Tonight, Limbaugh closes out the CPAC conference. He’s the final speaker and he was given this position for a reason.
What is the fellow going to say? I’m really very curious.
He has a dilemma. Clearly, this CPAC is the quite the nuttiest ever (an accomplishment of some note) and there’s going to be a demand for meat red and bloody. The recent events suggest that the “Obama – should we/do I want him to fail or not” probably can’t be left out of what he speaks to. He’ll be getting advices from the saner (or at least the more sophisticated) elements in the party to step carefully here. But if he is perceived by most of those in attendance (and his radio audience) to be pulling back, that won’t enhance his popularity. Nor his own ego. Yet he’s certainly smart enough to understand the knife edge he walks knowing that a much larger audience will be appraised of what he says. Significant portions of that much larger audience, in the present situation, will likely or even surely be offended and seriously put off by adamant and open rebellion against Obama. There’s also the additional risk of further ripping apart the party and movement. So, he’s got his work cut out for him tonight. This might reasonably be considered the most important speech of his professional lifetime.
How’s he going to handle this? His WSJ editorial on the Fairness Doctrine (for a broader and more educated, though still mainly conservative audience) is red-meat free. But he can’t get away with that tonight in this venue and with the movement in disarray and leaderless. The CPAC audience will want him to lead and his ego will demand he fulfill this role and task. Others in the movement too will want him to succeed tonight in the task of re-invigorating the movement/party and pushing it in some viable direction. Whatever he sets out to attack tonight will likely be our best clue as to what we can expect from Republicans and movement activists going forward. Of course, “socialism” or “nanny-statism” the dire threat of it, will be a big theme.
He’ll do lots of dog-whistle stuff (threats to constitution, dangers of socilized governance, ACORN, Reverend Wright) and he’ll likely use “the annointed one” because it will be demanded. I don’t know how much further he’ll go to satisfy the red-meat demands. A lot of big money and status-quo power hinges on this, not just the nutcases. Smart people in the party and movement comprehend the large shift in public opinion that has been underway for two election cycles now. They understand as well that demographic realities are not in their favor. This is a very critical point for them.
And there’s another factor here for Limbaugh to consider as well. Over the last couple of days, it’s been openly noted (Paul Begala, James Carville) that the Dems will be pushing forward the notion that the Republican Party IS functionally being led now by Limbaugh. They are doing this for a strategic PR reason with two goals; to portray the Republicans as obstructionist to a popular president at a time when that is the last thing citizens want thus portraying the party as extremist and dangerous, and secondly, to marginalize the extremists in the modern conservative movement and faciliate a resurgence of moderates.
Tonight we’ll find out how smart and intellectually resilient he is as a propagandist which, it’s my consideration, is the term that describes him far more accurately than ideologue.
Update: As I bump into good analyses from others on this subject, I’ll note them here. Stohlberg has a piece in this mornings NY Times, but it’s shallow and lousy.
But two things I wanted to add to my own account here constitutes rather large ommissions in what I wrote above. The most fundamental element of conservative talk radio and other conservative movement media outlets is the proposition (forwarded every day, every hour, without fail) that the mainstream media is biased against conservatism and for liberalism. This justifies both their reason for being and their extremism. This will makes it appearance in Limbaugh’s speech tonite as a central element. Not only will it (hopefully) increase the audience for rightwing media (which pays Limbaugh $400 million for eight years of broadcasting) it will also (hopefully) spread doubts to that larger audience that they are being misled (“misled” and “tricked” and related words will be key components in his speech) by the mainstream media, it will also feed the red-meat urge for CPAC goers who have been trained for twenty years to hate and distrust the media, and it will allow Limbaugh to mount a strong indirect attack on Obama.
Secondly, the talk radio phenomenon leapfrogs on a long tradition of American populism – the central theme of this strain in american thought being that the normal folk are being victimized by a small group of elitists. At different periods of time, different “elites” are held to be in this selfish and victimizing role. During FDR’s time (like the very comtemporary present) that group were and are held to be found in or related to the financial sector. For the conservative movement, it was held to be “liberal elites”, mainly the universities, the highly educated or the intellectuals, people in the arts, the media and the Democratic party. Tonite, Limbaugh will attempt to identify the financial sector (Wall Street as opposed to small businesses) as being in the pockets of the Democrats. Thus the Democrats are responsible for the present mess.
Update: Surprising, at least to me, I’ve found very little commentary so far on Limbaugh’s speech yesterday. Crooks and Liars has a typically good piece here. The full speech is available from Rush’s site (of course it is) http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_030209/content/01125106.guest.htmlhere.