On his Friday program, Big Voice on the Right Rush Limbaugh took a call from a man who recommended a more tolerant approach towards people with differing worldviews.
For context, the call aired just after a segment in which Limbaugh addressed an article from The Huffington Post entitled “Here’s What It’s Like to Get Your Period When You’re Not A Woman,” written by Cass Bliss, described as a “nonbinary trans educator.” During the segment, Limbaugh used the article, which called for “menstrual equality,” to highlight how activists push the acceptance of their lifestyles onto others and how conventional American life is portrayed as patriarchal and oppressive as a means of subverting it.
The caller, a 48-year old Trump supporter from Pennsylvania, drew a distinction between liberals, such as those who harassed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a restaurant over the summer, and conservatives, who believe in each person living and enjoying his own life, free from the infringing views of others.
Quibbles of conservatism vs. libertarianism aside, the caller has a point. The notions of limited government and individual freedom, ideas ostensibly espoused by Republicans and Limbaugh himself, should appeal to everyone, including liberals such as Bliss, because they hold that everybody should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit, free from the influence wielded by others.
That point should have sounded familiar to Limbaugh, who has over the years endorsed that very same philosophy to the millions in his talk radio audience. In fact, it even served as the central focus of Limbaugh’s “first national address,” his keynote speech in 2009 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The pertinent remarks are worth reading in their entirety:
Now, seriously, for those of you watching on C-SPAN as well, and on Fox, I want to tell you who we all are in this room. I want to tell you who conservatives are. We conservatives have not done a good enough job of just laying out basically who we are because we make the mistake of assuming people know. What they know is largely incorrect based on the way we are portrayed in pop culture, in the Drive-By Media, by the Democrat Party. Let me tell you who we conservatives are: We love people.
When we look out over the United States of America, when we are anywhere, when we see a group of people, such as this or anywhere, we see Americans. We see human beings. We don’t see groups. We don’t see victims. We don’t see people we want to exploit. What we see — what we see is potential. We do not look out across the country and see the average American, the person that makes this country work. We do not see that person with contempt. We don’t think that person doesn’t have what it takes. We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government.
We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. Liberty, Freedom. And the pursuit of happiness. Those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded. We conservatives think all three are under assault. Thank you.
Unfortunately, this Rush Limbaugh was nowhere to be found on his Friday morning program. Limbaugh asked the caller, who had recently attended an event alongside Democratic Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, if he was “expecting, like, a gold star for not harassing [Casey] when they harass us.”
Limbaugh then asked the caller his age, after which he elaborated further:
The younger people are, the more inclined they are to think that “if the liberals just got to know us, and if they just realized that we really want them to enjoy life and have fun, they wouldn’t hate us so much.” I used to think that. I used to think that if they just got past all those clichés about me that they wouldn’t say these horrible things. They don’t want to have a different view of conservatism. They don’t want to have a different or even true view of conservatism. They’re not interested in understanding you. They simply don’t want you around. They don’t want you to exist. They don’t want to have to listen to you, no matter what you think or say. They will bully you and intimidate you as much as they have to to get you to shut up, to get you to stop going out in public. We’re dealing with genuine Stalinist-type authoritarians who think the purpose of power is to tell other people how to live.
Now, my purpose here is not to accuse Limbaugh of being hypocritical for holding two completely opposing views at different times. I don’t wish to accuse Limbaugh of that because, apparently unlike Limbaugh, I believe that changing one’s opinions is a natural part of the human experience as we grow and mature and learn new things. Ironically, Limbaugh’s own shift in perspective attests to this.
But Limbaugh’s position here, currently echoed by many on the right, does raise an interesting question: should we indeed view liberals as our enemies?
First, we should examine some practical realities. Republicans do not comprise the majority of the voting public. Overall, according to Pew Research, “48% of all registered voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic compared with 44% who identify as Republican or lean toward the GOP.” Also, Republicans have won the popular vote a grand total of one time since 1988’s election saw George H. W. Bush defeat Michael Dukakis by roughly 7 million votes. So if Limbaugh’s master plan for saving conservatism is through strength in numbers, then he’s already fighting an uphill battle. If conservatism is to be advanced, then clearly more conservatives are going to have to come from somewhere. And somehow I doubt immigration is what he has in mind.
Then, of course, there is the question of who we define as a liberal. As Limbaugh himself has explained many times previously, President Trump is no conservative. Why should we reach out to him and not others? Moreover, Trump’s own base is comprised in part of a coalition of rural Democrats and blue-collar Rustbelt workers, and they certainly are not conservative in the traditional sense. Should they be disregarded too? Figuring out just whom we are allowed to align ourselves with might be harder than it sounds.
And most importantly, where does this logic lead us? If we shouldn’t try to reason with liberals as we would anyone else – if our only recourse is to guarantee their lack of influence – doesn’t that lead us to a modern day McCarthyism? Shouldn’t we screen all public officials for leftist political views before hiring them? Shouldn’t we bar liberals from serving in the military? Shouldn’t we prohibit them from teaching our children? In the private sector, shouldn’t we refrain from hiring them, or from patronizing their businesses? This is the logical extent of Limbaugh’s solution here, short of outright civil war.
As extreme as this may sound, it would not exactly be new territory for Limbaugh, who, following the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, recommended we “ban guns and free speech for libs”:
From this day forward, somebody propose it, liberals should not be allowed to buy guns. It’s just that simple. Liberals should have their speech controlled and not be allowed to buy guns. I mean if we want to get serious about this, if we want to face this head on, we’re gonna have to openly admit, liberals should not be allowed to buy guns, nor should they be allowed to use computer keyboards or typewriters, word processors or e-mails, and they should have their speech controlled. If we did those three or four things, I can’t tell you what a sane, calm, civil, fun-loving society we would have. Take guns out of the possession, out of the hands of liberals, take their typewriters and their keyboards away from ’em, don’t let ’em anywhere near a gun, and control their speech. You would wipe out 90% of the crime, 85 to 95% of the hate, and a hundred percent of the lies from society.
So is this really how we expect to unify the country and solve our problems? And what happens if the “other side” adopts that policy as well? Where does it end?
George Washington supplied the answer to that question in his Farewell Address, when he warned of the dangers of political parties:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
To put this in today’s terms, the thirst for “liberal tears” naturally leads one further into tribalism and the waiting arms of tyranny, which is exactly the opposite of the each-to-his-own vision that conservatives, including Limbaugh, used to embrace.
The lesson here that Limbaugh and others in right wing media would do well to remember is that problems aren’t solved at the voting booth. They are solved by each of us accepting the responsibility of educating ourselves and our families about the nature and importance of conservative values, by each of us doing what we can to be responsible and informed citizens, and by each of us living our lives as an example to others. But for this to work, we have to view our fellow Americans, not as enemies, but as potential allies.
Politicians have every incentive to not fix things, so why Limbaugh thinks it would be a good idea to leave everything in their hands is a bit of a mystery. But then again, even tyrants need mouthpieces, don’t they?