Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Limbaugh Notes: The Man in Black

I spent last night and this morning absorbing Rush Limbaugh's CPAC speech last week. Unlike most people on the left, I believe that Limbaugh should be viewed as a sympathetic figure. By "sympathetic," I don't mean an "I feel sorrry for you" kind of sympathy. Instead, Limbaugh should be seen as a powerful and skilful opponent whose abilities we respect and whose success we need to understand.

The Man in Black. Rush Limbaugh doesn't do a lot of public speaking and doesn't seem to leave his South Florida estate (from which he does his radio program) much more often than Sarah Palin gets out of Wasilla, Alaska. His speech to CPAC was thus a huge event for him both because because he had traveled to make it and because it was broadcast nationally by Fox, CNN, and C-Span. Limbaugh kept going back to the speech as his "first national address" in a way that made me think that he considered it a kind of "presidential moment." He tried to be ironical and witty about it, but Limbaugh was still deeply impressed with himself.

For the big CPAC speech, Limbaugh wore an all-black ensemble meant to evoke Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, or Clint Eastwood in Hang 'em High--the kind of figures who project a kind of "power aloofness" that disdains speech. But Limbaugh himself completely undermines that kind of effect. At the age of 58, Limbaugh still looks like he's 60 or 70 pounds overweight and still has a "fat boy" air about him when he breaks into that little bucked-tooth smile of his. Limbaugh projects about as much machismo as Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneris, or any other performer who's looking to ingratiate themselves with an audience.
This isn't meant to be belittling. It's not like I'm chiseled out of granite either. But Limbaugh makes himself look absurd by posing himself through a hyper-macho image that's almost the polar opposite of what he actually is. This is pretty much a pattern on Limbaugh's part. Even though "The Man in Black" image is all over Limbaugh's web site, he undermines the whole image by being his awkward, ingratiating, uncoordinated self. Limbaugh studiously constructs an image with himself on top, but can't help constantly deconstruct that image to manifest the weenie within.

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