According to Fortune Magazine, "So far as the response of his audience is concerned, (he) is just about the biggest thing that ever happened to radio." At one point, he had a stenographic staff of 145 to handle the tremendous volume of mail he was receiving.
Rush Limbaugh? Nope. Father Charles Edward Coughlin, the "radio priest" of the 1930s.
The similarities between Coughlin and Limbaugh are striking. In the 30s, Coughlin appealed to large numbers of the American public who wanted simple solutions for the complex economic problems of the depression. Radio listeners were eager to listen to anyone who would offer scapegoats to blame—as long as the scapegoats were "them" and not "us."
Coughlin's villains were government bureaucrats and "big shots," Jewish bankers and congressmen from New York City, the eastern elite and the New Deal Democrats—especially those with Jewish-sounding names. Although he charged others with being Fascists, he eventually defended the Nazis in their effort to "block the Jewish-Communist plan for subjugating Germany."
Whether you agree or disagree with Limbaugh's views, you owe it to yourself to understand the reasons for his success. A good place to begin is to read Demagogues of the Depression by David Bennett, or The Fine Art of Propaganda by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. Both are based on the life of Coughlin and his demagogic techniques, such as: "Band Wagon," "Name Calling," "Glittering Generality," "Transfer," "Testimonial," "Plain Folks," and "Card Stacking."
As did Coughlin, Limbaugh uses all of them, but the most effective is undoubtedly the "Band Wagon." By screening callers, he gives the impression that there is a huge silent majority of right-thinking Americans out there who support the radical views he stands for. The rare "liberal" he lets get through the switchboard is either a 16 year old student who wants high schools to hand out free condoms, or a person with a severe case of mike fright.
Right now, many politicians welcome invitations to speak on Limbaugh's program and to associate with him at public gatherings. Apparently they don't realize that, when they link themselves with the mentality and viewpoints of a Rush Limbaugh, they say more about their own values than all the public pronouncements of their spin doctors.
In 1940, Father Charles Coughlin endorsed Republican candidate Wendell Willkie for U.S. president. To his credit, when Willkie heard of the endorsement, he said: "I am not only not interested in his support, I don't want it." (Reported in THE GREAT DEPRESSION, by T.H. Watkins.)
Note that Fr. Coughlin is now on every historian's list as one of the most famous American demagogues of the depression.
Contrast Willkie with recent Republicans. Just prior to the 1992 Republican convention, Limbaugh announced that he had just had a 45-minute conversation with Bob Dole, and he described in detail some of the things they had talked about. More recently, he interviewed both Dole and Kemp on his radio program.
The Charlotte Observer (6/23/96) reported Sen. Patrick Ballantine's (R-New Hanover) reaction to a stalemate in the NC legislature: "What we're going to do is put them (Republican ads) on Rush so we can get to our Republican base. That'll spread the word like wildfire." And in 1995, U.S. House Republicans even made Limbaugh an honorary member.
How times have changed. Whereas Republican Willkie publicly denounced the leading demagogue of the '30s, today's Republicans not only welcome the support of the leading demagogue of the '90s, they actively curry his favor. Thus they endorse his values (such as the glorification of greed), his lack of ethical standards in communicating (i.e., half truths and innuendoes), and his lack of commitment to objective problem solving (such as distracting the public from the real causes of income disparity between the top 20% of Americans and everyone else).
Recent political changes in our country suggest that most people want leaders who will actually address and solve our country's problems—not make them worse by blaming, dividing, and scapegoating.
And if we all spread the word about what's really happening in our country, we can regain our traditional, true, family values.
NOTE: THE GREAT LIMBAUGH CON can be ordered from Amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com., or you can get it directly from the publisher, Fithian Press, by calling 1-800-662-8351.