The Revolt of the Invisibles

After years missing in action, the other White America is out for payback and voting Republican

Do you realize how much Rush Limbaugh and his progeny have done to reshape the way people think and talk about politics? It's fairly staggering. Limbaugh had two seminal insights; they were not his alone, but he brought them to market. The first was that class resentment simmered in the land, and could be harnessed to the purposes of the right by naming "liberals" as the stifling, oppressive elite in their path. It worked because it conjured images of the usual suspects in white working-class dislocation--uppity women, people of other colors or national origins, the highfalutin and out-of-touch in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. The second was to change the rules of political chatter so as to give the folks a better show. Limbaugh's forum was not a political talk show in the usual sense; there was no pretense to equal time or to respect for opposing views. Calls were screened meticulously, and Limbaugh did not venture into public to debate others in uncontrolled settings. Though it pretended to be spontaneous, his closed stage was part sporting ring and part theater, or, in other words, a drama not unlike professional wrestling. His métier was ridicule, the get-outta-here-with-that-nonsense! rhetorical body slam, a style that has come to define most of the radio and TV talk shows that are supposed to embody the urgent debates of the day. In Limbaugh's wake, talking about politics has become a lot more like talking about sports, one consequence being that anything done in the name of winning, or harassing the opponent, tends to become its own justification. (So what if Bush lied to secure the invasion of Iraq? a letter writer scolded me shortly after the war's start--it worked, didn't it?)

But if the secular, talk-radio right is not really synonymous with the Christian conservative crowd, there is one encompassing sentiment they share: that the world has been hijacked from beneath their feet, taken from them contrary to God's plan or the founding fathers' promise (choose one). They intend to take it back, and they are in an exceptionally nasty mood regarding terms of surrender.

"In your reelection," the Rev. Bob Jones wrote to Bush on November 3, "God has graciously granted America--though she doesn't deserve it--a reprieve from the agenda of paganism.... Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ." A former major league pitcher turned radio evangelist named Frank Pastore wrote in an L.A. Times op-ed, "In the weeks and months to come, we will hear the voices of well-meaning people beseeching the victor to compromise with the vanquished. This would be a mistake. Conservatives must not compromise with the left."

In other words, the appointed villains of the uprising (be they liberals, minions of Satan, or both) can expect the same Manichean justice visited on the mass of average working folk for a couple of decades now: You'll be one of us, or nobody at all.

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