This is a portion of a book I once wrote about Rush Limbaugh, about 15 years ago. It was never published, and, in fact, a lot of it was lost via a computer horror story too ridiculous to describe with a straight face. I still have large portions of it. This is a rough of one portion of a chapter on Limbaugh's "skills" as a political analyst. There are no footnotes, unfortunately--the cleaned-up, completed version is lost forever--but, fortunately, most of the time-and-place data for the Limbaugh comments are cited in the text. Don't know if anyone will care--I just thought I'd post it here and see if anyone had anything to say:
[A note: "TWTOTB", below, refers to Limbaugh's ghost-writer's first book, "The Way Things Ought To Be", and "SITYS" to his second, "See, I Told You So."]
Given the extent to which Limbaugh's views are dictated by class interests, most observers could be forgiven if they mistook him for a Marxist caricature of a conservative capitalist. To draw an audience, he poses as a populist, but, because his populist leanings are nothing more than a pose, he shows no consistency in them. They are whatever he needs them to be at the moment to rally support behind some element of his class-dictated politics. Limbaugh views the Republicans as the best vehicle for seeing those policies enacted, and, as a consequence, he's a die-hard Republican party man.
"Republicans vs. Democrats" becomes, in Limbaugh's universe, good vs. evil. The only time Republicans are less than good is when, in his view, they're not conservative enough; the only time Democrats are less than evil is when they're conservative. He molds his political commentary around these basic axioms; they're the only consistent elements at work in his efforts at political analysis, which makes that analysis a case study in contradiction.
Limbaugh had spent a good deal of time in TWTOTB writing about the nature of politics and elections. For example, he asserted:
"The real debate about where this country should be headed takes place every four years when we vote for president."
Of the Democratic-controlled congress, he says in the same book:
"They have ignored the people's will on countless occasions and dismissed the fact that the voters have endorsed conservative policies in three presidential elections. People are not fools when it comes to electing a President. People know that election is a defining one. They study the candidates and they care about their decisions. They don't do that very often with elections for Congress."
Events subsequent to the publication of TWTOTB led Limbaugh to consign the whole of this analysis to a memory hole, and to advance a new one that contradicted the discarded one in almost every particular.
The first of these events was, of course, the election of Democrat Bill Clinton as president. Suddenly the idea that voters decided the direction they wanted to send the country via their choice for president didn't sound so appealing to Limbaugh.
The second event was the seizure of both houses of congress by the Republicans in 1994. Suddenly, Limbaugh decided this was one of those occasions when the decision about what direction the government should take WAS made in a congressional election.
Clinton was, of course, elected by a significantly larger number of Americans than later elected the Republican majority in congress, but, for two years after the Clinton election, Limbaugh began each episode of his program by describing the Clinton presidency as "America Held Hostage." When the Republicans gained control of congress in a sparsely attended off-year election, he dubbed the campaign "Operation Restore Democracy" and claimed it to be a success. Then, as the "Republican Revolution" began in earnest, he began opening his program with "America: The Way It Ought To Be."
Limbaugh had problems deciding why the Republicans won in 1994. At first, he was clear on what had happened. On his television show the day after the election, Limbaugh said, of the results, "It was a total repudiation of one man--Bill Clinton--a total repudiation of his policies and where he wants to take this country…. The Clinton agenda is dead. The people didn't want it." Such a view, that the vote was wholly a negative reaction against the much-demonized Clinton administration, served Limbaugh's purposes at the time. This changed almost immediately, and, with it, his analysis. Very soon, he was saying the public hadn't voted negatively after all. Indeed, he maintained, it had given Republicans that most mythical of all political beasts: a Mandate For Change. On his radio show in May 1995, Limbaugh said of the Republicans running in '94:
"They had plenty of negatives on Clinton, and they could've just run against the President, but they didn't do that. They came up with an agenda of things that they said defined them. 'This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we're for. This is what we're going to do.' It's called the Contract with America. It gave people a reason to vote in the affirmative, and I firmly believe people want to vote for ideas, for people, not against."
On his TV show (1-17-95), he said: "Go back to the campaign. The Republicans campaigned expressly and exclusively on substantive issues, the Contract with America." He added that Republicans could have gone negative but didn't: "[They] took the high road and stuck straight to issues."
This portrait of principled conservative Republicans boldly eschewing readily available sleaze in favor of real issues bore, of course, no resemblance to the actual 1994 congressional campaign, where the most popular RNC canned ad, used by Republican candidates all over the country, was one in which the face of their Democratic opponent morphed into that of Bill Clinton. Nor, more importantly, is it a fact that voters cast their ballots in any number of significant relevance to the election in response to the Contract With America, either pro or con. Exit polling showed that fewer than 12% of voters from either side had ever even heard of the Contract. As a caller on his own program pointed out to Limbaugh in March 1995, even as late as five months after the election, 47% of the public, in a poll in USA TODAY, were still saying they had never heard of it. A TIME/CNN poll taken immediately after the election asked "Which is most responsible for the Republican victories in Congress?" Half the respondents chose "voter disapproval of Clinton's job as President"--only 12% cited "voter support for Republican programs."
At this point, a further word about the 1994 elections seems appropriate. In the Republican takeover of congress, consistently described by Limbaugh and other commentators of the right as a "revolution," fully 92% of incumbents were reelected. Turnout was low, and exit polling showed that nearly half of those voting Republican were simply voting against the incumbent. As often happens in mid-term elections, a small but well-organized, heavily financed, and active minority was, due to low voter turnout, able to exert a sufficiently disproportionate influence to swing the overall outcome. As Limbaugh pointed out on his radio program only weeks before the "revolution," (on September 26, 1994), "Out-year elections, the party in power always loses."
Limbaugh knew this before the election. After, he consigned it to a memory hole, and embraced the notion that those elections represented a public mandate for the reactionary policies of the newly-minted Republican majority. He quickly began using this as a bludgeon against opponents of those policies, portraying any dissent as an attack on the public and on the notion of democracy itself. On his radio program on March 2, 1995, he said "That's what the election last year was all about; the people having a say in what happens to them." Responding to Democratic criticism that the Republican agenda in congress was extremist, Limbaugh said on his radio program in February 1995:
"...these people are telling the American people--they're not just talking about Republicans in Washington in Congress--when they talk about those Republicans in Washington in Congress, they're talking about the people that the American people voted for and elected, so Algore, whether he knows it or not, is insulting everybody when he says these people [Republicans in Congress] are extremists. And most people are not extremists, and they don't take kindly to being called extremists."
On his radio program on September 25, 1995, Limbaugh was still stating that liberal congressmen, by opposing Republican policies in the 104th Congress, "are also insulting the people who voted for them, which is far more people than voted for the Democrats the last time around. They are engaging in a very risky strategy here by insulting the very people who made all this happen--the voters--which is what liberals have always done. They've just gotten away with it up until now." This concern for democracy was, of course, never in evidence during the previous Democratic-controlled congresses, which, though they were elected by larger (and usually significantly larger) margins than the 104th Congress, were nevertheless subjected to unrelenting criticism on his program. It certainly wasn't there when Limbaugh characterized the rule of the president and congress elected two years earlier as "America Held Hostage."
Speaking of which, Limbaugh can't get Clinton straight twice running. He has repeatedly expressed his outrage with Clinton for governing against the popular will. On his radio show (2-1-95), he said:
"To say he [Clinton] went against the tide is nothing new. He's always done that, from his first initiative--gays in the military--to that massive health care plan. He's always been at odds with the American people. Don't forget. I was one of the first to point out to you that I have never seen an administration which is attempting to govern against the will of the people as much as this one has. In my lifetime, I've never seen an administration which is so hell-bent on going against the will of the American people, but this one is."
Later that year, public discontent with the policies of the congressional Republicans quickly grew into a festering hatred. Polling information from all the major news outlets was pouring in showing that huge majorities were opposed to every major Republican policy initiative. An ABC News/Washington Post poll less than three months after Republicans assumed control of congress asked, "Are Republicans doing what you want?" Only 35% said yes, while an overwhelming 62% said no. The same poll showed similar majorities, from 57%-77%, in opposition to what Republicans were putting forward in terms of tax policy and welfare reform. Nowhere, though, was public opposition to these policies stronger than in the area of environmental protection. A Harris poll from August is typical of public reaction. Only tiny minorities favored less strict regulation of toxic waste disposal (2%), water pollution (4%), air pollution (7%), and wetlands (15%). Republicans had tried to weaken protection in each of these areas, but between 52% and 80% of respondents said they actually favored stricter regulation in regard to each. And 60% said they opposed the efforts of the Republicans to limit the powers of the EPA. At this point, Limbaugh's outrage against those attempting to govern against the will of the public not only disappeared; he did a complete back-flip on the subject, and began to urge the Republicans to ignore the public. In October, he advised "It's time to stay bold. It's time to ignore the polls."
And when it comes to this sort of thing, Clinton just can't win. On his radio show (164), Limbaugh commented on an article he had read about an excessive amount of money spent by the Clinton administration on polling:
"You, me, most of us…have principles, and it is their principles that guide their beliefs, and it is those beliefs that guide their desires. Those beliefs and desires guide the way people go about achieving what they want, and when a person is firmly rooted in principle, it's easy to spot. They're consistent. You know exactly what they stand for. You know exactly what their objectives are--they tell you. Rudolph Giuliani is a name who comes to mind, a recent politician… You can see that Rudolph Giuliani is a man firmly rooted to his principles. You could say that about Reagan. Now, you might disagree with them, as I know some people did, but you knew what Reagan stood for… You may disagree with it all day long, but you knew what he stood for."
He recalls that during the 1992 campaign, he implored Clinton's supporters to call and "name one thing for me that this man has stated that you want him in the White House to do. They couldn't. Nobody could… All this time, nobody could specify what Bill Clinton stood for. To this day, you can't really specify what Bill Clinton stands for." He continued:
"This has bugged me. It's bugged me that so few people cared, so few people seemed to notice that there were no guiding principles here. Well, this story explains why: there are no guiding principles. There are only focus groups."
This analysis, which Limbaugh has offered repeatedly, boldly contradicts most of his other commentary about Clinton. Limbaugh spends most of his time before the public portraying Clinton as a hard-core ideologue, albeit one with which he completely disagrees. On hundreds of occasions, he has used phrases like "hard-nosed ultra-liberal" and even "socialist" to describe Clinton, and spent hour upon hour detailing why he thinks they're appropriate. He gives the impression that Clinton has shown a stone-like dedication to his alleged liberal principles.
At the same time, he argues that Clinton has "NO guiding principles." [emphasis his]
He condemns Clinton for ruling against the will of the public, while also condemning him for ruling by polls, in accordance with the will of the public. He praises congressional Republicans (who come to power during the off-year elections he had earlier dismissed) for ruling in accordance with the will of the people, and goes so far as to say criticizing them amounts to an attack on the public, then, as the public clearly opposes their agenda, urges those same Republicans to be "bold" by ignoring the will of the public. He says the public makes the real decision about where it wants the country to go during presidential elections, then, when the public chooses Clinton, marks it off as "America Held Hostage." Clinton stands condemned both for being solid in his convictions and for not having any convictions.
This is what passes for political analysis in Limbaugh-World, a place where the sky must be a very different color indeed.