I just finished reading an excellent article entitled “The Last Days of Joe McCarthy,” by Richard Rovere, and published by Esquire magazine in its August 1958 edition. At the time, Rovere was the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker. As such, he had a ringside seat at McCarthy’s 1954 Senate censure and the inglorious public denouement of the politician that followed. Rovere continued to cover McCarthy until his death in 1957 due to cirrhosis of the liver. The Wisconsin senator drank himself to death.
What stands out in Rovere’s on-the-scenes print portrayal of this dangerous demagogue, a malevolent frightener and bully from the paranoid, anti-communist, early 1950s (the “McCarthy Era”), is how closely he resembles another modern-day demagogue from the Midwest, Missourian Rush Limbaugh. One notable difference: McCarthy (“Tail Gunner Joe”) actually served in the military during his generation’s war (World War II) while Limbaugh remained safely on the sidelines during that of his generation (the Vietnam War), due to a cyst on his butt (so appropriate). Other than this discrepancy, however, the picture that Rovere paints of McCarthy could quite easily be that of Limbaugh.
Consider how these sentences that describe McCarthy from Rovere’s 1958 article immediately bring Limbaugh to mind:
“To the hard core, and to most of those who formed around it, his nastiness was part of his charm.” – To the zombie dittoheads who listen daily to Limbaugh on “rage radio,” a most appropriate term that I picked up from an online article by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the conservative talk show host can do no wrong, even when he constantly demeans President Barack Obama, as well as his wife and family members.
“I believe that it can be demonstrated that he was not only the ablest demagogue of his time, but the most gifted ever bred on these shores.” – In terms of his gruesome black magic power and evil influence, Limbaugh stands head and shoulders above all of the other radio right-wing talk show hosts on the air, and has done so for years.
“He gained enormous influence over American foreign policy at a time when American policy bore heavily on world history.” – In recent years, Limbaugh’s influence on U.S. domestic policy has been just as dominant (and equally malignant). Republicans in Congress know just how dangerous and career-threatening it is to cross Limbaugh, who grandly refers to himself as the “titular head of the Republican party.” Those who do always retract their words, and quickly supplicate themselves before Limbaugh to beg his forgiveness.
“He stamped with his name a tendency, a whole cluster of tendencies, in American life. The name survives. To many Americans, whatever is illiberal, anti-intellectual, repressive, reactionary, totalitarian, or merely swinish, will hereafter be ‘McCarthyism.’ ” – You can use these same, exact words to precisely describe “Limbaughism.” For evidence, click on this description in The Urban Dictionary.
“Foul-Mouthed, Base-Born, a Low, Mean Fellow”
“McCarthy’s natural endowments and his cultivated skills were of the highest order. ‘The qualities necessary to a demagogue,’ Aristophenes wrote, ‘are these: to be foul-mouthed, base-born, a low, mean fellow.’ McCarthy qualified handsomely.” – So does Limbaugh, which is why Clear Channel Communications is now paying him $400 million for a multi-year contract.
“His style, I have always thought, owed a lot to that of a certain kind of American athlete: the kind who swaggers and exaggerates his swagger, the kind who looks ugly and talks ugly … ” – No one on the air swaggers more fulsomely (and obnoxiously) than Limbaugh, who “is always right 99.9% of the time,” who is “way too hot for TV,” who always operates “with half his brain tied behind his head to make things fair,” et cetera, et cetera. And yes, he looks ugly (and how) and talks ugly (never stops).
The Multiple Lie
“McCarthy invented the Multiple Lie – the lie with so many particulars, so many moving and interchangeable parts, so many tiny gears and fragile connecting rods that reason exhausted itself in an effort to combat it.” – Big lies, multiple lies, half-truths, and misinformation: They are Limbaugh’s bread-and-butter (this Rovere description also perfectly fits radio reactionary and tin-foil hat nut, Glenn Beck).
Just how wildly inaccurate is Limbaugh in the claims he routinely makes over the air? Some examples, from The Way Things Aren’t, by Steve Rendall, Jim Naureckas and Jeff Cohen, written for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) and published in 1995 (with a forward by the late, great Molly Ivins):
“Limbaugh: ‘The poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe.’ (Radio; FRQ, Spring/93). Reality: The poorest 20% of Americans can purchase an average of $5,433 worth of goods with their income, according to World Development Report 1994. Meanwhile, in Germany, the average person can purchase $20,610 worth of goods; in France, $19,200; in Britain, $16,730.
“Limbaugh: ‘If you have any doubts about the status of American health care, just compare it with that in other industrialized nations.’ (Told You So, p. 53). Reality: Among 23 industrialized nations, the United States ranks 19th in life expectancy and 20th in infant mortality, according to the CIA’s 1993 World Fact Book. Although it spends the most per capita on health care, the United States has the lowest health care satisfaction rate (11%) of the 10 largest industrialized nations. (Health Affairs, vol. 9, no. 2).
“Limbaugh: ‘Why were people better educated before the American Revolution with no public funding than in 1993, when we are spending in excess of $100,00 per classroom?’ (Told You So, p. 76) Reality: Before the Revolution, the overwhelming majority of Americans were illiterate.”
Well, you get the idea. The Way Things Aren’t offers an entire book, filled with example after example, that detail Limbaugh’s “Reign of Error.” Additionally, Rovere’s Esquire article offers numerous additional detailed descriptions of McCarthy that one can immediately apply to Limbaugh. Indeed, based on this insider reporting, McCarthy and Limbaugh are like two (rancid) peas in a pod. – Mickey Murphy © 2011 MMMurphy
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