Another day, another mainstream pundit tut-tuts at Rush Limbaugh. This time it's Jonathan Alter:
When Obama first mentioned Limbaugh in a meeting with Republicans during his second week in office, he was chastised for elevating him in a way that didn't befit a president. But it quickly became clear that any contest between Barack and Rush was not really a contest at all–and that this is a fight the president is happy to have. The president's popularity is in the 60s, and the entertainer's, according to internal Democratic polling, is in the 20s. So Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs are now piling on, describing Limbaugh as the "intellectual force" and "de facto chairman" of the party.
It works. And it will keep on working until enough Republicans grow a spine. When they show enough guts to ignore the thousands of calls and e-mails from dittoheads, maybe they'll get their party–and their self-respect–back.
Here's a way to keep your perspective when you read these things. Imagine it's George W. Bush's first term. Every time a columnist condemns Rush Limbaugh, substitute the name of the man John McCain called out at the 2004 Republican convention: Michael Moore. Think back to all the concern trolls who sighed that Democrats would never get anywhere until they stopped letting a demagogic entertainer pollute their brand. Or, put another way, until the Dems turned their fire on someone who can actually rally their troops rather than on the party in power.
Not that the two men are equivalent. Politics and style aside, the biggest difference between Moore and Limbaugh is that Moore has never been as strong a force among the Democrats as Limbaugh is among the Republicans. (Indeed, in 2000 Moore didn't even support the Democratic candidate.) In other words, rejecting Rush is riskier. The reason Michael Steele finds himself forced to bow before Limbaugh is because Limbaugh can mobilize people. Speaking as someone who lived in Maryland during Steele's senatorial campaign, I can report that the chairman of the RNC does not share that talent. You can't win a national election with only your party's base, but—under normal circumstances—you can't win without the base either. That's why they call it a base: You build on it.
I say this not because I'm interested in defending Limbaugh or, for that matter, in returning the Republicans to power. I just think it's funny how the professional centrists love to scold any voice on the right or the left who has a history of exciting the rank and file, be he a filmmaker, a talk show host, or a Netroots blogger. You get the impression those pundits yearn for a world where everything is decided in a quiet room by a bipartisan panel of distinguished moderates, with Bill Bradley, David Gergen, and Norman Ornstein rotating as chairman. Well, I know a lesser evil when I see one. Annoying as the Kossacks and dittoheads can be, I'd rather be governed by a pack of them in soccer riot mode.