Has Rush Limbaugh ‘jumped the shark’? That depends on what you think his purpose is. Is he, as Michael Steele no doubt wishes he hadn’t said, just ‘an entertainer’? Or is he the de facto leader of the Republican party, as so many liberals would like him to be?
Rush Limbaugh is not the head of the Republican party. And he’s not just an entertainer. He is…. Rush Limbaugh. And frankly, that’s ‘the way things oughtta be.’
Rush Limbaugh has arguably done more than any other conservative commentator to give regular folks a voice – to help the average conservative understand and articulate the views he’s always taken for granted. He gives the guy on the street not only a voice but a vocabulary with which to voice his frustrations. He’s helped put many members of the Right on the same page by serving as a sort of ‘shared text’. The taxi driver who doesn’t know what laissez-faire means can discuss economics at length with a fellow ditto-head because Rush gave him the means to do so.
Is this vocabulary out-dated? Has Rush ‘jumped the shark’? Not yet.
While it’s true that he probably does have less pull with the younger generations than with the 40 and above crowd, he’s still a very necessary part of the movement. And until a more effective successor comes along, he’s here to stay.
In a recent post John Mark Reynolds criticized Limbaugh’s address to CPAC, saying it was “a bad speech”, addressed only to his base, poorly delivered and badly thought out. I disagree.
While I agree that Rush’s influence on the current crop of college students may not be what it was in years past, I think the now-famous CPAC speech did exactly what it needed to do. Do we need new leaders who can inspire the next generations of young conservatives? Absolutely. Is Rush the best man for that job? Arguably not, though the generation gap isn’t yet wide enough to create problems of the scale that Reynolds suggests. The current crop of college students may not call themselves ditto-heads, but their mentors and heroes within the movement still do, and that will continue to be very significant for awhile yet.
Rush delivered his speech just as he delivers his radio show, and his audience would have been disappointed by anything else. It wasn’t poorly delivered, it was Rush doing what he does best – being himself. I suspect that a carefully-crafted, content-rich speech would have been less effective (see Bobby Jindal) than the admittedly rambling address that was delivered. Yes, he appealed to his base, but that’s how he appeals to a broader audience. He would have been less effective if he had tried to reach out or used less of the ‘insider lingo’ that Reynolds found disappointing.
Of course it was, as Reynolds said, “a bad speech as a speech.” Speech-making is not what Limbaugh does, and it’s not what he needs to do – he’s better off doing what he does, and so is the movement. We certainly need brilliant, carefully thoughtful and nuanced leaders who will draw in more and more young republicans, but we also need a Rush Limbaugh to rile things up from time to time and to give conservatives an easily accessible set of ideas and terms with which to get started.
Rush will reach his end, but he’s not there yet. Perhaps he’s not the best spokesman for the generations to come – time will tell – but when that spokesman comes, he’ll still have Rush to contend with, and he’ll have trouble if he doesn’t do this well. Just ask Michael Steele. ‘