That definition of leadership was once given to me by a very savvy political leader in Indiana. It makes quite a bit of sense if one must get elected to fill a leadership position. It also seems like the very essence of the republican form of government in which our elected officials are supposed to reflect the views of the public.
But the public also needs leaders that help it actually shape its positions – form the parade, if you will, for the politicians to stand at the front. These leaders are preachers, pastors, priests, pundits, professors, and of late talk radio show hosts. It takes enormous energy to sift through all the information out there and come to a reasonable conclusion about something. People, having other things to do, like it when someone does that for them. These are positions of deep responsibility.
Unfortunately, it is not a responsibility that many take seriously anymore. Professors, protected by tenure, seem to be willing to say almost anything that will draw the additional income of honorarium, publishing and grants. Preachers, pastors and priests have been frightened out of the political opinion business by an over zealous IRS, or because they are sometimes as beholden to the their congregations as politicians are to their electorate. Pundits and radio talk show hosts need ratings and ratings mean pleasing the audience – and so we are back to standing in front of parades.
Never has this been more apparent than watching Rush Limbaugh this cycle. He has ridden, while trying to appear to “lead,” every surge that has come and gone. And he is just getting nasty as Gingrich starts to fade. (Check Intrade – Newt is losing ground like a meteor plummeting to earth.) Yesterday, when National Review editorialized pretty much “anybody but Gingrich,” Limbaugh responded with an intemperance that can be matched only by Gingrich himself:
The establishment Republicans are dumping all over Newt Gingrich all over the place. National Review posted an editorial, Mr. Buckley’s magazine, it used to be conservative, and they had an editorial last night. They didn’t really recommend anybody, they just said not Newt. No way Newt. No way Newt. (interruption) They didn’t say. They implied Romney, of course. And then they kinda ruled out Perry, doesn’t have a chance, Santorum and Bachmann, maybe get a second look. But it was just anti-Newt.
Accusing National Review of not being conservative is doing exactly what Brit Hume accused Gingrich of, “grabbing the first available weapon.” Clearly Limbaugh views his audience as the bigots and bloodlusters out there and is playing to them.
It’s sad really. As the king of conservative political talk, the man who more or less invented the medium, Rush seems to have squandered the serious political capital he once held. Last cycle he did the smart thing, this cycle he is pandering. Rush was, and still could be, positioned to provide our nation with the kind of political education it needs so that we can continue to function as a well oiled machine of democracy. He is instead apparently deciding to stand in front of the a parade that like the marching band in “Animal House” will end up at the butt end of a blind alley.