Let's put the whole Barack Obama-Rush Limbaugh flap into some perspective and not get our "femiNazi" vs. "Big, Fat Idiot" undies in a twist.
It's Mr. Obama who may come out ahead on the whole thing.
When Richard Nixon went on Laugh-In and said, "Sock it to ME?", the polarized political world at the time gasped. What's the meaning of this! The show was about counter-culture - drugs, sex and so on. Mr. Nixon was the antithesis of that.
So did this tragically Shakespearean, physically awkward presidential character actually have a sense of humor? Why was he giving his valuable time to a bunch of anti-establishment freaks? And what were these iconic cultural pioneers and anti-war hipsters doing letting Mr. Bomb Cambodia horn in on their stoned, satirical fun club?
What a mess. Wasn't the Elvis-Richard Nixon Oval Office handshake weird enough? Maybe Laugh-In creator George Schlatter and the Dark Knight of the Republican Party were actually in a conspiracy together to boost each other's agenda.
There's a little bit of that dynamic hidden beneath the sniper fire on both sides about Mr. Obama "elevating" Rush Limbaugh to the status of worthy leader-of-the-free-world just by mentioning him.
Actually, the whole thing suits both of them for different reasons. And that crafty President Obama may be getting the real boost.
When I used to spend a little time every summer up in the rural Feather River country of Northern California, mixing with loggers and hermit hippies, Rush was on every radio station I could get and I listened to him most mornings. Whatever you thought about his politics, he was entertaining, the first performer in a long time on either political flank to use pointed humor as a partisan weapon; it took Democrats a few years more to gear up with Al Franken and, for the most part, the Daily Show crew.
Rush was a kind of king then, particularly in the Clinton years, railing and dishing to the delight of a legion of his Dittoheads.
I'm not saying he's slipped down the cultural food chain since, particularly with a reported $400 million compensation package to stay on the air till 2016, and 13 million listeners (a figure widely cited but possibly from a three-year-old survey.) And just today, we have the Rush Limbaugh economic stimulus plan right there in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. He's a heavyweight, with or without Oxycontin to dull the pain of fame.
But Rush's popularity may be, for people who don't like him, a self-inflicted wound. A 2007 Zogby poll showed that liberals are much more likely than conservatives "to listen to commentary and entertainment with which they disagreed philosophically," according to a BBS News story. Meaning that Mr. Obama may have been driving traffic to his own natural constituency by calling out Rush by name.
Very slick of the President, almost a full Willie.
Of course in San Francisco, always contrarian to everything, Rush's station ranks only 12th in the most recent Arbitron ratings. Depend on the Bay Area to ruin the grading curve for everyone, including Rush.
Then there's a study last year by Coleman Insights, a radio consulting firm, that says Rush's listener share is greater during his show's ads than when he's actually on the air - by .18 percent. Maybe this is a trend that should worry him but it no doubt pleases his sponsors (remember: $400 million!)
Whichever way Rush is headed on the popularity meter, the face of the Republican Party, now in some disarray, and of conservatives in this country, is inevitably moving away from corpulent white dudes and, at a minimum, to painfully thin blonde, white women like Laura Ingraham and the naughty Ann Coulter. Let's also not forget ex-Attorney general Alberto Gonzalez and pundit Armstrong Williams.
Rush Limbaugh has (half) joked that his talent is "on loan from God" but Ms. Ingraham has a law degree so she actually made a down payment on that loan. She was also chosen to replace Sarah Palin at the Republican convention for a right-to-life event after the Alaskan Governor had to withdraw because she was the Veep nominee. And remember that the Republicans pick a new Party chair this Friday. Serious conservatives, specifically, are meeting next month to anoint their own new stars, with Sarah Palin still a strong contender.
So Mr. Obama's Rush quote serves the new President in another meaningful way. He's heaping attention on the guy who will soon be eclipsed, if not as a radio host, at least as a figurehead and floor leader for Obama opponents everywhere. By doing that, the most powerful person on earth has purposely snubbed all those up-and-coming challengers.
Who socked it to whom?
Causes Phil Bronstein Supports
Good Ones; anything involving the possibility of redemption.