James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Posted by James McPherson on May 7, 2008

As a media scholar, I accept the fact that it is part of my job to watch television shows, listen to radio programming and read publications that I know will insult my intelligence. A former colleague once reminded me that, regardless of our own political views, we should sample from the opposition sources simply “to know what the bastards are up to.” Beyond that, I listen to idiots on both ends of the political spectrum because they offer a variety of perspectives that can sharpen my own critical thinking, because they do have unfortunate and sometimes disproportional societal influence that I should try to understand, and because sometimes they stumble into truth. Rush Limbaugh, the king of the blowhards, demonstrated that fact yesterday when he told a caller, “You don’t know how fortunate you are not watching cable TV. … You’d have such a pessimistic view of your country if you watched cable television.” Of course ACLU-beneficiary Rush went on to his usual complaint that, to quote directly, “The problem in America is too much liberalism.”

Limbaugh’s comments came in response to a complaint about his ongoing “Operation Chaos,” in which he has been encouraging Republicans for at least the past couple of months to cross party lines to vote in Democratic primaries–and to vote for the trailing candidate (usually Hillary Clinton), with the sole aim of extending the Democratic primary process while the eventual nominee takes a beating from fellow Democrats. Despite contrary evidence, Sean Hannity and others credit Operation Chaos at least in part for Hillary’s win in Indiana, and MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews went off on Limbaugh’s “mischief making” last night, saying: “What a ridiculous way to use the vote for which people fought and died, to use that vote to make mischief. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

Aside from the fact that Matthews seems to have become nearly as much an apparent Hillary-hater as Limbaugh in recent weeks, his comment is one of those that, while it sounds patriotic, is frankly as misguided as many right-wing radio pundits if he thinks that people “fought and died” so we’d all think the same way about patriotism. People vote for all sorts of reasons, and have the right to use that vote however they like. They can vote for Disney characters–and some do. The fact that you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning than to have your vote actually matter, regardless of whom you vote for, is irrelevant–it’s your vote. I’d argue that voting for or against a candidate who has the nomination wrapped up, as John McCain does on the Republican side, might be as big a waste of time as writing in Donald Duck. (Now, Daffy Duck, on the other hand… there’s a candidate.) Besides, some conservatives, including Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter (see clip below), seemingly prefer Hillary Clinton to John McCain–not necessarily a bad idea from a conservative perspective, considering that Bill Clinton was far more conservative than many Republicans.

I’ve never crossed party lines to vote in a primary (though in almost every political election of my life I have voted for some Democrats and some Republicans), but I know people who have. A couple of family members are Idaho Democrats, meaning they have about as much chance of affecting a general election in their own state as I do of becoming President Ron Paul’s press secretary. Those family members vote in the Republican primary for the least objectionable candidate–the one most friendly toward public education and social services, and therefore the one most attuned to their priorities. Likewise, a conservative Southern Baptist friend once voted in a primary for Jesse Jackson in an attempt to thwart the nomination of a more mainstream (and more electable) candidate.

Of course, I happen to be among the minority who think that the lengthy primary process has done the Democrats more good than harm. They’re raising tons of money and bringing in new Democratic voters. The two candidates are facing criticism that they would face later, anyway, and have time to develop counterarguments. McCain has largely dropped from view, except when he makes the occasional gaffe about whether we’re fighting Sunnis or Shias, a shifting perspective about the economy, or the accidental admission that the Persian Gulf War was largely about oil. And most of the electorate won’t pay much attention until at least August, anyway.

Ann Coulter supports Hillary Clinton

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8 Responses to “Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos”

  1. […] #comm.. Rush Limbaugh Wins Big in Indiana Democratic Primary : Shooting From the Ri.. Limbaugh and Operation Chaos « James McPherson’s Media & Po.. Rush Limbaugh On ”Operation Chaos”: ”They followed my adv.. Operation Chaos A […]

  2. Grady Locklear said

    You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to have your vote matter?? *Gasp* Don’t tell the Core 350 team!

  3. […] Obama under any circumstances even less than I understand the conservatives who say they’ll support Hillary over John […]

  4. […] try, as some suggest she is doing, to sabotage Obama’s November prospects, but as I’ve said before, I think an extended race helps Democrats more than it […]

  5. […] less information, and that the best response to bad speech is better speech (more on my reasons why here). We rarely take criticism of our positions personally, and when we do take it personally–for […]

  6. […] campaign built the party base and made him Obama a better candidate. No surprise there, since I predicted that would be the case, just as I noted that most Clinton supporters would end up voting for […]

  7. […] 2008 I wrote earlier this month, a couple of times (here and here) last month, and even back in May about how the John McCain campaign has managed to turn off conservatives. The trend continues, as […]

  8. […] to be the level of government where most citizens could have the most influence. As I’ve noted before, you have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning than you have of affecting a […]

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