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Twenty-five years ago today, Rush Limbaugh went on the air in New York City and began his syndicated radio show. I believe that Rush has been the most influential figure in American culture over that quarter-century. He helped turn Newt Gingrich into Speaker of the House and then pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it makes Newt look like a compromising moderate. He paved the way for Fox News Channel and an entire genre of conservative talk radio occupied by hundreds of his imitators. For decades, he has single-handedly had a bigger audience than all progressive radio shows combined. He has moved public opinion, convincing millions that global climate change is a fraud even while the scientific evidence has grown more and more overwhelming. He has had presidents carry his bags up to the Lincoln Bedroom and give him a birthday cake in the White House.

In my recent book about Rush, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason, I noted:

He ridicules science and mocks intellectual arguments. He makes bigotry more publicly acceptable by his use of racial insults and sexist comments. He destroys the moderate wing of the Republican Party by imposing rigid adherence to his particular brand of conservatism. Rush Limbaugh is dumbing down America and coarsening our culture....Limbaugh is not some random guy who happens to express a political view every now and then; he’s a leader, I would say the leader, of the conservative movement in America, and his views are a powerful force in American politics. Limbaugh mobilizes and inspires the lunatic fringe of the far right. However, his influence extends far beyond the hard core conservatives; he popularizes right-wing ideas to a mass audience of mainstream Republicans and independents. Limbaugh pushes the Republican Party—and American politics—far to the right.
So what should progressives do about Rush? The most popular answer, and the worst one, has been to try to drive him off the air. The most successful approach has been to make Rush the face and voice of the Republican Party, and expose just how stupid, bigoted, and unpopular his ideas really are. But ultimately, progressives need to do what Rush himself did: build a media and political movement to bring our ideas to a wider audience.

The unsuccessful effort to drive Rush off the air by the Flush Rush campaign has had one unexpected and highly beneficial side effect: it revealed that companies were unknowingly and unwillingly advertising on these shows, being secretly used by right-wing media companies to help fuel the conservative movement. And the backlash against these revelations has cost these companies millions. But it hasn't cost Rush a dime, yet. In 2008, he signed an 8-year contract worth over $400 million. When he renews that contract, the boycotts against Rush will cost him many millions of dollars, but boycotts won't force him off the air.

Those who hate Rush have been elated by the recent news that Cumulus might drop Limbaugh from its stations in 40 markets. This is a negotiating tactic between two right-wing media companies for the allocation of massive profits, and it's highly unlikely Cumulus will drop Rush. But if they do, it won't change anything. Rush will be picked up by other radio stations, and Cumulus will replace him with a cheaper alternative chosen from the hundreds of Rush imitators he has spawned.

The misguided efforts by some on the Left to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine will never succeed. Even if it was politically feasible to enact the Fairness Doctrine (it's not), and even if the Fairness Doctrine was used to target conservative talk radio (it never was, and never would be), then the Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional (as it should be). Boycotts and censorship will not work. Even if Rush Limbaugh announces the end of his show today, the political and media movement he built will not go away.

What progressives need is not a movement to “hush Rush,” but a movement to amplify our own voices. We need progressive media like Amy Goodman and Rachel Maddow and The Daily Show. We need progressive social media and websites like Daily Kos to expand. We don't need a reverse mirror image of Rush Limbaugh's idiocy and bigotry to succeed. But we do need more progressive voices to be heard, and we are swimming upstream against the same pro-conservative biases that helped Rush Limbaugh succeed in the corporate media.

This won't be easy, and we won't have a single leader like Rush Limbaugh or success measured in tens of millions of dollars and millions of listeners to any particular show. But ultimately, imitating Rush Limbaugh the only path to defeating him.

Crossposted at LimbaughBook.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

    by JohnKWilson on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 08:59:44 AM PDT

  •  I've never been a fan of the "Flush Rush" movement (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MadGeorgiaDem, TracieLynn

    You could argue that Rush has been the best thing that Progressives have going.
    Did anyone care about the fight over providing birth control as part of the ACA? Yes, we were mildly outraged at the Senate committee hearing that included only old men to talk about why they shouldn't have to be party to young women getting birth control, but nobody paid any attention. I can guarantee that no one would have paid any attention at all to Sandra Fluke's testimony. And then Rush went out of his mind. Called her a prostitute. Demanded she put out a sex tape. Made it abundantly clear that he has no idea how birth control in women works and probably is no better informed than the average Republican legislator about the workings of our magical lady parts. Day after day of vial spewing forth from his radio show.  Suddenly, it was all over the news. The repeated insistence by Republicans that there was no war on women began to ring hollow.  Sandra became a folk hero. People also began noticing all these laws about forced ultrasounds and outrageous requirements for abortion clinics. Would that have happened without Rush?  That is only one example of how his rants have caused people to take a closer look at Republican policies and to be horrified at what they find. If anything, progressives should be trying to keep Rush on the air as long as possible.

    "That being said, I do agree I am going to hell. But for other reasons. Mostly boring tax stuff ' Amy Pohler

    by Annie B on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 09:19:29 AM PDT

    •  Years after his death, it's revealed that Rush was (0+ / 0-)

      actually working for the Dem side.....

    •  But on the other hand... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LanceBoyle, schumann

      If not for Rush, we would never have reached a state of affairs where such a hearing was happening...

      We would never need to get outraged, if some guy wasn't going nuts on the airwaves.

      Saying he's been good for getting Progressives moving is like saying... and I've failed at a less over the top analogy so I'll toss out a Godwin: its like claiming 'at least Hitler got the Jewish people motivated.'

      A lot of people might be better off if they'd never needed to get motivated.

      Much of the ground gained in the Civil Rights era might have reached fruition. Much of it might still be moving forward. If not for Rush.

      Instead it feels like we're racing against the clock to prevent a decline into Secession and re-enslavement...

      I think if you were to ask Trayvon Martin, he'd be a whole lot happier if there had never been any need for people to get outraged at his death. He'd be around to even have an opinion... If he'd not been murdered.
      - Sure people might now be 'doing stuff' to address the injustice. But on the other hand, wouldn't the world be better off if the injustice would just stop happening?

      Yes, given that we don't live in a utopia, its good to have Progressive causes active and vibrant - but it'd be even better to have that AND no Rush on the airwaves.

    •  he and his wannabes and the monopoly are (0+ / 0-)

      why we still waste time with many issues that are no-brainers in a civilized society. they are why we are in iraq, got bush, and no single payer. if the left had reacted to limbaugh's equally vicious attack on anita hill we could have avoided a lot of the crap the last 20 years.

      the diarist summarized his impact well. he, because the left ignored him and gave team limbaugh a free speech for 25 years a free speech free ride played the major role in this disaster.

      i suggest you read it again.

      He ridicules science and mocks intellectual arguments. He makes bigotry more publicly acceptable by his use of racial insults and sexist comments. He destroys the moderate wing of the Republican Party by imposing rigid adherence to his particular brand of conservatism. Rush Limbaugh is dumbing down America and coarsening our culture....Limbaugh is not some random guy who happens to express a political view every now and then; he’s a leader, I would say the leader, of the conservative movement in America, and his views are a powerful force in American politics. Limbaugh mobilizes and inspires the lunatic fringe of the far right. However, his influence extends far beyond the hard core conservatives; he popularizes right-wing ideas to a mass audience of mainstream Republicans and independents. Limbaugh pushes the Republican Party—and American politics—far to the right.

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 04:56:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  i do not agree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trumpeter, llywrch

    that the "flushrush" campaign has been a failure.  it has put pressure on his backers to put up or shut up.  many of them have shut up on his show when outed as backers of his hate.  while he is still on the air, he is a wounded character and is seen by more and more people as an unacceptable voice for them.  that is success even if limited.

  •  Rush is exactly what Sen. Franken called him: (0+ / 0-)

    A Big, Fat, Idiot.

    I always thought that was harsh, I mean, Rush is not THAT fat. But he is an idiot.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 10:28:24 AM PDT

  •  Rush is a Demagogue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bulldozer

    Not the first, won't be the last.

    Just like the so-called "War on Drugs,"  we tend to demonize the suppliers while overlooking the demand.  Without a enthusiastic audience, Rush would be h=just another two-bit curmudgeon on a mid-west, 10,000 Watt AM radio station.

    So what can we do about his audience?

    Everyone is crying out for peace; no one's crying out for justice...

    by mojave mike on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 10:32:19 AM PDT

    •  Nothing much. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mojave mike

      And they're dying out, anyway.

      It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

      by karmsy on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 01:26:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There you go... :) (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        karmsy

        Remember those anti-smoking commercials where the Big Tobacco execs were worried about who would replace all the dying smokers (customers)?

        Everyone is crying out for peace; no one's crying out for justice...

        by mojave mike on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 02:56:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's a problem. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mojave mike

          You peddle a noxious, lethal product (hate, in this case), what the hell are you supposed to do when your poisoned demographic keels over?

          It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

          by karmsy on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 03:13:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  nah. he has a large audience because they bought (0+ / 0-)

      up a monopoly, he was protected from real time challenge by call screeners, paid callers kissed his ass, and the think tanks that fed him his material coordinated and reinforced it with dozens of parroting wannabes.

      and if he was a reflection of market forces he's be relegated to 50 stations, mostly in southern swamps. the idea that 95% of americans who listen to talk radio or would listen to talk radio prefer the wit and wisdom of limbaugh and hannity is an insult to americans.

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 05:03:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Flush Rush is a war of attrition (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    karmsy, TracieLynn, llywrch

    and a well waged one at that.   It's working and Rush is on the defensive, exactly where he does NOT want to be.

  •  Ain't gonna work. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    schumann, certainot

    There's always been progressive messages out there, "needing to be amplified".  In the '60s it was loud and insistent.  In the '70s it ended up bringing down Nixon, when they kept at it.  In the '80s the righties figured out what they were going to do, and they have out-broadcast, out-spent, out- harangued, and out-advertised the message of progress ever since.

    Their message of greed, American exceptionalism, racism, homophobia, and general nastiness resonates with people who need to be shamed for being stupid enough to be taken in by it.  But the progressive left wants to use reason instead of emotion.  They keep forgetting that you can't reason people out of a position that reason never got them into in the first place.  

    They need to be put on the defensive.  Look what your stupid fucker did to the national debt!  Look what your stupid fucker did to the World Trade Center!  Look what your stupid fucker did to New Orleans.  All Republican disasters that were excused because "nobody could have expected....", except for the forward looking (=progressive) people who were warning at the time.  Without any amplification on the radio.

    Now there is a new warning out there, that climate change is going to cost large amounts of money and maybe even ruin the planet for habitation.  One guess as to which side the Republicans fall on.  

  •  Interesting viewpoint in diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    art ah zen

    My big quibble is with this passage here:

    The unsuccessful effort to drive Rush off the air by the Flush Rush campaign has had one unexpected and highly beneficial side effect: it revealed that companies were unknowingly and unwillingly advertising on these shows, being secretly used by right-wing media companies to help fuel the conservative movement.
    Given the enormous progress the Flush Rush movement has made over the past 15 months, given the virtual inevitability of its success, doesn't this amount to a snub?

    Can't tip you, sorry.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 01:25:20 PM PDT

  •  I'd love to hear more progressive voices (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    schumann, llywrch

    on the radio.

    But when the media laws allow Clear Channel to own damn near every station in the country, just how do you plan to do it?

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 02:01:32 PM PDT

  •  Once Walter Winchell was all-powerful. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    schumann, llywrch

    All of America listened to his radio reports. But by the mid-1950s he became notorious for cruel bullying and wild slander. Larry King remembers,
    "He was so sad. You know what Winchell was doing at the end? Typing out mimeographed sheets with his column, handing them out on the corner. That's how sad he got. When he died, only one person came to his funeral: his daughter."

    Rush Limbaugh will end just as badly, and it will be soon.

    •  Lance - unless he has to retire for health reasons (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      andalusi

      Limbaugh, who still has the largest audience on radio, will be around for another decade or more. He will, however, be taking a very big pay cut from his current salary of $35 million a year when his current contract expires. He might have to take an order of magnitude cut to $3-4 million a year. He might even have to rent out his Gulfstream G650 when he isn't using it.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 02:40:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  just end university support for RW radio (0+ / 0-)

    good evaluation of his impact but i don't agree with the tactic

    the boycott is having an effect although i agree he'll keep going somehow- he's made trillions for them and he's got secrets.

    a new fairness doctrine won't pass as long as the monopoly is intact- whatever the view of free speech vs FD.

    expansion of liberal radio won't happen fast enough as long as the monopoly is intact and protecting itself.

    but the monopoly will take a big hit if our state funded universities are pressured to pull sports from those stations. somewhere between 25 and 40% of RW stations depend on school sports programs for community cred and ad dollars. it is a heavy dependency. many of those stations that want to stay in talk may offer balance. that's how liberal radio can spread. our unis have no excuse for taking dollars from KKK-lite stations.

    and the dem party needs to start monitoring the top 100 RW talkers with transcript software so it can respond in real time and doesn't have to keep playing catch up. challenging the blowhards and exposing them in real time will reduce their acceptance and ability to create the alternate reality.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 04:47:31 PM PDT

  •  Good diary (0+ / 0-)
    So what should progressives do about Rush? The most popular answer, and the worst one, has been to try to drive him off the air.
    While I'm certainly not a fan of Limbaugh, and really don't even have an opportunity to hear him most of the year where I live, I'm uncomfortable with these boycotts, and agree that they are not the best remedy for countering what he's saying.

    I believe the remedy for speech we don't like is more speech.  Get progressive voices on the air to counter Limbaugh, but these attempts to silence him just rub me the wrong way. Respecting free speech means tolerating the voices we don't like. In fact, if free speech doesn't mean that, it doesn't mean anything. Again, I'm not necessarily referring to the First Amendment, I realise we're not talking about state actors. But the principles of the First Amendment spring from the universal right of freedom of speech. No, Limbaugh doesn't have the "right" to be on the radio, but why are people who supposedly love freedom of speech so aggressively pushing for this? Either you believe in those principles, or you don't. And I'm sorry, I don't buy the "we just want to raise the level of discourse" in the country.

    And yes, I know that this isn't a First Amendment issue, and that all of this is cloaked under a supposedly simple desire to just get him off the "public airwaves", improve the level of discourse, and helpfully inform his advertisers of what he's saying. But that's all a smokescreen for the real agenda, which is to silence him, and speaking for myself, that's just something I'm uncomfortable with.

    And if Limbaugh is causing as much trouble for the Republican party as his detractors suppose he is, then they should be the first ones who want to keep him on the air. But the attempts to silence him belie the truth, which is that he's been an effective, if imperfect, voice for a certain viewpoint in American politics, and the left doesn't have anyone close to him. I've even heard Rachel Maddow, and some of his most virulent critics acknowledge that he's likely the best who has ever done what he does.  And there's just no progressive voice that's powerful, and I think that's also part of what this is about.

    In any event, I'm no more a fan of Limbaugh than Mr. Wilson here, but the diarist is correct that Limbaugh isn't going anywhere until he's ready to, and these boycotts, while certainly costly, aren't going to force him off the air. And as long as he's as damaging to the GOP as many allege, than that should be cause for elation in the progressive community.

    Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a grammarian. So sue me.

    by Pi Li on Thu Aug 01, 2013 at 08:45:34 PM PDT

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