"Limbaugh's language is not that of politics. It's the language of a cult."
-- David Frum on Rush Limbaugh and his audience
In his Newsweek article, "ENOUGH! A Conservative Case Against Limbaugh"
I belonged to a cult.
With David Frum.
I know, I know. Things like this, when uncovered, are career-enders. Whole futures are destroyed. Families, disgraced. Congressional hearings run by John Conyers and Henry Waxman loom.
Don't worry about me, though. My family did an intervention. I left the cult a few years ago and was successfully deprogrammed, or, as the deprogrammers prefer to say, given extensive "exit counseling." Frum, on the other hand, wasn't as lucky.
It's time to get all of this sordid, unsavory business out in the open. To brightly shine the light of truth on the darkest of secrets. With the support of my family, I have decided to go public.
As a former cult member, I resolved to write a book about my experience because I felt I owed an accounting to my family and friends. I was determined, in the words of my old friend André Malraux, to be "one of those who did not return from Hell with empty hands." The book, originally titled Say What? has now at my editor's urging been re-titled simply Witness. It is scheduled for publication when finished.
So….here goes. Here's what I know.
The object of this cult, as with all cults of course, is mind control. Something that can only be achieved with deceptive techniques designed to recruit and indoctrinate the members. Ultimately, as pointed out in Treatment Today Magazine some years ago, the clever deceptiveness of the whole program results in a targeted individual like myself or poor Frum having a reduced capacity to assimilate and critically analyze some combination of the following three things:
* The individuals exerting control over him or her (the group's leadership).
* The conditions affecting his or her well-being (including diet, living conditions, health or safety hazards).
* The influence of his or her actions, because of these circumstances and conditions, on others (such as family, peers, or more helpless members of the group).
How, you may ask, did I ever get myself involved with such an insidious group?
It started, as it always does, so innocently. The bright lights beckon to the boy from the provinces (in my case Pennsylvania via Massachusetts) dazzled by the cult's glossy, larger than-life image. The Invitation to join the cult arrives after college, always from someone already a cult member in good standing. The small first-car is packed, the leave-taking of teary-eyed, anxious and (in retrospect) cult-wary parents is had. Day One on the job, at my first cult reception, I was given a smiling pat on the back by a longtime cult member who said, quite literally, what all cult members believe to their core: "Welcome," he said, "to the Center of the Known Universe."
Who wouldn't be thrilled? I always knew it! What fabulous Kool-Aid!
Before long I was working my way up through the ranks of the cult. Having a great time at the Center of the Known Universe. I did the cult grunt work required of all newbies. Spent considerable time studying the turf of the cult's physical home base. I learned the language of the cult. (For the uninitiated, this includes buzz phrases unintelligible to non-cultists like "What happened in Approps today?" "Call the cloak room." "What do the internals say?" and, always said with the air of studied casualness required to emphasize how accustomed one is to the fact, "I have to be on the Floor" or, the ultimate in Cult-speak, "I have a meeting in the Oval.")
I learned how to dress like the other cult members. This is important for both male and female cult members because it shows you know how to Fit In. The standard for approved daytime male cult attire is a navy blue suit, plain or pinstriped, dress shirt with cuffs for the cherished cult cufflinks and a red or blue power tie. After dark it's black tie. If you aren't dressed to fit in, well, somehow in some way you will be informed by a designated cult member, even if you don't understand what is actually being communicated. How fast you pick up on this determines how well you will progress within the cult. Being featured as a bad guy on the cover of a cult magazine is definitely a clue.
There are other aspects of cult life that one quickly learns. The correct places to live in cult land. The correct cult-approved friends. The sacred rituals, the latter often involving the most advanced form of cult dress for males known simply as "white tie."
Most importantly, cult members are quickly instructed that there are always Outliers, (also known as the Unclean or sometimes, borrowing from Scientology, the "Pre-cleared") trying to infiltrate the cult. To change it or worse, to wreck it altogether. People like this have been known to growl "Get off the phone you big dope!" over national radio shows to fuming cult groupies. There are a few who, not even cult members themselves, have the gall to aspire to positions of serious leadership within the cult, bypassing the ladder-like cell system in which one is absorbed up through cult ranks over years if not decades. This process is necessary to test one's loyalty to the cult as a whole. Non-membership in the upper ranks of these cult cells presents a serious threat to the cult, and is dealt with severely.
Most recently, just last year, this was attempted by an attractive non-cult female, referred to with appropriate scorn in cult circles as The Woman Outlier. This impudent female brazenly attempted to take over the position of Deputy Cult Leader (known within the cult as The Veep.) The Woman Outlier was greeted with furious anger by cult leaders. Specific cult members were detailed to inflict a harsh public punishment for such an egregious violation of cult rules, sending cult leaders onto the airwaves of approved cult media outlets to do the proper trashing.
As happens on occasion, some cult members were so convulsed with the furies at this kind of intrusion into The Way of The Cult that they took it upon themselves to inflict punishment on the Outlier Offender. These cult members are titled Defenders of the Purification, and, if they demonstrate skill in their efforts, are frequently awarded the highest civilian honor of the cult, the Order of Purification First Class. As it happens, Mr. Frum's recent article in Newsweek and his fervent defense of cult purity against The Woman Outlier in the 2008 election have ignited rumors he is under serious consideration for this venerable cult award.
Last but certainly not least there is the cult social life. Ahhhhhhhh the social life. This is a Very Big Deal for the cult and, as always, means owning (not renting) the requisite black tie or modestly stunning evening wear if one is a female cultist. (Not too stunning, though. This cult is not Hollywood or New York. Jennifer Lopez would not be allowed to hang out here.)
In Frum's defense, meaningful communication with a thoroughly programmed cult member is difficult to establish, with the cult member (myself once upon a time, Frum in this instance) refusing to recognize or even admit to any exploitation of self by the larger group. Insularity is key to the cult's success.
Yet for those outside the group, and especially those like myself who have successfully received exit counseling, the signs of exploitation and insular thinking are easily recognizable. Again in the case of poor Frum, while he may not be able to understand his plight, a study of his website, The Talented Mr. Frum (also called TheNewMajority.com) will serve to illustrate
What do you see when you arrive?
Well, as this is written there's a cute bit about dating advice for impoverished bachelors, written by four conservative women. (I confess as a bachelor living amidst the increasing ruins of the Obama poverty-for-all program I was immediately drawn to this.) Next is a section for current news that has four posts, one from Mr. Frum, two from the Washington Post and one from a new site covering the 2012 GOP nomination race which declares The Woman Outlier to be a pawn of the dissident cult member known as Pitchfork Pat. Next up is a feature on the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute, replete with photos. Followed by an attack on pork by a young conservative rising star. A speech by an Obama adviser at the Brookings Institution. And more, including, naturally, the Newsweek cover with Rush's scowling image and Frum's byline splashed across the cover, proudly writ large.
Notice anything? Can you see the telltale signs of The Cult? Really, you don't even have to squint. It's not in 3-D.
Look a gain at the items on Frum's front page (although they may have vanished when this is published, sure to be replaced by that cult favorite, More of the Same.)
The control by the cult leadership is immediately evident in the dating advice written by the four women. Three are identified as cultists themselves, which is to say they live and work in Washington. The fourth, a Betsy Hart of Chicago, sounds suspiciously like a Betsy Hart formerly of Washington who once worked around the corner from my own office in The Cult House, a large white pillared confection that is the physical center of cult worship. Thankfully, this good woman seems to have had an excellent exit counselor (although perhaps exiting to the land of Blago is problematic.)
The conditions affecting Frum's perception of well-being are supplied in the current event section of this blog by the…. Washington Post, oracle of all the cult's Given Truths.
Last but certainly not least, the influence of both the larger cult on Frum and Frum on the cult is vividly captured in the photos Frum brandishes of the annual AEI dinner, a (what else?) black tie affair in Washington befitting a conservative Washington think tank. Not to be ignored is the Washington speech by the Washington Obama adviser that was delivered to a liberal Washington think tank. And the rising young conservative star who wrote the article on pork? That is actually written by Mr. Tim Mak, a rising star of the conservative movement -- in Canada. Still, the pull of the cult is so strong that young Mr. Mak appears to be trying out for a cult apprenticeship in Washington before setting his sights on Ottawa. The cult is always in the business of spreading its tentacles.
Taken together what we have here on this so-called "NewMajority" website is a snapshot of the troubled if sadly typical mind of a cult member, in this case Mr. Frum. Quite ironically and surely unintentionally, what is captured here is very much the beliefs of The Old Majority. Washington, D.C. is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end for all cult members. The fount of all wisdom, judge of all that is -- and is not -- appropriate. The rules are set there in The Center of The Known Universe. Rules of what's appropriate to say -- and not say. What's appropriate to think -- and not to think. To do, and not do. How to speak and, as The Woman Outlier Palin discovered, how not to speak. How to dress, and how not to dress.
FYI to non-cult members (that would be the bulk of 300 million Americans): what was Rush Limbaugh wearing to deliver his CPAC speech that was so disdained by Mr. Frum and other cultists? Answer: not the cult wardrobe. Do you wonder what was, in part, going through the minds of cult members as they watched Rush address -- gasp! -- the nation not attired "correctly"? You think I'm kidding, don't you? You don't seriously think the sniffs directed at Rush were really just about his appeals for free market economics, color blindness and a strong national defense, do you?
Quite inadvertently, Mr. Frum's attack on Rush Limbaugh has opened the door to a subject he and his fellow Washingtonians surely never intended. The nation's capital does in fact function as something of a cult. If I learned nothing else in my time in Washington working from House to Senate to White House and Cabinet staff I learned that. It is no accident that Frum is appalled at the influence of both Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, neither of whom are in good standing of the Cult of Washington, D.C. To be a serious advocate of freedom, of capitalism, free markets, of a political system that regards people as human beings with equal opportunity instead of beans to be counted by race, color, creed or gender, to seriously challenge the conventional wisdom -- and infinitely worse, to do so while not dressing or speaking in cult approved fashion, much less openly refusing to pay tribute to the cult, is a violation of All Things Holy as determined by the cult.
It's no wonder Mr. Frum does not understand Limbaugh's language. The language of millions of everyday Americans is not spoken where Frum hangs his hat. The place where he drinks the Kool-Aid.
Take it from me, Mr. Frum.
Get yourself a good exit counselor.