Rush Limbaugh has been on the air for a very long time now, doing a mild version of the kind of demagoguery that sociologists Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Gutterman analyzed in their classic study Prophets of Deceit, after WWII. The subtitle of their work was "techniques of the American agitator" and they were looking at anti-Semitic fascist demagogues (Gerald LK Smith was their central model) who used personal and political insults and vilification and often popular forms of humor, to dehumanize and demonize minorities and political opponents. They also made the point that these demagogues were engaged in a kind of show or racket, supporting themselves by appealing to and enhancing the prejudices of those who bought their political message, attended their rallies, read their publications as against organizing a serious and far more dangerous political movement.
Rush Limbaugh has engaged in the kind of racket that Lowenthal and Gutterman analyzed in Prophets of Deceit sixty years ago for a long time. He has made millions in what is called in the U.S. "conservative" talk radio (a Frenchman I knew who had lived in Vichy France during WWII and told me in the 1990s that, if you delete the anti-Antisemitism, Limbaugh and his colleagues reminded him strongly of the kind of people who dominated Vichy "talk" radio, vilifying the Allies, the previous popular front government, and of course all enemies of the glorious France of Marshall Petain, Pierre Laval, and their heroic friend and ally, Adolf Hitler).
Unlike Gerald LK Smith, et al, in the 1930s through the 1950s, Limbaugh's message and those of his radio colleagues has commercial sponsors and helps to run interference for the Republican Right, which feeds off it.
President Obama answered Limbaugh's bullying nonsense by telling Republicans, who are gearing up to fight his stimulus package, "you can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."
The media response was interesting in regard to the media. Obama was picking a fight with Limbaugh, not vice versa, even though Limbaugh has attacked him viciously for months. Obama "risked" launching a "new culture war" by fighting back against a radio demagogue who, like Joe
McCarthy in the Senate (the Lowenthal Gutterman study was published a year before McCarthy got started) had the tacit support of the "respectable" right-wing in his hysterical red baiting tirades. It is possible that Limbaugh, like McCarthy, will end up doing himself in by biting the Republican hands that feed him, although I doubt it.
Just as Bill Clinton was about to take power sixteen years ago, Limbaugh launched vicious attacks on Lani Guinier and Clinton withdrew her nomination for a Justice Department position. Unlike Clinton, President Obama has made it clear that he is not starting his administration by appeasing his enemies. He is also moving ahead with a stimulus package that grows more necessary every day as the large corporations which have been the center of the U.S. economy since the late 19th century continue to lay off tens of thousands (large U.S. based corporations, for example, announced today that they were laying off 62,000 workers in both the U.S. and abroad as the depression danger deepens.
Franklin Roosevelt buried the "social resentment" issues of the 1920s by ending Prohibition, having nothing to do with fundamentalists(while he did identify himself as Christian and make references to a beneficent God in some of his speeches) and building a class based political coalition that united rural and urban Americans, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Americans, and began a process of bringing African Americans and their oppression into national politics. Obama, by his first decisions on abortion education, stem cell research, the closing of Guantanamo and the ban on torture, is moving quickly and bravely in the same direction. He is telling the "social resentment" or "culture war" right that he is not afraid of them and will not appease them, just as he is telling those who elected him that we will move forward to overcome the economic crisis in their interest. He is also telling that to media, who hopefully will get the message--namely that listening not only to Rush Limbaugh but to tabloid news television, insults and put downs and endless scandal mongering as against addressing economic and
social issues, doesn't enable citizens to understand anything and to act as citizens to get anything done.