Sunday, April 5, 2009

Limbaugh, liberals, and the LA Times

Last week, in the Sunday LA Times, a guy named Andrew Klavan threw down a challenge to all the liberal readers of the Times: listen to Rush Limbaugh. Klavan is a conservative, and a pretty hard-core one. He explained why liberals don't listen to Rush Limbaugh in very explicit terms:
You're a lowdown, yellow-bellied, lily-livered intellectual coward. You're terrified of finding out he makes more sense than you do.
I find this very funny, largely because it's just so ridiculous. This is what conservatism has become? This guy thinks this kind of childish taunt is going to get me all riled up and offended? Is he on crack? I think it's hysterical. The good Mr. Klavan seems to think that the Op-Ed page of the LA Times is the intellectual equivalent of an elementary school playground. Am I supposed to be impressed that he can repeat cliched insults? This is the kind of nonsense that George Will outgrew at roughly the same age that he outgrew holding his mother's hand as he walked across the street.

My answer to him as to why I don't listen to The Large One is grounded in a good old capitalist value he presumably would approve of: efficiency. I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh because it's not a productive use of my time. There are lots of conservatives I read and listen to. They are, for the most part, people from whom I might actually learn something. Rush Limbaugh is not one of them. I also don't engage in somewhat more wholesome pursuits, like reading People magazine, watching Fox News, or playing online poker. I do occasionally read the Wall Street Journal (which I have been doing since I was nine, when I bought my first stock), but the editorial page is so predictable I no longer even find it amusing.

Klavan accuses the mainstream media of distorting Rush Limbaugh's message, taking his comments out of context to inflame liberal outrage. So what? Who cares? That's exactly what Rush Limbaugh wants. He wants liberals to hate him. He wants liberals to be afraid of him. That's part of his schtick. He's the master of the soundbite. He loves being quoted, in or out of context. He would be nothing without his enemies. Which is exactly why I neither hate him or am scared of him. I think he's a brilliant entertainer, and he's very good at what he does, but I also just don't really care about him. When I write about him, it's usually about his place in the political/media boxing ring. I don't pass judgment on his ideas because I could care less about his ideas. He's a convenient bogeyman for liberals. And that is exactly what he wants to be.

Rush Limbaugh is the perfect embodiment of conservative, capitalist ideology: he acts according to what is in his own best self-interest. Which doesn't necessarily coincide with the best self-interests of, say, the Republican leadership in Congress. Which is one contradiction that I find hilarious.

But what makes this debate really interesting is how the LA Times itself responded to this throwing down of the gauntlet (Klavan has written for the LA Times Op-Ed page before). They asked some very prominent LA liberals to take up the challenge and actually listen to Rush Limbaugh. Would they be up to the challenge?!?! Could they deal with the deeply meaningful and insightful challenges to their worldview?! Or would they melt in the face of Rush's great onslaught of profound truth!

Maybe not.

Here's the weird thing: the people they selected already listened to Rush Limbaugh. It's entirely possible that they found the only four liberals in LA who did so, and invited their commentary. But the four they invited are four of the most prominent liberals in LA, including Norman Lear, founder of People for the American Way, Laurie Ochoa, editor of the LA Weekly, LA's alternative newspaper, and Constance Rice, arguably the most prominent civil rights attorney in LA (and second cousin of Condi Rice). I hadn't heard of the fourth liberal, Marc Cooper, but he's an academic at USC, so he's got to be a good guy.

Ha! Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Klavan. My favorite part of the response is from Mr. Lear:
El Rushbo suffers from extreme flatulence of speech, emotion and personality. The 'hilarious' El Rushbo is simply a pompous, self-worshiping blowhard and bully. And you, sir, Mr. Klavan, are silly.
He is more than silly. He is, in this episode, a loser. Here, Mr. Klavan, use this towel to wipe that egg off your face. Maybe next time you won't flaunt your stereotypes quite so blatantly. Let's perform a cost-benefit analysis, shall we? You got a check from the LA Times, so, financially, you'll be coming out of this OK. Politically, however, I don't see how you could have come out of this any worse. You probably scored some style points with your politically sympatico comrades (Klavan also used to write for Libertas, a conservative film blog run by some friends of mine). Great - your friends still like you. But I'm not sure how many people are impressed by someone who throws out a challenge, and then sees that challenge met so decisively. And so calmly. The ball, Mr. Klavan, is, as they say, in your court. Unless have one hell of a comeback, you just lost this game of wits rather badly. May I recommend taking your opponents a little more seriously, and treating them with a little more respect?

Judging by your writing, Mr. Klavan, you are quite the tough guy. Oooohhhh! But what today's liberals writing in the LA Times proved is that they, and other liberals, like me, are a conservative tough guy's worst nightmare: we are not in the least bit afraid of you. Or Rush Limbaugh. There are many conservatives I take very seriously, first and foremost my father, and all my grandparents, when they were alive. And our mutual friends Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, founders of the Liberty Film Festival (of which I have attended almost every event). For the record, Jason and Govindini are wonderful people, and always welcomed me enthusiastically to their festival.

As of now, Mr. Klavan, neither you nor Mr. Limbaugh have offered me any reason to offer the same courtesy to you. But who knows what the future holds? Some day we may meet, have a beer, and get along famously. I'll try to keep an open mind on that score. I'm good on that whole keeping-an-open-mind thing; I'm a liberal. I am glad to hear that you pay attention to liberal media. That's one hopeful sign. Listening to NPR hasn't done much for your manners, tho.

Liberals, of course, have their own stereotypes. At our worst, we liberals think of conservatives as mean, petty, small-minded idiots with little sense of decency. We think of them as bitter, angry white men who spout venom instead of engaging in a civil debate about ideas. Personally, I try not to think in terms of those stereotypes, because I know many smart, competent, compassionate Republicans. I even know some with good senses of humor.

Which means, Mr. Klavan, that these liberals have defied your stereotypes, while you have strongly reinforced ours. Thanks so much. We owe you one. Never thot I'd be so grateful to a conservative for being a narrow-minded asshole.

You have your stereotypes and the king of talk radio. But you also have the legacy of George W. Bush, which is about the most toxic asset out there.

We, on the other hand, have the presidency, the House, and the Senate. I'll take our hand over yours.

Oh, and one other thing we've got that you and Rush may notice that you don't have: the respect and affection of most of the rest of the world. That kind of thing helps when you're, you know, trying to change the world. Or save it.

Better luck next time, Mr. Klavan.


Anonymous said...

love it! so wise John, thanks.
One scary thought is that rush is a business - he has no other concern than making money - he has only himself to regard

JohnTEQP said...

Right, exactly. Rush is in the business of making money, and he is (to his minor credit) very upfront about that. He could care less if he is making the GOP look bad. As long as he is raking in the bucks, he's happy. He could care less about the country as a whole.