Rush Limbaugh’s speech to CPAC (transcript) over the weekend seems to be the political story of the week. It’s probably a bigger story than it should be. Why it is such a big story is interesting to ponder in itself.
Over the years I have come down on Rush hard. I’ve called him Republican Water Boy and Statist Monster. I have a lot of problems with him, but I agree with something Leonard Peikoff said on his radio show back in the ’90s, that Rush is better than his enemies on the left. (Dr. Peikoff’s opinion of Rush might be less now that he sees the religious right as the greatest threat to American freedom.)
The worst thing about Rush’s speech is his religious explanation of freedom:
Freedom — freedom is the natural yearning of the human spirit as we were endowed by our creator. And the United States of America is the place in the world where that yearning flourishes, where freedom is expected because it’s part of the way we’re created.
Freedom is good because man’s nature as a rational being needs a political system that protects individual rights. However, there is no yearning for freedom instilled in man’s soul by a supernatural being. If people have sufficiently good philosophic premises, they will want to be free. Bad premises will lead to a yearning for dictatorship. (See our nihilist left and Islam.)
His religion notwithstanding, Rush is an individualist conservative. A college dropout who never cared much for big, boring books, his nonintellectual quality has actually saved him from the corruptions of modern philosophy. He is a product of the American sense of life. He speaks to average Americans with an ease and authority that is unmatched. This is why the left wants to destroy him: he represents the individualist America they are trying to wipe out and “recreate.”
Rush got huge publicity when he said he wants Obama to fail. The left has made much of this statement, thinking they can persuade people that Republicans are unpatriotic because they want their president to fail. It’s funny when you remember that for eight years the left actively worked to ensure that Bush would fail at home and abroad.
But who would not want Obama to fail? In his own words he wants to “recreate” America. He wants to expand state power over the individual. Any sane person would want him to fail.
The Kossacks and the Democrats want to make Rush the leader of the Republican Party. They think this will destroy the party because independents do not like Limbaugh a whole lot. All they are doing is giving Limbaugh free publicity. Do they really want to make such a big deal out of a man who has 15 hours of radio time a week to bash the hell out of the left? I’m convinced that some of the independents who tune in out of curiosity to find out what all the hubbub is about will be persuaded by Rush. Many independents and moderates are just people who have not paid enough attention to politics to form an opinion. If those people begin paying attention by listening to Rush, they could very well become conservatives. Sounds like the Kossack left is in Wile E. Coyote mode again.
As always, the left is as bad as we expect it to be, but the right manages to be even worse. The neoconservative David Frum, who thinks Republicans should accept the welfare state to remain politically viable, shares the left’s idea that Rush is poison to independent voters.
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.
Notice that Frum’s analysis is all about image. Never mind that Obama wants to turn America into a European socialist state — he’s soft-spoken and in shape, two things Rush Limbaugh will never be. It looks to me like Frum has given up on the rationality of the American people. Ideas don’t seem to be important any more.
“Crunchy Con” Rod Dreher, who opposes strip malls because they offend his esthetic sensibility, says Limbaugh is not a conservative. In a way, he has a point.
It is Rousseau conservatism: the idea that man is born innocent, but corrupted by society, or government. Remove the chains of government, and man will return to his natural, good state, which is one of limitless possibility. This denies two bedrock truths of philosophical conservatism, which are that 1) human nature is fallen, and 2) man must learn to live within limits. A conservatism that is not founded on a conscious recognition of those two truths is a false conservatism, and has a shaky foundation from which to criticize liberal utopianism.
To Limbaugh’s line, “As I say, we want the best: Happiness for everybody,” Dreher responds,
I give up. It’s going to be a long, long Lent for American conservatism.
For Dreher, Limbaugh is not a conservative because he thinks too highly of human nature. Dreher is absolutely right! Dreher’s contempt for man leads him to embrace environmentalism and big government. And Dreher is the true conservative. The contradictions between conservatism and capitalism lie in Rush Limbaugh, not in Dreher, Frum, David Brooks and the rest of the big government conservatives.
Rush is the last of a dying breed, the pro-capitalist conservative. Once he is gone, maybe those who love freedom, reason and individual rights can finally junk conservatism and religion and move on to a radical capitalism.
UPDATE: Politico reports that the Democrat campaign to demonize Rush Limbaugh comes straight from the White House. Perhaps this is the fruit of Obama’s training in Alinskyism. More discussion here, here, here and here.