Is the left finally reckoning with Rush?

I have long believed that Rush Limbaugh is one of the most important figures in American politics, and easily the most significant person in American media for the last two decades. Yet, for most of this time, the left and its house organs have chosen to depict him as a figure of ridicule and demonization, trivializing him as an "entertainer" or a buffoon.

Finally, there may be a serious treatment of Rush's political significance from a non-conservative. Zev Chafets, frequent contributor to the New York Times, has written a new book on Rush, and previews it on the op-ed pages of the New York Times today.

Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh. [snip]

With Democrats controlling Congress, Mr. Limbaugh saw that there was no way to stop the president's agenda. He dismissed the moderates' notion that compromising with the president would make Republicans look good to independents. Instead he decreed that the Republicans must become the party of no, and force Democratic candidates - especially centrists - to go into 2010 with sole responsibility for the Obama program and the state of the economy. And that is what has happened.

Mr. Limbaugh was not just the architect of this plan, he was (and continues to be) its enforcer. Dissenters like Arlen Specter, whom Mr. Limbaugh disparaged as a "Republican in Name Only," found themselves unelectable in the party primaries. Moderates like Michael Steele, the party chairman, were slapped down for suggesting cooperation with the administration. [snip]

Rush Limbaugh came along after the age of Ronald Reagan. He has never really had a Republican presidential candidate to his ideological satisfaction. But if the party sweeps this November under the banner of Real Conservatism, Mr. Obama will find himself facing two years of "no" in Washington and, very likely, a Limbaugh-approved opponent in 2012.

Of course, it may well be that Rush is being set-up as a straw man for Democrats to attack as the "real" leader of the conservative movement, and maybe even a shadow president, should the GOP recapture the White House. This would be travesty, as Rush has made clear that the responsibilities of political office hold no interest. His role is as an analyst, polemicist, and entertainer, and a spokesman for conservatism. (And a damn effective one, too.)

But it is magical thinking on the part of the left if they believe that conservatives are in any way pawns or agents of puppet master Rush Limbaugh. It is no slight to Rush to point out that for all his skill as a master communicator, Rush's real power comes from the validity of the principles and ideas he upholds. Wedded to the absurdities of the left, Rush's skills would be of less account.

Moreover, Rush has inspired and empowered a large number of other conservative talk show hosts, who collectively amplify the resonance of conservative ideals with the lives of most Americans. The path Rush first trod, as a conservative talk show host who makes politics fun, funny, and intriguing, is being walked by many others.

I believe that Rush plays a huge role in the rise of conservatism. But to credit him with the role of leader of the conservative resurgence ignores the fundamentals: that Barack Obama has taken America in a radical new direction, and the American people (we are a center-right nation, as Rush often correctly notes) are waking up to the looming "fundamental change" in store. Rush may be the Paul Revere of the effort to restore America to the vision of its founders, but many others also deserve credit for the resulting political movement.

Update: Chafets, I am informed, is no leftist. However, he is not identified as a movement conservative. The fact that he enjoys access to the New York Times means that his portrait of Rush will be taken seriously by people who would never listen to Rush or read a conservative website.


Scott Johnson of Powerline puts it well:

Liberals would prefer to deny the conservative resurgence. Denial has been their first recourse. If you can't deny it, the next best thing is to attribute its cause to Rush. Enter Chafets. "[T]he most obvious explanation" for the conservative resurgence, according to Chafets, "is the one that's been conspicuously absent from the gusher of analysis. Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh." Chafets describes Rush as "the brains and the spirit behind [Republicans'] resurgence."

This is an explanation that serves a couple of purposes. It gives New York Times readers a congenial explanation for a confusing (to them) phenomenon. At the same time, It gives them a familiar villain.

Liberals like to think that the program of national socialism on which Obama is embarked is a popular phenomenon. Instead, Obama's program has produced a grassroots rebellion harking back to the Founding Fathers. If you seek two words that best explain the resurgence of conservatives, Barack Obama is probably the correct answer.

Hat tip: Susan L.
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