The Washington Post knows how to thrust two middle fingers in Rush Limbaugh's face. They decided to put a book review of the new Zev Chavets book on Limbaugh on the front page of Tuesday's Style section, reviewed by....David Frum, the Republican establishment's leading Rush-hater.
This is a little like assigning a Bill Clinton book review to Jim Clyburn, so he can call him a racist again for 1,000 words. There's more hate than light. Frum gnashes his teeth hardest late in the review, jealous that he, the wise and humble Frum, is not acknowledged by all as the country's leading conservative intellectual:
Chafets acknowledges that Limbaugh has no conception of fairness or objectivity, that he is not an original thinker, and that he is prone to "hyperbole, sarcasm, and ridicule, none of which is meant to be taken literally."
He's unnerved by Limbaugh's "Magic Negro" racial insensitivities and his indifference to real politics. " 'There are no books written about great moderates,' he sometimes says. 'Great people take stands on principle, not moderation.' That's not true of course -- the founding fathers Limbaugh venerates compromised their way into a Constitution, and even Ronaldus Maximus [Reagan] knew when to bend. Politics is the art of compromise. But, of course, Limbaugh is not a politician or even a political strategist. He is a polemicist."
It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth. But neither Limbaugh nor Chafets is troubled: "Over the years, [Limbaugh] has endeavored to carry forward the banner of Ronaldus Maximus, which he always credits as 'Reaganism.' But as time moves on the memory of Reagan fades. It is Limbaugh's voice conservatives now identify with. For millions, conservatism is now Limbaughism."
That is Limbaugh's achievement. It is Chafets's story line. And it is American conservatism's problem.
Frum cannot seem to distinguish between intellectual leaders and political leaders. Most people think of Ronald Reagan as a political leader, not as an intellectual leader, and the same is true of Limbaugh. Conservatives in the 1980s weren't going to elect William F. Buckley or Irving Kristol, but that didn't mean they weren't intellectual leaders.
Limbaugh is a great popularizer of conservatism, a very accessible professor of "advanced conservative studies." He mints new conservatives, and moralizes the troops, old warriors and new recruits alike, when they get demoralized. Why can't Frum appreciate him for what he is?
Instead, he relayed how Chafets reports without irony on Limbaugh's ornate tastes in home decorating and mocks Rush as a faux populist.
Also: Frum writes on CNN.com that "ultralibertarian" fringes (as represented by Rep. Paul Ryan's budget) are a political disaster waiting to happen.