Rush Limbaugh is being borked.
So is Raymond’s wife. And John, and Rick and George too.
The War of the Boomers is heating up.
One of the borkers is a Hollywood gossip, another a media critic and, well, the list is long. I could write a book on borking, and as it happens, I have (The Borking Rebellion). Yet it occurred as one watched the Rush Limbaugh-Michael J. Fox episode unwind that there is something else going on here, a curious something else that is increasingly bubbling to the surface of our national debates and is perfectly represented by the Hollywood gossip reporter, one Janet Charlton, along with the media critic Neil Gabler and others.
The Borking Rebellion was designed to serve two purposes. First, it was a behind-the-scenes story of the confirmation battle over a Bush judicial nominee, Judge D. Brooks Smith — a longtime best friend of mine — who was overwhelmingly well thought of in Western Pennsylvania legal circles. Then his nomination arrived in Washington. The real-life story takes place in the middle of the liberal interest-group borking-mania that defeated Judge Charles Pickering and nominee Miguel Estrada while stiffing nominees Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, and others. Smith unexpectedly won in a harrowing fight against opponents who were interested not in defeating his arguments but destroying his life. The book told the insiders tale of just how that victory happened and why, naming names of the bad guys in the episode, a number of them household names.
Second, the book was meant to serve as a case study of “borking” — how its done, what to look for, who fronts the money and supplies everything from the questions to nominees to the unfavorable media coverage of the nominees. Above all it discusses the best tactics to defeat a borking. Having been in the Reagan White House when Robert Bork was borked, I knew something about the subject, which was a huge help when the same borking guns were turned on my friend Judge Smith years later.
With the single difference that Rush Limbaugh holds no office, there is no question that the furor raised over his remarks bears some of the tale-tell traits of a borking as outlined in the book. From the massive negative media attacks to the deliberate misrepresentation of what he actually said (and, critically for a radio show, how he said it) this was — and maybe still is — a borking in progress. While he’s not a candidate for political office, the job that his foaming critics want to eject him from is Limbaugh’s humorously self-proclaimed job as “America’s Anchorman.” Come to think of it, the huge reaction to all of this combined with the size of his audience and the number of people who look to him as their main source of news makes the term a fairly accurate description of reality.
It was in the course of writing the case-study side of the book that I discovered a small but curious fact that I think has some bearing on all of this. One of the most vitriolic of Judge D. Brooks Smith’s opponents was Washington lobbyist Ralph Neas. Neas was then and still is the president of the far-left People for the American Way, the special interest group founded by Hollywood producer Norman Lear. After the attempted transformation of the Judge from pillar of the Pittsburgh legal establishment to right-wing crazy, an image not even Pittsburgh Democrats bought into, I noticed from Neas’s posted schedule that for someone who was so severely critical of a Pittsburgh judge he never seemed to spend time in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else in Smith’s Western Pennsylvania bailiwick either. He did route himself back and forth on the track between Washington, New York and Los Angeles.
It became pretty clear in all of this that there was a considerable level of contempt from Neas and friends not just for Smith but for the people who lived in what liberal bi-coastals love to call “flyover country.” I noted this towards the end of the book, and moved on. But in retrospect I think Neas’s actions speak to the core of what is unfolding in the Limbaugh-Fox episode.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, LIKE BILL GATES a college dropout, is certainly a well-traveled, well-read and culturally current, very worldly baby boomer. His taste in rock and roll or comedy as expressed on his show reveal him to be what used to be called “progressive.” In this he is not in the least atypical of his (my own) generation.
Some variation of this description would also fit actress Patricia Heaton, the co-star of TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, she too a baby boomer. Their respective fan base includes precisely the area of the country — which is to say most of it — that Ralph Neas likes to avoid.
Yet in a nation of increasingly well-educated people, there is a new turn in the seemingly endless tales of liberal elites and their snobby pretensions that go beyond their disdain with the physical and economic (middle class) heart of America, a place that many used to call home and now view as a place from which they had to escape. It is a place once described to me by a liberal friend as “the belly of the beast.” That turn can be summed up in one word: betrayal.
Educated, culturally hip baby boomers can do what we want and succeed — or fail — at just about anything. With one glaring exception. Were Rush Limbaugh exactly the same but a liberal, were Patricia Heaton gifted with all of her current success, but a liberal — there would be no controversy to be had. But both of these people, like Judge Smith — or others like UN Ambassador John Bolton, Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Justice Clarence Thomas and most especially like Yale and Harvard educated President George W. Bush to name a few — are not liberals. They either were from the beginning or they gradually became conservatives. To have the audacity to be both a baby boomer and question the prevailing baby boomer liberal wisdom, to actually agree with middle America on the most important issues of the day is to risk sheer, unmitigated fury from one’s generational peers. To do this with the credentials of politics, the law, the media or Hollywood securely in your background is to set off a borking, the object of which is not to disagree but destroy.
Let’s look at a few recent examples. Limbaugh, sneered liberal media critic Neil Gabler the other night, is a “cancer to American discourse.” (Gee, if Rush is a cancer what must Gabler think of Fox News — his employer? Too much to stop the checks, one guesses.) Actress Heaton’s taped opposition to Michael J. Fox’s commercial, snarled baby boomer gossip Charlton, makes her “an embarrassment to evolved women.” Said the gossip to the woman who thinks it a bad idea to entice low income women with big checks so their eggs can be removed, cloned, used, and destroyed: “Shame on you, Patricia. This sentiment isn’t acceptable in progressive California.” Not to be outdone is the always thoughtful Alec Baldwin, who sniffs Sunday in the New York Times that he should be Governor of New York because “I’m Tocqueville compared to Schwarzenegger.”
Even funnyman David Letterman let what one must now presume to be his funny mask slip to reveal nothing more than another angry liberal baby boomer brimming with contempt as he spoke with his guest (guest!!!) Bill O’Reilly, the only remotely humorous thing said being “bonehead.” Letterman has journeyed one long way from the heart of Indiana. Then there was the appalled tone of ABC’s Kentucky-bred Diane Sawyer as she discussed the Limbaugh-Fox dustup, replete with the clucking disapproval of a now very liberal lady who lunches with the likeminded of Manhattan. There was even the buy-in of the basic anti-Limbaugh assumption from the normally sane Fox correspondent Douglas Kennedy as he discussed where Limbaugh got into “trouble.”
Trouble with whom?
Neither Limbaugh nor Heaton are in trouble with a whole lot of people who are simply dismissed by those who, like professional borker and baby boomer Ralph Neas, shuttle between the coasts or gravitate mainly towards one of its major urban centers.
THIS KIND OF PROBLEM HAS surfaced before in American history. Two American presidents — LBJ and Richard Nixon, smart men both — could more than arguably have been said to suffer real inferiority complexes at the catcalls from their Ivy League or liberal elitist critics.
Yet there is a considerable difference today with all of this. It’s hard not to find a boomer involved in politics or Hollywood or the media who does not have, one way or the other, a very good education literally or certainly culturally. In short: there is no conservative out there involved in the political battles of the day who, LBJ or Nixon-like, has the slightest sense of intellectual or cultural insecurity in taking the stands that they do. They know their critics — well. They understand their liberal generational peers, as Limbaugh likes to kid, with every square inch of their gloriously naked bodies.
But is this kind of liberal animosity a good thing? Does it help educate, inform, or move a constructive and always needed dialogue forward when we are in the middle of a war for the nation’s survival? Of course not. Boomer Michael J. Fox is universally regarded as a nice guy. But if he didn’t understand what would happen before making his disingenuous commercial, certainly he should have gotten the point in the aftermath. Maybe he did and, sad to say, really was just interested in scoring a few political points for the home team. If that’s the reality of Michael J. Fox, the nice guy disappoints.
The good thing in all of this attempt to bork Rush (and make no mistake, the idea now and with his earlier drug addiction problem is to bork him so thoroughly it destroys not simply his arguments but his life — that’s what a borking is about) is that conservatives learned something as they grew into their conservatism.
In the War of the Boomers, what conservative boomers like Rush Limbaugh, Patricia Heaton, John Bolton, Rick Santorum, Clarence Thomas, George W. Bush and a boatload of others (think Condi) have going for them that drives mean-spirited critics like a Janet Charlton, Neil Gabler, Diane Sawyer, or Alec Baldwin to such foaming furies is this: they don’t give a damn.
And they smile, too.