There’s an editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times by Andrew Klavan, headlined “Take the Limbaugh Challenge.” In it, Klavan writes, “If you are reading this newspaper, the likelihood is that you agree with the Obama administration’s recent attacks on conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh. That’s the likelihood; here’s the certainty: You’ve never listened to Rush Limbaugh.”
He goes on:
Whenever I interrupt a liberal’s anti-Limbaugh rant to point out that the ranter has never actually listened to the man, he always says the same thing: “I’ve heard him!”
On further questioning, it always turns out that by “heard him,” he means he’s heard the selected excerpts spoon-fed him by the distortion-mongers of the mainstream media. These excerpts are specifically designed to accomplish one thing: to make sure you never actually listen to Limbaugh’s show, never actually give him a fair chance to speak his piece to you directly.
Klavan’s insight here is right on par with that of astrologers and tarot card readers. It’s also a very popular, very comforting notion clutched tight by pundits all across the right wing of the political spectrum, from Mark Levin to the increasingly insufferable Dennis Miller. It’s a crutch on which Miller’s political piece of mind leans particularly hard. He calls it animus in absentia, and cites it to explain away critics of Ann Coulter and Fox News Channel.
It’s easy to see why this is such a popular notion. It’s reassuring to believe that the only reason people disagree with you is that they just haven’t heard you yet. If they only gave you a chance, only took the time to really understand, they’d have no choice but to surrender to your self-evident wisdom — or that of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, name your own right-wing talking head. Andrew Klavan’s faith in this heartening little bit of self-bullshit is so strong that he doesn’t even allow for the possibility of the contrary. Writing about the readers of his own newspaper, who subsidize his income, he says,
You’re not a moderate or you wouldn’t be reading this newspaper. You’re not tolerant of a wide range of views; you are tolerant of a narrow spectrum of variations on your views. And, whatever you claim, you still haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh.
Jesus, no wonder newspapers are in fucking freefall. But at least Klavan still thinks enough of his audience of “yellow-bellied, lily-livered intellectual cowards” to issue them the following challenge:
Listen to the [Rush Limbaugh] show. Not for five minutes but for several hours: an hour a day for several days. Consider what he has to say — the real policy material under the jokes and teasing bluster. Do what your intellectual keepers do not want you to do and keep an open mind.
Quite the dare from Mr. Klavan. The one problem I detect is this: I’ve been taking the Limbaugh Challenge for fifteen years. I started listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio in 1992, when I was twelve years old. By eighth grade I had read both his books, The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So. When his television show was on the air, I rarely missed an episode. During the summer when I wasn’t in school, and over vacations and sick-days, I routinely listened to all three hours of his radio show. I was familiar with Rush Limbaugh and the “real policy material” beneath his “jokes and teasing bluster” before there even was such a thing as Media Matters or ThinkProgress to spoon-feed me distorting excerpts. Remember back during Clinton’s first term, when Rush started wearing a lapel ribbon made out of a rolled-up dollar bill, both to mock the practice of wearing AIDS and breast cancer awareness ribbons and to allow the dittoheads in his audience to more easily identify each other in public, like conservative gay-dar? I wore one of those to school for months. I wrote an article for the teen page of the Herald-Mail and was photographed wearing the goddamn thing.
I don’t disagree with Rush Limbaugh because I’ve never really heard him. I don’t oppose his politics because I just haven’t taken the time to understand them. I’ve heard him plenty. I understand him perfectly. That’s why I oppose him. It wasn’t always this way. It took a few years. I had some growing up to do. The more I opened myself up to a wider range of views — and not merely a narrow variation of my own views, as Andrew Klavan writes, perfectly describing the phony broad-mindedness of which many conservatives are guilty, it seems to me — the less what I was hearing from Limbaugh made sense. Once I had read Voltaire, Carl Sagan, Thomas Paine, the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh looked trivial at best. Once I had read and heard from Mark Twain, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, the humor of Rush Limbaugh hardly seemed to exist at all. I have no intellectual keepers. No one has shaped my opinion on Rush Limbaugh other than Rush Limbaugh. The more I heard him as an adult rather than an adolescent, the more I came to see him not as insightful, funny and wise, but as tiresome, clownish, self-serving, and oh, just the tiniest bit hypocritical.
Take a moment to consider how arrogant this is, presuming that the only reason anyone would argue with Rush Limbaugh or take offense with anything he’s ever said is because they just haven’t given him a chance. Limbaugh is many things, but a serious thinker he absolutely ain’t. Think of the intellectual giants of conservatism — Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, John Locke, Adam Smith, all brilliant men. Writers and philosophers have been debating and arguing about their ideas for centuries. Am I really supposed to believe that an informed disagreement with Rush Limbaugh is impossible? That’s arrogance exacerbated by insanity.
Check out Klavan’s big finish:
The mainstream media (a.k.a. the Matrix) don’t want you to listen to Limbaugh because they’re afraid he’ll wake you up and set you free of their worldview. You don’t want to listen to him because you’re afraid of the same thing.
Don’t believe me? Well, then, gird your loins. Gather your courage. Accept the Limbaugh Challenge. See what happens.
I dare you.
I accepted the Limbaugh Challenge before there was such a thing. Listening to Limbaugh doesn’t take courage; it takes patience, and tolerance. I don’t listen to him much these days. I tune him in every couple weeks, usually just for a few minutes at a time before switching back to Dennis Miller, or Fred Thompson’s new show, or NPR if I’m not feeling masochistic that day. I rarely listen to Limbaugh not because I’m afraid of him, but because I’m bored by him. He rarely has guests — and almost never a guest who disagrees with him — and he regularly goes long stretches without even taking a call from his worshipful audience. It’s just a series of unbroken, repetitive diatribes. If I’m going to listen to conservative radio, I’d rather give my attention to someone like Hannity, whose politics I find just as ridiculous and repugnant as Limbaugh’s, but who at least makes an effort to appear open to dissent.
So there ya go, Andrew. I took the Limbaugh Challenge. Now I can barely bring myself to listen to him at all. That’s what happened. You’re right about one thing, though. He woke me up. I owe him that much, though I guess that’s not something he’d want the credit for.