Okay: have I got your attention? Good. That’s what a respectable incendiary headline is supposed to do. It brings you in, but, more than that, it hits you in the gut, creates an emotional framework for what’s to come. How do you feel about Nazis, anyway? Don’t like ‘em? That’s what I’m hoping for. You’ll be negatively predisposed to whatever I say next.
Incendiary headlines are one of the many Nazi-inspired techniques the less-than-humble Rush Limbaugh likes to use. Here’s one I found on his website recently:
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Passes Law Allowing Husbands to Have Sex with Dead Wives Up to Six Hours After Death
Check it out. I can barely count all the emotional triggers in there. There’s “sex” and “death,” of course, the obvious ones. But there’s also the whole necrophilia thing cropping up, sure to disgust, along with more subtle words like “brotherhood” (Is that ever good except when it refers to a Showtime series?) and Muslim, which didn’t used to be a trigger but is today thanks to (in a recursive bit of irony) Rush and his ilk.
It’s not just the headlines that Rush has perfected. There are a slew of Nazi-inspired propaganda techniques he uses. A recent academic paper I ran across recently* covers the topic quite well. The first requirement, the argument goes, is to establish positive “us” and negative “them” group identities. When Rush says, for example, that "the purpose of liberalism is to tell liberals they are good people" he is clearly speaking to his conservative fans about what he thinks of liberals, effectively creating the “us” and “them” dividing line. And he does it in an a way that isn’t couched in opinion, even though opinion it clearly is.
And wait: there’s more. Let’s just go down the Nazi propaganda checklist, shall we? You’ll see what I mean. Herr Limbaugh is as good as Goebbels (though he actually looks a bit more like Sergeant Shultz).
- Polarity in tone, in which one talks politely to the enemy when faced with them directly, but embraces a snark-filled vocal style when they’re gone and you’re once again talking to your own side. Does Rush do this? Check.**
- Poisoning the well, in which one trivializes any comparable media efforts from the other side while at the same time lauding you and yours. Rush, of course, lambasts the “mainstream media” while reminding us that he has his “talent on loan from God,” is “America’s truth detector,” and is regularly “meeting and surpassing all audience expectations on a daily basis." Check.
- Promoting ideology over information, in which truth is defined through the language of opinion, generally supported by out-of-context or cherry-picked “facts,” with a nearly 100% concentration on political persuasion. Take, for example, a typical Rush-pinion. "The world's biggest problem,” he says, “is the unequal distribution of capitalism. If there were capitalism everywhere, you wouldn't have food shortages." Opinion as fact, promoting ideology. Check.
- Scapegoating, during which the propagandist spends time talking with those of similar beliefs, and uses that time to further belittle “them” in ways that make it obvious*** that “they” are the cause of the problems and only “we” can see it. Take this little tidbit, from a conversation Rush had back in 1995 with a like-minded caller: “That’s the basic problem. You [the caller] and I have morals, we have ethics, we have honesty.” Liberals, conversely, must not. Check.
- Stereotyping, in which entire classes of people are painted in broad brush strokes with increasingly negative terms. Rush repeatedly uses characterizing epithets like “arrogant,” “morally bankrupt,” “feminazi” (irony, anyone?), and, more recently, “prostitute” and “slut.” Here’s one of my favorites, in which he stereotypes liberals as thieves: “Their [liberals] idea of sacrifice is taking from people they don't like.” Check.
- Manipulating key moral concepts so that what used to be positive is now negative, or vice-versa. These are often cast as oxymorons, as when Rush calls liberals “compassionate fascists,” thereby negating the value (or authenticity) of compassion. In a similar vein, he has said that “compassion is no substitute for justice,” implying that liberals are so married to the idea of compassion that they would violate the rule of law in order to force compassion on others. Check.
- And, finally, the imagery of dehumanization, used to inspire revulsion and to make it easier to hate. The Nazis famously dehumanized an entire people until millions thought them no more than animals, fit to be slaughtered. And now, years later, here’s Rush describing those “maggot-infested” liberals who “exert a poisonous influence on American life.” Sound familiar? Check.
So there you have it: proof positive that Rush Limbaugh embraces hated Nazi techniques. What does that say about him?
More importantly, what does it say about a country in which he thrives?
* “Liberal Parasites and Other Creepers: Rush Limbaugh, Ken Hamblin, and the Discursive Construction of Group Identies,” by Kathryn Ruud, in At War With Words, edited by Dedaic and Nelson, 2003
** I can’t actually create his tone of voice in print, but give a listen on any given day and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
*** To the “us” side, of course.