Twenty years or so ago, I worked at a prominent Columbia-area talk radio station. I worked behind the scenes, pushing buttons and making sure commercials got played when they were supposed to. For a long stretch, I handled the midday shift, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Back then, one of my jobs was airing Rush Limbaugh’s titular talk show.
He’d been on the national airwaves about four or five years, I think. His show aired for three hours from noon to 3 p.m.
They were the worst three hours of my day, every day.
I don’t say that because I lean Democrat and he’s firmly Republican. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve voted for Republicans when I thought they were the right person for the job. I will likely do so again if Democratic candidates don’t measure up to the task of leading our nation, state or community.
Limbaugh’s show was the worst to get through because of his absolute inability to treat those with opposing views from his own with any measure of respect. He does not appear to even have the capacity to truly believe he is wrong to have said something when he clearly has been wrong.
While he did apologize for calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” because of her stance on contraceptives, it was, in my opinion, a weak apology laced with his continued stance against what Fluke had said.
A better example is the almost laughable furor he made last week in comparing the villainous character Bane, in The Dark Knight Returns, to Bain Capital, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s old company. Limbaugh claimed DC Comics and Warner Bros. had hooked up with Democrats to deliberately link Bane to Bain in an attempt to defame Romney.
Sir, Bane was thought up back in 1993, and chosen as the villain for the movie in early 2011, before Romney’s political star shot to the top.
He backtracked, but only a little, now claiming Romney is Batman. Ludicrous.
My point is this: Limbaugh doesn’t have conversations with people or about issues. He talks at his audience; he makes pronouncements and then hides behind the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. He doesn’t have to be fair, isn’t fair and has taken advantage of that for 25 years.
That, in turn, I believe, has led to a complete breaking down of being able to have true political conversations in this country. People who agree with Limbaugh’s views -- but more importantly his tactics -- believe it’s OK to say whatever you want and then plug their ears against whatever anyone else has to say.
Think about this: the rabid followers of his show are called “Ditto-heads.” While get the in-joke -- it’s a great way to speed through the thousands of people calling in to his show everyday -- I think it speaks to the mentality of the audience.
They are merely agreeing with him. They are “ditto-ing” his comments. They’re yes men and women.
Now, if someone calls up with an opposing view -- if they even get through -- he conducts a “caller abortion” and calls certain female callers “feminazis.” These are hateful phrases, designed to whip his followers into a frenzy. They certainly don’t invite honest debate and certainly not to reasonable conversation.
He is popular, no doubt. His “leadership,” if it can be called that, had lead the way for others to emulate him. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have followed suit. And, to be sure, there are rabid folks on the other side, too, such as Alan Colmes, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann.
I don’t know if it’s a case of fighting back with the same tactics, but some Democrats certainly spur the same kind of wackiness Limbaugh does. Not as much, in my opinion, but it exists, too.
So, thanks to this level of media discourse, so has gone the national political discourse. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been nasty to each other for years. No one talks anymore -- they just shout at each other and claim victory when no one’s won anything.
Inevitably, this has trickled down to the local level. Limbaugh appears to support the Tea Party movement, a movement I believe has grown out of much of the sentiment he has espoused. There are people I have met and spoken with who while not coming out and saying they are Tea Party members, act and sound as if they are. They, essentially, come across as “don’t tax me, but if you do, don’t spend it on anything or at least only spend it on what I want.”
I won’t name names; that’s not what I do. Why? Because I believe everyone has a right to their opinion and the right to express it. I’m not going to foster more ill will between people who would, otherwise, get along just fine.
My problem is that many of these people -- like Limbaugh -- won’t even entertain the possibility that someone on the other side has anything worthwhile to say.
They make a case for whatever their view on something is, stick to it no matter how inaccurate it is, and no amount of talking to them until you’re blue in the face makes any difference.
Look, all I want is for people to take the time to actually sit down and listen to each other. Talk through differences, compromise, find a middle ground. I can empathize with certain conservative views and, obviously, adhere to certain liberal ones. But I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of guy -- not wishy-washy, mind you, but someone who truly looks for the best answer.
It’d be nice if the Rush Limbaughs of our lives would do the same.