The Spectacle Blog

Rush Limbaugh is a leader. Period.

By on 3.3.09 | 3:37PM

Speaking as an unabashedly Pro-Rush self-styled cocktail-party attending intellectualoid wannabe, or whatever you want to call it, I'm bewildered at the number of people misunderstanding of Rush's role.

Yes, he is an entertainer -- you have to be to keep an audience for 3 hours every day -- but he is also a leader in thought. This may make the more nuanced among the right uncomfortable, primarily because he doesn't confer with anyone before making his thoughts known. He's unpredictable. It is because Rush does not confer with others that he is a leader. It is because Rush is independent that he sets himself apart.

In setting himself apart he also makes fun of those he disagrees with on radio, while maintaining distance from the process. And that last is both the cosmetic and the substantive charge against him. That it's easy for the man behind the mic to rile people. Especially when he gets paid a lot of money to do it.

This last bit is a sham. Rush has enough money. He has a contract. He doesn't have the insecurity that comes from trying to elbow your way to the center of attention at all time. Look at his ratings: They're always up. A friend remarked, the other day, that Obama can create his own momentum by giving a speech. The same is true of Rush -- an unlikely, but accurate, comparison.

Beyond that, he also fights when others won't. It takes a keen sense of the times to know when to direct your listeners to melt down the congressional switchboard. It takes a keen sense of the backbone of political leaders, who are more skittish, not less, than Rush. He puts his reputation at stake whenever he takes a position -- and he does so gladly, because of ideas. And if you don't buy that the man is infatuated with ideas, then listen to the first 20 minutes of his show every day for a week. Try it and say the man doesn't have a philosophy behind his understanding of the world. Like it or leave it, just don't be dismissive.

And he does more than most columnists. Name a person in the media that's able to motivate others the way Rush motivates his listeners. Keith Olbermann? No. Bill O'Reilly? No. How about columnists? Does Paul Krugman motivate others? MoDo?

Oh but he's a populist attention grabber, they say. Oh? You mean because he speaks to more listeners every day than any other host? Because he has an audience that considers what he says? When someone has people behind him, who think that for the most part, he's right, but understands his shortcomings and sometimes disagrees (as they do on his show frequently), you know what we call that person? A leader.

You may not want to designate him as your leader. But it is the pinnacle of ignorance to think that the most-listened to radio host in America is not a leader. He does play an important part in the movement, and denying that is placing him in the category of a crazy uncle. If we assess leaders by influence, Rush wins out over Steele any day.

[To take a bit of wind out of my own sails, though, I can understand what Steele was getting at. I think he was genuinely being inarticulate. But at the point where Steele's main qualification is his ability to fight the war in the press, it should be concerning to many that he wasn't prepared for this familiar trap. Liberals have always tried to make conservatives apologize for the statements of their brethren. "Does Ann Coulter represent you?" is the question I always get. Note to Steele: When someone asks you something like that, respond rhetorically. Does (INSERT YOUR "CONTROVERSIAL" CONSERVATIVE PERSON HERE) claim to be my leader? And if so, why are you asking me and not him?]

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