If you read my 2010 book "The Backlash" (both of you...raise your hands!) or follow my occasional rants here at Attytood, you know this has been a meme for a while: That the Republican Party has essentially been hijacked by talk radio and Fox News. Today in the New York Times, a skilled writer -- Kevin Baker -- went to town with the idea:
Yet increasingly this meant that the Republican Party was outsourcing both body and soul. Both what the party believed in and its ability to do the heavy lifting necessary to win elections was handed over to outside interests — outside interests that did not necessarily share the party’s goals or have any stake in ameliorating its tactics.
This has become suddenly and painfully evident this year. Party leaders may not have liked Rush Limbaugh’s disgusting attacks on a Georgetown law student — calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating that insurance companies provide affordable birth control — but what does he care?
If the Republicans lose the election, it will most likely mean all the more angry conservatives tuning in and driving up the ratings for Rush and his fellow radio ranters. Limbaugh is now facing a challenge from outraged liberals and others urging his sponsors to drop his show. But the most that the usually garrulous Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney would allow himself to say was that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Rick Santorum averred that Rush was “being absurd,” but implied that was O.K. — “an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am.”
But of course, he’s not. Rush Limbaugh is in the very same business that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are in — and guess who’s in charge? It’s not the radio calamity howlers who take their cues from the party leaders now, but the other way around.
Baker didn't mention the late 20th Century media critic Neil Postman, but this is exactly the world that Postman predicted and feared in "Amusing Ourselves to Death," that entertainment -- and entertainment values -- would eventually overwhelm politics. The 2012 GOP race has been the epitome of this -- interest in the race soared when the candidates help weekly TV debates that were frighteningly like a reality show, and that interest has plunged now that the "reality show" is over. And life or death issues like a possible military action in Iran are discussed the way a talk radio host would discuss them.
And a Rush Limbaugh really does get the last laugh -- he stays in the radio while the rest of us amuse ourselves to death.