The harsh and abusive language of Rush Limbaugh has finally come to Fox News and mainstream conservatism, dooming both
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, was released from hospital on Wednesday. She had fallen in her home and suffered a concussion. The concussion led to a potentially life-threatening clot in her brain, and several days’ stay in the hospital. Doctors expect her to fully recover. What Fox News said about her, though, shows that the conservative movement and its media wing have fallen to depths from which recovery is nearly impossible.
When someone encounters a misfortune that affects her health and threatens her life, the human thing to do, if one must do anything at all, is to convey one’s sympathies and well-wishes. The human sentiment—and here we stress “human”—is to recognize that the life of a fellow human being is as precious and fragile as our own, and that all of us deserve respect when life is threatened, whether or not we understand the real nature of the threat.
But when news first broke that Mrs. Clinton had fallen ill, the cloven-hoofed beasts who appear on Fox News—and who talk, read, and reason only by a miracle of nature—declared her a malingerer and launched into a spectacle of public mockery, deriding and laughing at the secretary who was now too ill to go to work. Here is a sampling of what was said by commentators on Fox News:
John Bolton, former UN ambassador for George W. Bush, appearing On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren:
You know, every foreign service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase I am about to use. When you don’t want to go to a meeting or conference, or an event, you have a ‘diplomatic illness.’ And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band.
Col. Allen West, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida, speaking on Fox & Friends:
I’m not a doctor, but it seems as though the secretary of state has come down with a case of “Benghazi flu.”
Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist, appearing on Special Report w/ Bret Baier:
Apparently she is suffering from acute Benghazi allergy, which causes lightheadedness when she hears the word “Benghazi” or is being asked about it.
Greg Gutfeld, co-host of Fox News’s The Five, speaking on his show:
How can she get a concussion when she has been ducking everything?
From these snippets—to say nothing of the many conservative blogs and Twitter posts that equally mocked the Secretary’s illness—one thing becomes quickly clear: the Limbaughization of Fox News is in its advanced stages and is probably complete. Rush Limbaugh, who pioneered a brand of ideological talk radio that is long on outrageous abuse and short on usable information, has been in the game for a long time. But it appears that his long radio career includes the birth of his ideological children, who are now maturing into the family trade. Nowadays, they are fanning out to radio, TV, Twitter, and Facebook, spreading his loathsome and degrading model of public discourse.
Moreover, the attack on Mrs. Clinton shows that Limbaugh’s progeny now include members of the mainstream conservative establishment. John Bolton, aside from his long career in Republican governments, was recently a senior foreign policy adviser for Mitt Romney, and a top contender for the job of secretary of state had Romney prevailed against President Obama. Col. Allen West is a Republican member of Congress. Charles Krauthammer is as mainstream a conservative as George Will, Michael Barone, or the Wall Street Journal editorial board. And they all find the biggest and most prestigious platform on Fox News, a channel that, in tone and substance, screams “We are hardcore Republicans.”
And it so it was that when Mrs. Clinton fell ill, the premier conservative news channel and some of the top conservative minds, came together to affirm their Limbaughian pedigree. In fact, this single act—making fun of an ill person—can be traced to Rush Limbaugh himself. When Mr. Krauthammer accused Mrs. Clinton of faking her head injury, he must have had in mind one of the most glorious moments in gutter radio: that moment when Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox, a man disabled by Parkinson’s disease, of faking his symptoms. “He is exaggerating the effects of the disease,” Limbaugh told listeners in 2006. “He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s purely an act.” Crazy stuff indeed! Is it shocking? Yes. Edifying? No. Worth emulating? No—unless you are a conservative Republican, made in the image of Rush Limbaugh, speaking for Fox News.
If all that Fox News cared for in the world was its high ratings and its earnings, then there would be no problem; extreme rhetoric and hyper-partisanship have been delivering both—just as Rush Limbaugh had discovered. But more than any other TV channel, Fox News is an active political player, with an obvious partisan goal of promoting conservative causes and electing Republican politicians. In this dynamic of media power vs. political power, liberals everywhere should be cheered by the fact that the media arm of the conservative establishment is fast descending into the abyss of fringe extremists, and is falling farther out of step with the rest of the country—just like the Republican Party it so valiantly supports.
Fox News, by far the most watched cable channel in America, has tremendous capacity to influence people’s perceptions about issues and politicians. In no other place is this truer than in the realm of electoral politics, where actual power is sought and conferred. Fox News, by its ubiquity, if nothing else, can elevate or tear down issues, build or destroy candidacies. If it were to activate its vast resources of 24-hr news and commentary, and enlist the help of its affiliates like Fox Business or the Wall Street Journal, all employing the skills of conservative activists and think tanks, it could become for America what Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers have become for the United Kingdom: a highly sought-after kingmaker without whose endorsements and support no party or person could ascend to power.
But, in fact, it did activate its vast resources for the 2012 elections. It plunged itself headlong into America’s electoral politics, shamelessly using its massive viewership to campaign for Republican candidates and conservative issues. It picked its preferred candidate (Mitt Romney), chose its preferred issues (Solyndra, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, taxes, “You didn’t built that”, etc), and promoted them forcefully across different time-slots, over many weeks and months, to its millions of viewers—all to no effect. The American people simply ignored them. Reason? It is a non-credible, active mouthpiece of a radical Republican Party and its disfavored policies. Its ideas and issues, its lies and conspiracies, its nasty and mean-spirited attacks, to say nothing of its wacko on-air personalities—all convinced viewers that whatever Fox News was saying was untethered from reality. Simply put: if you build your audience the Rush Limbaugh way, you will, like Rush Limbaugh, entertain a lot of viewers, but will command little influence over the country’s political direction.
In the Hillary Clinton incident, many people called for Fox News commentators to apologize. They did not, and they will not; and that is a very good thing. Apologizing humanizes the heartless beasts. Not apologizing will hasten their marginalization from society, and isolate their venom from the rest of America. Just when the conservative movement is supposed to be engaged in soul-searching after its 2012 election loss, Fox News has become a voice of extremists for extremist—to the exclusion of all others. It will keep its ratings, and its lucre, and its despicable commentators. But liberals will set about governing the country.
We at stupidelephants.com are always on the look-out for seminal moments in the slow and inevitable death of the current conservative movement. That the mainstream pillars of the Republican Party now freely and fluently speak the language of Rush Limbaugh is one such seminal moment.