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Wednesday, August 13 2014

Not Helpful: Rush Limbaugh, You're Not Helping

[editor's note: "Not Helpful" is the title of a continuing series of blog posts]

[UPDATE 8-3-2014 1:30 PM]

A piece on Rush Limbaugh's website was brought to my attention, a piece that makes clear that this interpretation of Limbaugh's words from his show on Tuesday was, in fact, mistaken. Limbaugh's comments quoted below referred, not to Robin Williams' death, but to the news coverage of his death, and as such, carried almost the opposite meaning from what I understood. I was mistaken, and in my error I wrote a piece that was dreadfully unfair to Limbaugh. I would be remiss if I did not call attention to this piece, so later today, I will write and put up a new post addressing this information. My regrets for falling into the trap of responding too hastily, and I will consider this a lesson learned. 

* * * * *

When I launched this project last year, I had in mind multiple aims. The primary goal, as expressed frequently through this blog and through my podcasts, is to celebrate and explore the myriad ways that our popular culture expresses the magnificence of the Individual. This philosophy of Individualism, I hope, runs through nearly everything I do and say.

Another facet of my mission, and one I believe to be just as important, if somewhat less fun, is to shine a light on "unhelpful messaging." By that, I mean messaging that makes it harder for ideas of liberty and individualism to shine forth, to allow people who don't naturally gravitate toward those philosophies (especially politically) to try them on for size.

There's a lot of unhelpful messaging out there, particularly among those on the political Right.

The most recent example comes in the wake of actor Robin Williams' untimely death, which has re-opened an important conversation about suicide. The last few days has seen an explosion online of discussions of mental illness, particularly depression and bipolar disorder. People are talking about how best to help those we love who wage a battle against these illnesses, just as Williams did. I've seen some brilliant writing, some pieces that plunge the reader, even if only a little, into the depressive mindset. Some are more successful than others, of course, but the goal of each is mostly the same: to garner a little understanding of what is a tragically misunderstood illness.

Then there are reactions like that of radio host Rush Limbaugh. I've often thought that Limbaugh gets a bad rap in many respects, but in this rare case, I am going to pile on with the usual gang of critics who hurl nasty invective in his direction. In this case, I think they have it right: Limbaugh is being a jerk.

As reported by David Edwards on www.therawstory.com, on Tuesday Limbaugh spoke about Williams' death, saying that the actor's suicide was driven by his "political leftist" state of mind:

What is the Left's worldview in general?  If you had to attach, not a philosophy, but an attitude, to a Leftist worldview, it's one of pessimism and darkness, sadness… they're never happy, are they? They're always angry about something, no matter what they get, they're always angry.

 [talking about a Fox News story about Williams]

He had it all but he had nothing. Made everybody else laugh, but was miserable inside. I mean it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the Left has. I mean, talk about low expectations, general unhappiness and so forth… and right here it is says that it was, one of the contributing factors to Robin Williams deciding to kill himself was "Survivors' Guilt"… "Robin Williams felt guilty that he was still alive while his three friends had died young, and much earlier than he had, he could never get over the guilt that they had died and he didn't."

Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political Leftists in judging the country.

This is not the first response of this sort that I've seen; in comments on a posting on Ace of Spades blog, one finds political conservatives attributing Williams' death to his liberalism, or saying that they refuse to mourn the death of one more Big Government liberal like Williams.

One of the biggest problems facing political conservatives and those on the political Right is the stark fact that they are alienating themselves from the mass of voters who decide most elections, who associate strongly with neither Left nor Right, but decide each election on its perceived merits (that "perceived" is an important piece here). These are people who are condescendingly referred to as "Low Information Voters": people who would rather spend their time raising their children, or enjoying the company of friends, or losing themselves in activities like summer boating and camping, winter skiing, football season, NCAA basketball, cooking, movies, or a hundred other ways that people spend their lives.

These "Low Information Voters" couldn't care less about Williams' politics, Left-wing, Right-wing or whatever. For the most part, they couldn't care less about the political issues that Williams championed. They care about the fact that an actor they've known since they were children, through his movies and his stand-up, through his appearances on Whose Line Is it Anyway? and various late-night talk shows, has died. They mourn Aladdin's genie. They identified with his sweetness, his apparent compassion and warmth. They—WE— mourn the loss of the man who made us all feel so many things, and we grieve for the apparent agony he suffered in his last days.

What purpose, exactly, do Limbaugh and the rest have in mind when writing or saying such things? What goal are they trying to accomplish?

Regardless of what they're trying to do, I can tell you exactly what they are, in fact, accomplishing: they are driving people away. The only people who will hear Limbaugh use Williams' tragic death as an excuse to inveigh against Leftists and not feel disgust and contempt, are those who already agree with Limbaugh. This is the worst sort of Preaching to the Choir, because it inclines just about everyone else to stay as far away as possible.

The David Edwards piece that made me aware of Limbaugh's words (I rarely listen to Limbaugh on the radio anymore) was brought to my attention to a friend, B, who has gradually been shifting his thoughts on politics over the last few years, becoming more aware of the importance and value of individual liberty. B had the following to say on the topic: "I thought I couldn't hate Rush more, but this is a new low."

I sincerely doubt that B is the only person who feels this way. I don't "hate" Rush, but I find myself thoroughly disgusted with him over this.

Commentators like Limbaugh, those who consistently politicize everything to do with American popular culture—think, for example, of those who refused to see the recent movie The Butler because it was produced by Obama-supporter Oprah Winfrey, or because Right-wing bete noir Jane Fonda had been cast as Nancy Reagan—do themselves and their cause a tremendous disservice. They push away when they should be inviting in. They alienate when they should be embracing. They reinforce the misperception that those who espouse ideas of individual liberty, individual responsibility, and individual worth are uncompassionate douchebags.

Rush, you're not helping. Conservatives who feel inclined to voice opinions similar to Rush's, I respectfully suggest that you clam up for a bit; you, too, are not helping. Americans are grieving for a man they loved, however much at a distance. This would be an outstanding time to heed Mom's advice about those who haven't anything nice to say.

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