For the week of Independence Day, here are some observations about America.
Let's start with Rush Limbaugh. The other day, in a story about Hillary Clinton's likely presidential bid, the New York Times reported something that Limbaugh said about Clinton recently: "The radio host Rush Limbaugh, echoing his commentary from her first presidential run, asked his audience in April whether the American people 'want to vote for somebody, a woman, and actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?'"
Okay, so let me get the obvious shot out of the way first. Why are we subjected to watching Rush Limbaugh get older, balder, fatter and dumber on a daily basis?
But the more interesting question is this: why does the American public give a guy like Limbaugh the time of day? He is uninformed when he's not distorting the truth and he routinely says things that are racist, misogynistic and designed to be offensive. He's entitled to his opinions, but why does he get a seat on the big, national stage of American ideas? Why does a reputable news organizations like the Times feel the need to quote him?
The answer I suppose is volume. Limbaugh has a lot of listeners and many of them are Republican leaders who fear his wrath. The same could be said for the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. (To create the illusion of being even-handed, I wanted to include the liberal equivalents of this bunch, but I honestly can't think of any liberal with a national voice who is as backward thinking, ill-informed and shrill with as little respect for facts.)
The fact that people with such a limited understanding of everything, ideas that are so anachronistic, and a tone that's so mean spirited get any kind of traction in America is a sad commentary on Americans. But it's not new.In the 1940s it was Father Charles Coughlin, in the 1950s it was our own Joe McCarthy, in the 1960s it was George Wallace and later it was the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a host of snake oil preachers. There has always been a spokesperson for the ugly side of America.
What's different today isn't so much the spokespeople, but the media. Today, that ugly side has its very own network in Fox News while responsible, objective journalism has been weakened. Idiocy has a louder voice and reasonableness and fairness speak more softly.
We will not get better public policy in this country until we get better, more informed and more reasoned public discussion. Rush Limbaugh grows old before our very eyes, but unfortunately he can be replaced.