January 04, 2008

In a Rush

One of the pure joys of driving long distances in the US is that you can turn on your AM radio and catch the "conservative" talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

I mean this. The guy is a one-man entertainment machine. An ego the size of Jupiter, an unparalleled belief in his rightness (in every sense), coupled with a suave illogic and a motor-mouth to beat 'em all. It's a potent cocktail indeed.

Last time I heard him, he spent the whole show -- I am not kidding you, all two or three or whatever hours -- going on and on about a barely-understandable fight he has picked with Mike Huckabee, Republican Presidential candidate who has just won the Iowa caucus. As I barely understand it, this is what happened: several weeks ago, some apparent Huckabee supporter in Washington DC posted a comment on a blog saying Rush was just an "entertainer" from the DC-New York belt. Therefore (and here I'm speculating) not to be taken seriously.

You'd think this is trivial stuff. You'd think this is the kind of remark that any public figure gets in spades, and in fact they must get far worse. You'd think any public figure would laugh this off. But not Rush. Apparently he couldn't bear to be written off, even in a blog-comment, as someone who doesn't count. So he has spent much of the last month lashing out at Huckabee, and that's what he did on that show I heard. Among other things, he pronounced that Huckabee was "not a conservative."

Then somebody called in. After starting with a genuflecting "Hey Rush, 17 years of dittos, my friend, it's a privilege to speak with you", the caller confessed he was a Huckabee supporter, and asked Rush which issue he thought more important -- abortion or taxes. Rush replied in some anger, "You can't pick and choose. If you're a conservative, it's a package deal."

Meaning, if you're a conservative and you (naturally) oppose abortion, you must (necessarily, naturally) oppose taxes too. Otherwise, of course, you're not a conservative. Rush says so.

I'm just sitting there scratching my head. Why is not even conceivable, for example, that someone can support abortion rights but abhor taxes?

Why should political leanings be a "package deal", and such package decided by a talk show host with a huge ego? To me, a person's ideological make-up -- if there is such a thing -- is a pick-and-choose affair. You might like unfettered freedoms, but you might also support employment guarantee schemes. You might find religion faintly repulsive, but you might also abhor communism. You might be a fan of entrepreneurship and its wealth-creating potential, but you might also support the regulations on cellphone companies that bring down roaming rates.

Life is not about packages. Thank you for making me understand that, Rush Limbaugh.


Postscript: Here's a couple of lines from a NYT oped by David Brooks, written right after the Iowa results:
    Most importantly, [Huckabee] sensed that conservatives do not believe their own movement is well led. He took on Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth and even President Bush. The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed. ... [He] understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has. ... A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine.

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