth out with lattes and the dread Dijon mustard. God help us if he is teaching conservatives how to win converts.

Obviously, I dispute Ms. Lopez’s assertion that Messieurs Limbaugh and Hannity are incredible assets for the conservative movement—a proposition for which evidence is never cited. Is there any? It seems to me that as these figures rose to prominence, the conservative movement declined to its lowest ebb since Barry Goldwater, and the nomination of John McCain, the man Rush Limbaugh least wanted to win the GOP nomination, ought to cause conservatives to ponder whether the radio host is as powerful as they think he is. Sometimes I feel as though Limbaugh is the right’s version of the Hollywood celebrity fallacy — oh, that person has such a large following, they must be influential among the American people generally, and we’re so lucky to have them on our side!

Ms. Lopez concludes by writing that “our time is better spent each doing our part rather than shooting at those who are doing theirs — and successfully.” This is a restatement of Ronald Reagan’s dictum to never criticize another Republican (never mind that The Gipper didn’t actually follow his own commandment). I often wonder, when this is invoked by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity fans in defense of those men, why they never object to criticism of conservatives when it is Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul or John McCain or Colin Powell or David Frum or David Brooks or Ross Douthat or David Dreier or John Boehner being criticized. There is a strange phenomenon on the right whereby it is okay for certain Republicans to be criticized for what amounts to being heretics, whereas it is verboten to criticize other conservatives, because people on the right aren’t supposed to snipe at members of their own team. I’d oppose rules like that in any circumstance, but they might make internal sense were consistent characteristics used to determine ideological purity. In fact, one gets to be a conservative who must not be criticized based on some weird standard I cannot figure out, except to say that Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are all occasionally invoked as guys beyond criticism from fellow right-wingers, so multiple divorces, the idea that the executive possesses unchecked power in wartime, torture, warrantless wiretapping, atrocious immigration proposals and wild deficit spending are apparently not disqualifying factors.

I don’t get it.

UPDATE: Now that I think about it, the deciding factor is perhaps how much one is reviled by liberals, and how over-the-top absurd one’s most strident liberal critics are. Any other ideas?