by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - March 9, 2009) Watching the explosive, maniacal, smug faces of the people attending Rush Limbaugh's recent address at the Conservative Political Action Conference sent shivers down my spine. It was the reincarnation of Father Coughlin, Huey Long, and the Inquisition all rolled into one. Mean, vindictive, hostile, and cruel faces exploded with cheers and applause whenever some banal patriotic sentiment was proclaimed and clearly, had Obama or any of his team been physically present, they would have had to fear for their lives, so vengeful was the opposition ranked against them.
It is impossible -- and useless even if it were possible -- to dispute the ideas discharged like cannonballs into the midst of such a mob. They weren't what you might call "ideas." They were bombastic bursts of political clichés, one more antediluvian than the last, and detonated for maximum effect; not what you might call coherent planks in a political platform. It gave jingoism an entirely new dimension and reminded one of Dr. Johnson's incontestable maxim: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" -- although in Limbaugh's case, it was also the first shot out of his rusty musket.
One was consistently appalled by the hollowness of his rhetoric, the banality of his patriotic fervor; the insidious reliance on slurs interspersed with plangent excerpts from the Declaration of Independence (erroneously cited as coming from the Constitution.) In Limbaugh's mouth, even the inspiring words of Thomas Jefferson topple out like clichés that Jefferson himself would disavow because of their oddball context. He has the knack of metamorphosing the most cherished American ideals into the spiel of a huckster peddling snake oil.
It's a litany of "all the old favorites": "Freedom," which is chastened for permitting liberal subversions, praise for minimalist government, and dispraise for those attempting to regulate the villainies that free-market capitalism is prone to; personal initiative that disdains helping people who are less endowed or, God forbid, hard-up and unemployed; threats against dissidents who rail against religion or women's right to police their own bodies. (Femi-nazis, in Rush's elegant phrase.)
Limbaugh and his screeching over-aged bobby-soxers appear to inhabit a society that is blind to the horrors with which an unregulated democracy has crippled America and is continuing to erode its economy -- and the rest of the world's along with it. It was an address that, though it took place in 2009, was rooted in the spirit of the bland 1980s before the villainies of the Republican Party poisoned the wells of American democracy and ushered in an era of corporate corruption and military braggadocio that continue to threaten our welfare.
Obviously feeling sensitive to his guttersnipe assault on Obama, ("I hope he fails"), Limbaugh, oblivious to the disasters that Republican mendacity created both nationally and globally, insists that since he loathes everything the new administration stands for, it is only natural to wish failure upon all its efforts to recover. A position that would retain some semblance of sanity if he and his dwindling posse of Rough Riders were able to offer an alternative social and financial plan -- but being intellectually bankrupt, they cling desperately to the failed mantra of tax cuts, continued warfare, and diminished government as if the repetition itself will magically supply some form of salvation to the failed principles that they, more than any other party, have inflicted upon the populace.
It is pathetic enough that the strongest player they can send on to the field is an amorphous showman whose hippocampus has become addled with prescription drugs and whose platform consists entirely of a bogus and sophistical patriotism. If Rush or Newt Gingrich are the only star players they can send into the field, it is more likely the Whigs would do better in the political arena than the miniscule giants of the Republican Party.
Limbaugh constantly brings to mind a kind of wild, over-the-top Ralph Kramden, the character created by Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners, whose ego was always on a short fuse and whose greatest pleasure was berating his Better Half and anyone else who endangered the fortress of his belligerent rule. Like Kramden, he is full of threat and apoplectic rage camouflaged in a personality that invokes bonhomie and hail-fellow-well-met amity. Like Kramden, Limbaugh is a tyrant disguised as the Common Man whereas the only thing "common" about him is his I.Q. and hare-trigger tendency towards violence. No doubt he appeals to a macho audience, made up of both men and women, because his aggression colors everything he says and does. Unfortunately, Rush is not as witty as Gleason was in the series but, like Kramden, he is amusing to those people who enjoy the spectacle of a simpleton doggedly pretending to a superiority his every word contradicts.
In a profound philosophical sense, Limbaugh is the destined leader of American conservatives. He exemplifies all the untenable clichés of the past quarter of a century and is deeply entrenched in political shibboleths, which make it impossible for him to cope with the real challenges of the new millennium; a man whose roar is as empty of good sense as a lion's might be caught in a trap from which he cannot extricate himself. Jolly, humoristic, pig-headed, and vacant, he is the perfect symbol of the uptight dogmas that are now threatened with extinction. And as we know, it is when wild animals feel most trapped that they are the most dangerous.
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