When you catch the other guy doing something wrong, most folks would say that’s an opportunity of sorts, an opportunity to correct them. For some though, it’s license. This is the basis for much of Rush Limbaugh’s schtick. His narratives rarely stray far from the Libs-do-it-too theme. He is particularly fond of saying that he is only “illustrating absurdity with the absurd”, which is a fancy way of saying that his cheap shots are really attempts to undermine some parallel logic on the part of his political enemies. Were such moments carefully tacked to some particular piece of liberal rhetoric, this might be a plausible angle, but this just isn’t generally the case.
If Rush Limbaugh is satire, then it is a particularly adolescent form of satire. Whether or not he is just kidding depends a lot on how much backlash he gets, and whether or not he and his fans feel like distancing themselves from a given comment. All to often, his cheap shots become gospel to a significant segment of the pseudo-conservative public. His game becomes satire precisely when Limbaugh is forced to deal with the absence of a rational case for his position.
Case in point, many people still seem to think Sandra Fluke testified about her own sexual activities and/or that she wanted the public to pay for her contraceptives. She didn’t.
But that’s a different rant. What has my attention today is a rather different gambit, Limbaugh’s efforts to spin the captivity and sexual abuse of three young women in Cleveland Ohio into a diatribe against the welfare state. Media Matters ran a story about Limbaugh’s comments here. The audio is painful to anyone with an ounce of sense, but it’s what I will be commenting on, so my apologies…
Limbaugh’s narrative is slick as Hell. He doesn’t assert that the Cleveland kidnapping has anything directly to do with welfare opportunism; he simply uses the coincidence of an episode of Hawaii 5-0 to field the story. The potential effectiveness of this meme is readily apparent, welfare as a subsidy for kidnappers, the mere thought of it may do more to combat aid to the poor than a thousand stories about the dreaded welfare mother. Limbaugh doesn’t need to assert the truth of his narrative; it is enough to generate the association. Much as he has done with one outrageous suggestion after another, Limbaugh settles for insinuation.
Limbaugh will of course cry foul (or ‘drive-by media’) if people call him on the claim, because of course he never quite made it. But that is a skillful propagandist for you. Long after his audience has forgotten the details of his particular presentation, they will remember the narrative he presented for them. The power of that narrative is what will matter in the long run, and neither the facts of the case, nor the logic of Limbaugh’s half-assed argument will matter in the long run.
But what really interests me is the disclaimer; “I couldn’t help but make the connection. I mean if everybody else in the low-information crowd is gonna use what happens on TV for reality, why can’t I?”
‘Low-information crowd’ is of course a reference to ‘low information voters’ which is how the right wing echo-chamber has taken to referring to liberals. That this summary judgement is utter nonsense has little to do with its value in pseudo-conservative rhetoric, and Limbaugh must know that his own less-than-impressive fan-base will love to think of their enemies as ill-informed. Of course this remark adds another ingredient to that theme, suggesting that liberals rely too much on TV for their information. He doesn’t need a reason to believe this is true, and neither will his fans. It is enough to assert it.
But all of this is the powdered sugar on the brownie, so to peak. The real work of this disclaimer is the suggestion that if there is anything wrong with using a TV show to interpret a news story about which Limbaugh admits himself to be ignorant, well then that fault lies with his liberal opponents. They are the ones who do this for real, Limbaugh is merely showing us how silly they are. This gambit is a tu quoque fallacy at best, or in terms with a little more widespread usage, it is two-wrongs-make-a-right. I think teh average third grader can understand the problem with this gambit, but it’s pretty much standard operational procedure for Limbaugh.
The particular particular utility of this you-do-it-too gambit lies in its conjunction with the inability to field a hard claim in this instance (and so many others). Limbaugh has no evidence that this kidnapping is a welfare scam; he just wants people to associate the two themes, preferably without thinking too much about the details. A quick they-do-it-too serves both to relieve him of responsibility for checking the facts before spouting off about them, and to shift responsibility for his own sleazy gambit to others. If it is shocking that Limbaugh would make (or almost make) such a wildly outrageous claim without any evidence, well then that is all the fault of liberals, because Limbaugh is only satirizing their behavior.
…except it isn’t.
This is Limbaugh advancing a narrative, and past experience has shown it is an effective strategy. Time and again Limbaugh’s fans have adopted his narratives as gospel truth long after the facts should have led any reasonable person to conclude otherwise. There is no satire in the successful propagation of such lies. The tu quoque gambit is there simply to cover his tracks in the event that the backlash proves too strong. When the public tires of answering this kind of idiocy, Rush and his fans stick to their guns.
This is not mere entertainment, and it is not satire. It is a propagandist doing what he does best, which is to deceive the public. The man has made quite a career out of it.
It is the career of a con artist.