The Atlantic recently published a piece where Rush Limbaugh’s audience questions his motives for providing Donald Trump with so much coverage. Limbaugh contrasts Night Line and Johnny Carson to say:
“I do both,” he said. “I cross over seamlessly from one to the other. You never know when it happens. So I don’t deny I’m an entertainer; this is showbiz.”
That’s a fair defense, I suppose, but it’s the same defense used by Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show. An entertainer widely despised by Limbaugh’s audience, as being the mouth piece for the Obama administration. It’s dubbed the clown nose defense. It can be removed when he wants to be serious and it can be put back on to deflect criticism. And that is what Limbaugh is doing, using the clown nose defense.
It’s incredibly effective. Limbaugh later goes one to ask his long-time audience to trust his motives and that his Trump coverage has a larger purpose.
“Do you understand that I always have a purpose? Do you realize nothing is haphazard? You’re wondering why I’m supporting Trump. Who says I am? Have I announced specifically that I am, or are you perceiving it? A better question would be: If you think that, why? And I can’t go any further. I did with my brother last night. It’s on record, if I have to go back and prove this, and I told Snerdley this morning about this. But I can’t go any further here. It is what it is. I know it’s a cliche.”
The author of the piece, Condor Friedersdorf, urges Limbaugh’s audience to not dismiss his evasiveness in answering the question and to think critically. I urge everyone to do so, all the time. We are living in serious times, with little evidence of serious people leading us. Just like with Jon Stewart, Limbaugh is something more than an entertainer to his audience. He is their voice. A mantle he may not like, but a mantle nonetheless. Being raised in a household that deified Limbaugh, I can attest to the blind faith some show in him. It’s exactly like Stewart’s audience, just a different ideological points of view.
To get personal for a moment, I knew this undercurrent existed a few days ago when my father, the man who deified Limbaugh during my childhood, called me to ask about the Trump coverage. “Do people really think that man (Trump) can be president?”, my father asked. I didn’t know what to tell him. “I dunno, dad. Things are crazy right now. They are always are during primaries, but this feels different.”, I explained in the best way I could. “Boy, you sure ain’t kiddin’ about things being crazy.” We discussed immigration and what that means to certain people. It was a weird moment, it was like one of my millennial friends having their crushing moment of clarity about Jon Stewart, except it was my dad. And he wanted answers from me that I didn’t have. I ended it with explaining ratings and told him to listen to more audio books and less talk radio. To which he replied “May not be a bad idea.” And for my father, that’s as close to “you’re right” as I’ve ever gotten.