Sunday 18th March 2018

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Rush Vs. “Mac”

August 24, 2017 Frontpage No Comments


I am a great admirer of Rush Limbaugh, and have been since I first heard his program on WABC in New York City in the 1980s. I can’t think of anyone who has done a better job of communicating an informed brand of conservatism to the American people. There have been commentators more erudite and scholarly, to be sure. Joseph Sobran and Victor Davis Hanson come to mind. But no one else has been as effective in communicating with the masses, not even William F. Buckley.
That said, there is one thing I have noticed about Rush that might be considered a chink in his armor: He does not fare well in a direct give-and-take with an intelligent left-winger. He is superb in his monologues and when engaged in friendly banter with another conservative, but seems disoriented when challenged directly by a leftist. Perhaps Rush’s hearing problems have something to do with it. I suspect that is why Rush avoids such confrontations on the air. He knows they do not make for good radio.
There was a day a week or so ago when that reluctance to engage with the opposition cut short what could have been a genuinely illuminating discussion. Rush was talking to a young caller named “Mac” who identified himself as a “leftist,” mainly because of the materialism and inequalities he saw in capitalism. He was polite, even respectful with Rush. And Rush responded in kind. He went back and forth on the problems that Mac saw in capitalism, expressing an eagerness to expose the “misinformation” and “brainwashing” that Rush felt Mac had absorbed from his teachers.
Rush proceeded to ask a question that seemed to put Mac on his heels. Rush asked him to name one socialist country, past or present, that had done a better job of providing a comfortable standard of living and more economic opportunity for the great mass of the population than the capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States.
Mac’s answer surprised me. He did not respond with ideological talking points. He admitted that he could not come up with a socialist country that did that. My ears perked up. I was waiting to hear what Mac would say next. The young man was too well-read and thoughtful to want to leave it there. I thought we might be on the verge of an interesting discussion.
Rush went to a commercial at that point. After the commercial, he came back on the air without Mac on the line. At which point, Rush proceeded to talk at length about what his conversation with Mac had revealed: that leftists have no successful economic models to point to with pride; that capitalism permits an individual to “stay in the union and accept what everyone else gets, if that’s what he wants” but gives “industrious people” the “chance to excel,” to “become entrepreneurs,” to “rise above mediocrity,” to “take a chance in life” and “develop their full potential.”
And, of course, to create the businesses and economic growth that carry us all to a better way of life.
I have no idea how Mac would have responded if given the chance. That is why I regret that Rush did not keep him on the air. But I know what I was saying to myself. It was, “Rush, do you realize how this analysis contributes to alienating from conservatism and free-market theory intelligent young men and women like Mac?”
Why do I say that? Look: No one can deny the great importance of the entrepreneur to our economic well-being. There is truth to the quip that you hear from conservatives: “I never got a job from a poor person.” And there is no reason to assume that a successful businessman is any more “selfish” or “materialistic” than the worker who joins a union to apply collective pressure to secure higher pay from him. All true.
But Rush’s argument make it seem as if the entrepreneur is not only important to our economic wellbeing, but also a better person, more ambitious, more daring, more visionary, more dedicated to excellence than people who work on salary for the government or for a private business. And that is just not true.
Please don’t misread me. I am not saying people who are successful as entrepreneurs are less admirable than a working man or woman, only that their business success and accumulation of wealth, in and of itself, does not make them part of a natural aristocracy of sorts.
Let’s cut to the chase. Some examples: Is millionaire Anthony Scaramucci more valuable to society than a federal agent working on securities fraud? Is billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg harder working than an Army Ranger deployed to the Middle East? Is Kim Kardashian a more positive force for good than an emergency room nurse? Was Nelson Rockefeller more worthy of society’s praise than Jonas Salk?
You get the point.
Police officers, members of the military, social workers, teachers, research scientists, etc., etc., are all employees, working for the government or for a company founded by entrepreneurs. But they are not lesser individuals because of that, less exemplary Americans, less dedicated to their work, less creative, less worthy of society’s esteem.
I am not saying that Rush disagrees. But when he gets off on one of his ideological stem-winders in praise of entrepreneurs and business movers and shakers, he gives the impression that he does, and that can alienate bright and idealistic young people like Mac who do not view country club memberships and wives with designer handbags as measures of human worth.
A longer conversation with Mac might have benefited listeners on both the left and the right. A successful free-market economy requires working-class people who appreciate the role of the entrepreneur and who do not succumb to the class envy that creates people like Fidel Castro and Saul Alinsky. But it also requires successful entrepreneurs who do not misread what their accumulation of great wealth says about their character in comparison to that of wage earners. I have always thought Rush would benefit from a serious reading of Quadragesimo Anno.

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