RUSH’S JUDGEMENT

Of course l’affaire Limbaugh is fun to watch, both for the drama of Republicans inching onto the limb of wanting the economic recovery plan to work and then scurrying off of it when Rush roars, and for the ongoing beating the Republican brand is taking. That said, I think one of the angles getting missed in the discussion of this is that Republicans fear getting on Limbaugh’s bad side because he has a singular ability to shape the opinion of a noteworthy minority of the country.

For better or worse, right-wingers have a leader who can keep right-wing elected officials in line. Does anyone disagree that there’s no equivalent leader or organization on the left with the same level of clout to hold elected progressives – including the President – accountable?

WWGD?

One of the Times’ blogs highlights this post from a member of the FireDogLake crew on the posthumous revelation that Ford had his doubts about the Bush Iraq strategy:

But when a reporter is in possession of information that is vital to the country, that might change whether we go to war or whom we elect for president, and the only reason for withholding the information is to protect the person interviewed from embarrassing his own party — well, there must be some other principle that applies, don’tcha think?

This argument is less than persuasive for a couple reasons. First, barring time travel, nothing said in July 2004 could have stopped Bush from invading Iraq in March 2003. Unless Scarecrow is predicting a future War in Iraq fought for lack of candor from Gerald Ford about this one. Or expecting Gerald Ford’s criticism of the War in Iraq to keep us out of a war with Iran.

Which brings us to the second problem with this argument: Gerald Ford doesn’t sway swing voters. If the man had endorsed John Kerry, that would’ve been big news. Expressing doubts about the Bush plan for Iraq is just what every respectable conservative neither working for George Bush nor running to succeed him nor named Rush Limbaugh was doing two years ago. That includes Paul Bremer.

Henry Kissinger, who many more folks credit or blame with the foreign policy of the 1960s than Gerald Ford, expressed concerns at least as strong about the Iraq invasion, and he did it before the invasion happened. And yet it happened anyway.

Of course the expectation that ex-Presidents should be elder statesmen in a way that doesn’t include weighing in on the performance of current Presidents is silly. And swallowing criticism of your party’s nominee in the months before the election is less than courageous (here’s looking at you, Christie Todd Whitman). And no story you broke four decades ago is an excuse to cozy up to the President for as long as he remains popular. But did George Bush ride to reelection on the imagined confidence of Gerald Ford? Not so much.

THOSE GLEEFUL DEMOCRATS

This Times article on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina offers an unfortunate example of the kind of thing that the ostensibly liberal media write about Democrats’ motivations all the time but hardly ever about those of Republicans:

Democrats are seizing this moment of reckoning with something approaching glee, while Republicans are handling it gingerly.

With friends like these, who needs Rush Limbaugh?

Zach accuses me of “starting a blog war.” Nah – but I’ll finish it. This would perhaps be the place to warn Zach that we at LWB “will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.” Or somesuch.

Zach takes me on for my suggestion that Limbaugh’s drug scandal, and the response from the media and the organized right, lend credence to the suggestion by certain ex-conservatives that the social agenda of the right operates primarily as a cover to advance its economic agenda. He argues that my argument is “mechanist,” and that it minimalizes the distinctive oppression of sexual and ethnic minorities and the stake of the right in that oppression by rendering it merely a by-product of an economic project. Perhaps unfortunately for those reading this site and Zach’s (you know who you are), again I don’t think my disagreement with Zach is as wide as it might appear. I argued yesterday not that social conservatism is merely a convenient superstructure over a material class war, but that conservatives lend credence to those who do think so when they take fundamentally libertarian stances on the failures of their fellow travelers to live by their social values. I would argue that the Right (capital “R”) of the past years is increasingly a libertarian one, and that there’s a great deal of deft politics and crass hypocrisy at work which makes it possible to draw on the libertarians at the Cato Institute as the brain trust of your movement and the Christian Coalition as your grassroots arm. Zach argues that Bob Barr’s suggestion that his daughter’s abortion is a private matter doesn’t detract from his work to make “the state apparatus to control people’s bodies in a fascistic linking of gender and power, of sexual reproduction and social reproduction.” Certainly, it doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any less real to those who suffer as a result. What it does detract from, however, is the integrity of the argument and the credibility of the stance. To argue that the right’s real relationship to its social values is soaked in classism does not, as I see it, suggest that sexism, heteronormativity, or racism are derivatives of classism. I would also argue, as I think Zach would as well, that the classism of segments of the right has a foundation of sexual and racial prejudice. The Wall Street Journal ran a long staff editorial a decade or so ago called “No Guardrails,” blaming the crime of a violent anti-abortion activist on the society that the left had fashioned for him to grow up in (strained already, yes, but it gets better). The basic thesis of the piece was that all things being equal, the elite might be able to dabble in drugs, sex, and pornography, but everyone should abstain because the lower classes don’t have the same reserves of strength so as not to be fully corrupted. This is to me a vital dramatization of the intersections of prejudice. All that said, I stand by my contention that the lifestyles and even personal beliefs of significant parts of the right elite are far less closely in line with their professed politics than are, say, their personal economic practices with their economics and that the right response to those who transgress its social agenda is often motivated by its economic agenda. I also strongly affirm Zach’s reminder that all oppressions are not the same and that economic determinism runs the risk of marginalizing both the nature and the victims of other types of oppression.

I should also note, perhaps, that I was not born with a copy of the Nation in my hand.

Zach ends with a call “to look more deeply at how racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and capitalism are both intertwined and sometimes contradictory as subjectivities from below struggle to reshape and have reshaped the social relations of capitalism.” Sounds good to me. But Zach, you’re gonna have to start that one off. Much respect to you as well.

Rush Limbaugh’s alleged drug addiction represents a public embarassment for the organized right. As well it should. The story here isn’t that national leaders sometimes call for morals that they themselves are unable to live up to. The real story is that Limbaugh’s addiction to large quantities of expensive painkillers will be – and already is being – played not only in the media but on the organized right as a personal indiscretion Rush needs time to reconcile with and move past, and not as, say, an evil crimminal felony. The latter term would be reserved with non-violent first time marijuana possession by lower-class teens. David Brock and Michael Lind, both ex-conservatives whose books I read this summer, both argue in different ways that the social conservative agenda is, for the Republican elite, a tool to rally the base and divide the working class in the wake of the Cold War so as to advance economic conservatism. Brock describes his disgust at discovering that his homosexuality was an acceptable foible as long as he was a rising star on the right and a cause for moral condemnation once he left it. Lind suggests that the social agenda of the right is counter to the personal values of most of its elite but provides a cover for its economic libertarian agenda. Arguments like these gain more credence with each public spectacle of a fallen angel of the right, be it Rush’s drug addiction or Bill Bennet’s gambling addiction. Few right hypocrisies can match that of Bob Barr, who defended his daughter’s choice to get an abortion on the grounds that it was “a private decision.” Conservatives who want to demonstrate their integrity could go a long way right now by calling for Rush Limbaugh to be sent to a prison cell – across from the one Ken Lay should be sitting in.