During his first few weeks in office, Barack Obama has made his mark by championing enormous spending proposals and sweeping governmental economic interventions.
He has also inadvertently breathed new life into a bombastic radio shock jock who’s hell bent on driving a stake through the heart of Obama’s dream of post-partisan politics.
Rush Limbaugh, aka “Rushbo”, has been a megastar of conservative talk radio since the late 1980s. Many credit him with helping to mobilise opposition to Bill Clinton, a drive that culminated in the Republicans’ 1994 capture of both houses of Congress.
During George W Bush’s eight-year tenure, Limbaugh’s profile waned somewhat.
But now, with the rudderless Republicans desperate for someone to lead them from the wilderness after November’s nationwide drubbing, Limbaugh has returned to the centre stage of American conservatism.
Late last month, CNN devoted over an hour of commercial-free time to cover his keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
And, for anyone even casually interested in politics, the Rushbo show was indeed riveting. Speaking without notes in a speech peppered with caustic humour, he lashed out at Obama, Hillary Clinton, intellectuals, Democrats, sanctimonious liberals, the media, etc.
As for Obama’s efforts to reach across the aisle to work with |Republicans, Limbaugh’s having none of it.
“To us, bipartisanship is them being forced to agree with us after we politically have cleaned their clocks and beaten them,” he boomed.
“Where is the compromise |between good and evil?”
The audience lapped it up. In fact, Rushbo had them in such a lather that, at one point, the crowd burst into chants of “USA! USA! USA!”
Not all Republicans were thrilled. The next day the party’s chairman, Michael Steele, was on CNN dismissing Limbaugh as “an entertainer”, and characterising his remarks as “incendiary” and “ugly”.
But after Rushbo used his show to launch an attack on Steele, the chairman quickly backpedalled and apologised.
“I respect Rush Limbaugh, he is a national conservative leader, and in no way do I want to diminish his voice,” a repentant Steele said in a statement.
The whole episode has been an enormous ego massage for Limbaugh.
However, his influence may not be as great as he imagines. For |example, when John McCain emerged as Republican frontrunner early in last year’s primary season, Limbaugh was apoplectic in urging voters to reject him |because he was too moderate. |McCain wrapped up the nomination within weeks.
But that was then and this is now.
And with a weekly audience of over 20 million listeners, Limbaugh isn’t going to fade away soon.
Last July he signed a new $400m contract that will keep him on air through 2016.
Were Rushbo to succeed in turning Republicans into an |implacable opposition incapable of compromising for the greater good of the nation, the situation would be dire indeed.
Such Congressional paralysis would sharply exacerbate the current economic crisis for Americans, and others all around the globe.
But the reality is that, while Republicans know that Limbaugh has a huge following, they also know that they’re walking a fine line when opposing Obama initiatives at a time when millions of Americans are unemployed and most want Washington to take decisive action to right the sinking ship. As such, while Limbaugh’s headline-grabbing rants will continue to please his adoring fans and his employers Rushbo will remain a bit player on the political scene.
But that’s showbiz.