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December 17, 2004

Professor Limbaugh, History Teacher

Chris Charuhas

If you listen to the WFMD radio station during the day, you'll get a history lesson from Rush Limbaugh. A local linguist pointed out that he uses the same rhetorical techniques used in 1930s Germany.

A few months ago, I was introduced to a Frederick resident who has a doctorate in linguistics. She gave me a copy of a journal article she'd written on talk radio rhetoric.

In it, she noted that right-wingers in 1930s Germany used five rhetorical techniques: 1.) Talk about political opposition in terms of "us" vs. "them;" 2.) Identify "us" as the good guys, with good character; 3.) Identify "them" as an enemy, and morally corrupt; 4.) Poison the well: assert that press reporting contradictory facts can't be trusted; and 5.) Promote ideology over information.

She said that Rush Limbaugh, whose show is broadcast on WFMD from noon to 3 P.M. each weekday, uses the same techniques. When I listened to the show, I realized she was correct!

According to Mr. Limbaugh, it is (1.) conservatives against liberals. He says that (2.) virtuous conservatives have "heartland values," while (3.) treacherous liberals are "soulless." He maintains that (4.) the "liberal media" (news outlets that aren't right-wing) spout only lies. (5) As David Brock, a former right-wing author, says about radio hosts like Mr. Limbaugh, "They want all news to be a matter of opinion, because opinion can't be proven false."

Another thing Mr. Limbaugh has taken from the '30s right-wing playbook is to accuse your opponents of doing the scurrilous things you do. Before German right-wingers invaded Poland, they put the word out that Poland was set to invade Germany. Mr. Limbaugh does this, too; he talks about how liberals are full of hate, how they practice the Big Lie, how cronyism permeates their party, and how immoral their leaders are.

He either doesn't know or doesn't care about his right-wing friends' "God hates fags" beliefs, "armoring Humvees is impossible" lies, "DeLay under investigation" corruption, or Newt Gingrich's philandering. He talks about how liberals are "feminazis" a pre-emptive strike against those who might call attention to his friends' own right-wing proclivities.

Mr. Limbaugh has borrowed something else from the 1930s: weaponized patriotism. Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, said: "People don't want to go to's always a simple matter to drag the people along...All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger."

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Limbaugh repeated the statements of the president and vice president, who used Goering's methods to shore up support for the Iraq war. They told us we were in imminent danger, and that those of us who criticized the president's leadership were "unpatriotic" because we "emboldened the enemy."

Does this right-wing rhetoric have an effect on listeners? Yes, just like it did in 1930s Germany.

In recent a letter to Editor and Publisher magazine, one reader wrote about the soldier who asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about vehicle armor: "The duped soldier should be put at the very front of the action, no armor. The cooperating sergeant's career should be over and maybe become MIA. Pitts (a journalist who talked to the soldier) and all his cronies should be executed as traitors. We are fighting a war, the debate is over, you're either for us or against us, there is no middle ground. I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon."

So much for supporting the troops. Note the outlook and terminology straight from Mr. Limbaugh's show: When someone says something you don't like, end his career or "disappear" him; "traitors;" "with us or against us" leftists. Expressing respect for one's fellow citizens is an old rhetorical technique that Mr. Limbaugh doesn't employ. WFMD listeners should keep that in mind.

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