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Fine. Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown law student a mean name. It doesn’t mean much, in my view. And this is coming from a liberal.
Limbaugh is a straight-faced comedian who long ago found a blue ocean of opportunity where few or no comedians at the time were feeding: conservative politics.
Many of my friends listened to Rush Limbaugh daily in high school in the early ‘90s. They told me what he talked about, and I found those ideas absolutely repellent. I took what he was saying seriously because it was genuinely affecting my friends’ thoughts on society and culture, and I wondered whether I was being naïve about something, whether my friends’ views were simply becoming more sophisticated and worldly before mine. After all, I spent my afternoons and evenings writing fiction, not listening to talk radio or reading the news. I didn’t have a deep sense of events like the collapse of the USSR, the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, and the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, just a general understanding of them, and I knew that. Perhaps, I figured, my decision to spend my time a certain way actually informed my liberal point of view, and if I spent more time listening to talk radio and reading the news, my view might change.
At some point in college Jon Stewart showed up, and I wondered why comedy hadn’t been swirled into talk radio and news shows earlier.
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Then it occurred to me that it had. Limbaugh had been doing it all along, it just didn’t have a laughing audience or give any explicit signals that it was trying to be funny.
I’ve talked to colleagues about this idea. Many disagree. They say he’s absolutely a spokesperson for conservatives, a voice unafraid to voice what conservatives think deep down.
I think he’s a comedian. Just as a dark-humor comedian doesn’t actually subscribe to the illegal activity he jokes about, Rush Limbaugh doesn’t actually subscribe to the gross conservatism he rants about.
And I think this episode with the Georgetown law student is a great example of how he’s a bad comedian. I also think the ensuing frenzy over it is a great example of how liberals make a lot of hay over something that is simply not-funny comedy, and little more.
I love a lot of conservatives. Genuinely. What I’ve noticed about conservatives is that they are often full of love, too—they love their families and friends.
(But not necessarily their families’ and friends’ co-workers or classmates, who directly affect their families’ and friends’ lives every day. That’s a chief, unsung difference between liberals and conservatives, I think. But that’s a subject that deserves its own post, actually.)
In fact, I find a lot of self-proclaimed conservatives to be far more liberal than they realize, in that they are ready to spend money punishing the lazy and obsessively imploring them to work rather than accept that, in a world where you can’t make people work, can’t execute the lazy, and don’t want the lazy zombie-stumbling through your neighborhood, you simply must give the lazy a lot of your hard-earned money for free. You must give it to people who don’t deserve it. Yes, in fact, you must find other ways to pay for things—to send your child to college, to pay for your mother’s surgery—so that the lazy can live off the money you earned.
You accept that reality the moment you accept that you can’t make people work, that you can’t execute the lazy, and that you don’t want the lazy zombie-stumbling through your neighborhood.
I’m a conservative not with money or morals but with time, and fighting this impossible-to-mitigate contradiction is a liberal waste of time. And too many conservatives seem too comfortable liberally wasting their precious time and frustrating themselves endlessly.
Limbaugh gives a comic voice to conservative frustrations by making outlandish statements even he himself surely doesn’t actually believe but suspects his audience does. He believes advertisers will pay him so they can air radio spots while he makes those statements.
Then he says something like this and liberals and conservatives alike all get very angry with him. Today, he’s losing advertisers in droves. Surely he’s wondering what he needs to do to make this all better.
They don’t realize he’s a comedian.
But Limbaugh knows he’s a comedian. He knows this is all for show. So the advertiser exit will be purely symbolic, and soon few advertisers will be able to resist the strength of his terrific ratings as the next awful statement or scandalous act du jour distracts us once again and his statements are forgotten.
We need to all recognize that comedians are everywhere, but only some refer to themselves as such. They don’t actually take themselves that seriously, even if you do. They take seriously the brand they build when you take them seriously.
Remember that the next time a loud voice says something that hurts your sensibilities. Ask yourself, “Isn’t this person just a comedian?”
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