“Are You Single?!”: Rush Limbaugh Was a Big TURN ON to a 21 Year Old Female at CPAC 2009

Salon.com today reports on Rush Limbaugh’s powers to mesmerize and electrify his faithful devotees, and quotes a female college student smitten by him:

CPAC attendee Chelsea Barnett, a 21-year-old student at the University of Central Oklahoma who says she’s been listening to Limbaugh since she started driving, was inspired by Limbaugh’s address. “Omigosh, I think he energized the base so much,” said Barnett, who at one point ecstatically shouted, “Are you single?!” toward the stage. “I think everybody’s asking themselves, ‘Where in the world has this guy been and why have we not heard from him face-to-face?’ He’s so effective in person in energizing people. It was so amazing. I think we’re going to see a lot more from him in person.”

I watched Limbaugh’s CPAC oration and would characterize it as the performance of an emotionally hysterical, psychologically closed-off, authoritarian and charlatan. I don’t think its unfair to characterize his oratorical style as Mussolini-like. Limbaugh has a severe, angry, jut-jawed manner that echoes the political temperaments of those who harangued 1930s Germany and Italy into a fascist frenzy.  Limbaugh’s way of speaking before an audience is accompanied by the grosses intellectual oversimplifications, and the way that he demonizes his opposition can only appeal, ultimately, to the ignorant, the paranoid, and the fanatic. Strutting confidence and simplification can be “sexy,” but in politics it can also make for authoritarian-driven mass movement leaders who substitute discourse and nuance with passion and prejudice—and are cheered and adored for it. Rush Limbaugh, unfortunately, is just such a leader—the defacto leader of the contemporary Republican party.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to “Are You Single?!”: Rush Limbaugh Was a Big TURN ON to a 21 Year Old Female at CPAC 2009

  1. Jared K. says:

    I saw Limbaugh’s speech too. I was outraged, but I think that he was very effective at stirring the conservative audience.

    I think you are correct that there was an authoritarian tone (particularly when the issue of Iraq and foreign policy came up). But I think I disagree very strongly that this was Limbaugh’s primary focus. Indeed, I think he was making repeated appeals to the old-school Reagan libertarianism–and was characterizing the other side as the authoritarian party who take from the rich to give to the poor. That theme was echoed over and over. Limbaugh said “freedom” and “liberty” over and over and kept appealing to small government and individual responsibility. And note that libertarian Republican Ron Paul spoke shortly after Limbaugh.

    The thing is, on one level, Limbaugh is right. Liberals and the democratic party, and especially Obama, DO believe in a moderate form of wealth re-distribution. They DO believe that the wealthiest should pay the highest percentage of taxes. They follow the mantra (as I do) that to whom much is given, much is required. And in that sense, the democratic party IS “authoritarian” by any truly libertarian understanding.

    I guess this is why I continue to misunderstand yours and Hedges’ and others anti-authoritarian framework criticism of conservatives. It seems thoroughly inconsistent in the mirror image way that Limbaugh is inconsistent.

    I wonder Santi, do you believe in a progressive tax system? If you do, you are authoritarian–you believe it is okay for the majority to come to the homes of the rich and force them, by government coercion, to pay more taxes (in percentage of gross income) simply because they earned more. If you do not believe in a progressive tax system, then you really ought to re-think your support for Obama and the democratic party. Ron Paul and the Libertarian Party would love to have you on board as a supporter.

    I think this just shows how inconsistent both parties are. The so-called Nolan Chart is an accurate representation, I think, of the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. Republican have traditionally been libertarian on economics but want government active in regulating social (moral) and military matters. The democratic party wants to get government out of everyone’s business in the bedroom and doctor’s office, but they want government to reign in capitalism and fully regulate industry and tax the rich and proved for the poor. Both sides incorporate both libertarian and authoritarian elements. This is, for example, the point that Ron Paul made repeatedly in his bid for the presidency.

    I guess the point is, if one is liberal in the Obama/democratic sense, it seems silly and misguided to constantly frame things in terms of the other side being “authoritarian” because YOUR SIDE is authoritarian, just in a different way. It would be more consistent to focus in on why the other side is wrong in the particulars–or if the authoritarian issue really is your focal point, it seems like it might be appropriate to find a 3rd party that actually agrees with you.

    I myself find that centrist communitarians seem to be making the most sense now-a-days–given that the libertarian sentiment is severely overemphasized in all areas of political discourse, and radical individualism is destroying the common good–at least in my estimation. Granted, there isn’t a communitarian party–but it seems like Obama has strong communitarian leanings.

  2. santitafarella says:


    In my post above I tried to be careful to distinguish an authoritarian style (which Limbaugh projects) from authoritarian messages (which Limbaugh offers only in a mixed fashion). Ayn Rand, for example, projected to her followers an authoritarian persona, but she was very far from being a philosophical authoritarian.

    By contrast, Limbaugh’s authoritarian instincts come out in his intense affiliation with simplistic notions of patriarchal religion, marshal virtues, and masculine agression (both in foreign policy and in a kind of social Darwinism—a survival of the fittest mentality). His use of the word “liberty” is highly dubious because he clearly favors restraining liberty with regard to gays in the military, pot, and a woman’s right to choose abortion (to name just three restrictions that libertarians generally oppose restrictions upon).

    Limbaugh puts a megaphone to intellectual and emotional habits that, in a Depression-like economy, could very, very easily turn into fascist expression. Look at how glib Limbaugh is, for example, with regard to torture, calling Guantanimo “Club Gitmo” and Abu Ghraib “frat house” hazing.

    I like libertarianism, and wish the world could function under its principles. I believe in individual liberty, and think it needs to be given Lockean-like pride of place among human institutions. I no more want a Hobbesian State than I would Hobbesian global corporate domination.

    I want Leviathans balancing each other, and not pretend they don’t exist.

    But what conservatives don’t acknowledge is this: very large corporate entities and institutions need a mixed economy with a strong democratic government to regulate them, otherwise, they literally would run rampant, both environmentally and with regard to theft and exploitation. We’ve seen these things under the previous administration (in the banks etc.). Large corporations will not regulate or check themselves as well as we need, and that means you have to have some sort of democratic institution strong enough to check them at crucial points. This isn’t socialism, it’s realism. It’s not anti-capitalism, it’s creating a structure for capitalism to flourish in. We live in a complex world with large complex institutions that need to be balanced against one another.

    Limbaugh’s notion of America, with government kept strictly to its marshal function of supporting a large military and leaving everything else to the unregulated market, is akin to obliterating the checks and balances within the federal government (getting rid of, say, the supreme court and congress and leaving just the administrative branch to do as it pleases). It would lead to a form of corporate fascism, in which the strong dictate all terms to the weak. I don’t know what you call this, if not a form of fascism.

    Progressive taxation is not a form of authoritarianism. It is part of the checks and balances that a democratic country must use to make a stable mixed economy. You have to pay for the bureaucrats who run the EPA and regulate the banking industry, and you don’t punish the poor, making them poorer, to put up these vital governmental checks and balances. Imagine, for example, what it would be like to live in California without building code restrictions, and the bureaucracy that checks that houses meet fire and earthquake standards? The next earthquake would see tens of thousands dead instead of 50-200 people dead. Somebody has got to pay for this, and reasonable progressive tax rates are a way to keep such things in place and functioning.

    Limbaugh is stylistically authoritarian, and in his wish to obliterate one of the checks and balances in the modern world (government) he would create a global corporate leviathan unanswerable to democratic restraint. It would be a step backward from the democratic revolution (both American and French)—a turning back of the democratic clock. Rush Limbaugh capitalist-global-corporate Leviathan is the mirror of Communism’s State Leviathan. It’s why liberals need to figure out a way to chart a middle course, maintain the balance of power between democratic institutions and capitalist institutions, and not be tempted by Ron Paul libertarianism or Rush Limbaugh anti-government rhetoric, to dismantle one of the things that maintains and stabilizes power in the world (that is, democratically elected federal and state governments with the ability to regulate trade and the environment etc.).


  3. Jared K. says:


    I agree with most everything you’ve written above. In fact, I found myself admiring the way that you frame the economic situation–very well put. I couldn’t agree more.

    I doubt we will be able to reach agreement where we disagree and that is okay. I guess my point was simply to try press the issue of consistency. Your approach, and Hedges’, and other civil libertarians’, seem to display a certain reactionary paranoia with even the most moderate traditionalists.

    Another problem is, I rarely hear civil libertarians discussing social responsibilities and the common good. Instead, they invoke individual rights ad nauseum. Individual rights are paramount, but when is the last time that anyone with a voice in our political discourse noted how individual rights and liberties need to be balanced with the broader interest of the community? We almost never hear about this, even from traditionalists, let alone civil libertarians.

    I know this sounds almost heretical for an American to say, but it really is possible for a society to become so radically individualistic–finding fundamental rights under every rock–that it begins to take its toll on the broader community and the social climate. Rights talk, it seems to me, is the single greatest contributor to political partisanship and divisiveness in this country. If you can win the “rights” war on your pet issue, you win the day in court. This leaves little room for compromise on the hot button issues, which means one side is told to shut up, while the other side wins the whole pot without having to meet in the middle.

    Take abortion, for example. Is there a fundamental right to have an abortion no matter what the circumstances, or is there a fundamental right to life for the fetus no matter what the circumstances? This is the way abortion discourse is framed in the U.S. today–with one absolute fundamental right pitted against another. And in such a situation, there will be an absolute winner, and an absolute loser (and it could always flip the other way around in the future with a few supreme court appointments).

    This is how rights talk plays out today–rather than people coming to the table and engaging in civil debate and looking to compromise and work together. What if, instead of this, folks thought: abortion might sometimes be morally permissible, and sometimes not (not all one way or the other) and we all need to sit down calmly and voice our concerns on both sides, realize that we can’t always have everything that we want, and agree to work hard to lower abortion rates regardless of our view. This simply cannot happen in a country where individual rights are elevated above all else such that all we do is scream down each other and try to be the loudest advocate for our version of the individual rights that we hope will win the day in court.

    I hope this makes sense–even if you disagree with me. I think the gun issue is another great example.

    So when I read Hedges, for example, demonizing even moderate traditionalists and calling them fascists, which is terribly unfair and unproductive, I see only the same old tired political yelling match (I suppose it sells books though–just like Fox News and Keith Olbermann fill their pockets by spewing talk-show sewage). This will not solve America’s problems.

    The truth is, by far most Americans, and even most traditionalists, appreciate compromise and the individual’s rights to control his or her own destiny. They are not authoritarian in the way that you and and Hedges seem to fear. You might be appalled, for example, that Rick Warren types aren’t ready for a robust gay marriage policy, but poll after poll seems to indicate that even the most staunchly conservative individuals are fully open to civil unions. To overlook this innate tendency of compromise that most Americans exhibit, and instead resort to framing the opposition in terms of radical fascist authoritarians, is not helping Hedges’ cause. It sounds eerily similar to the Ron Paul groups (have you seen these people on the web?) who fear, with great displays of paranoia, a new world order and an illuminati police state (9-11 conspiracy types).

    I hope that makes sense. I guess the consistency issue is this: you make the point that it is not authoritarian to tax the wealthy and regulate free markets because we have no choice–we have to do it. Well, the state also has to regulate morality out of necessity (what else is a homicide statute but the regulation of morality? What else is the civil rights act of 1964?). And I would argue that compromise is a necessity as well.

    On social matters, the state must occasionally flex its muscles and act in a way that some perceive as authoritarian (anarcho-libertarians, for example, are opposed to most criminal statutes). In so doing, we should always protect individual rights and liberties as far as we can. But at some point, an individual does not have the right or freedom to do quite a number of things–and this is because the majority have decided to supress the individual’s natural ability and natural freedom to behave in certain ways (say, to rape, murder, drive drunk, or conspire to kill the president).

    I almost never hear civil libertarians writing or speaking as if they understand how complicated this effort is. Where do inidividual liberties end and just prohibitions begin? Do they realize that almost every instance of state police power that they agree with is controversial and disputed by someone? I think this shows the absurdity of constantly framing one’s opponent as authoritarian. The realization that we are trying to create a state that carefully protects certain individual rights, while at other times prosecuting individuals for acts that are not privileged is very humbling and tends to alter one’s manner of speaking about these things when one understand the complexities. I don’t personally detect that humble approach from civil libertarians, so I suppose I question either their motives or their grasp of the situation.

    Sorry for the long reply. I would be interested to read your further thoughts, but no need to respond if you don’t care to. Maybe we can touch on this some more down the road.

  4. santitafarella says:


    For now I’ll just respond to this that you said: “Your approach, and Hedges’, and other civil libertarians’, seem to display a certain reactionary paranoia with even the most moderate traditionalists.”

    I suppose this is a tick for me. I’m not generally nervous about intellectual traditionalists with subtle and measured and reasonable reflections (such as George Will and William F. Buckley and you).

    I am very concerned with the BIRD BRAIN versions of traditionalism, the marshal virtues, and the family espoused by Mark Driscoll, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, and Dobson etc.

    Conservatism needs to always be at the table. James Burke, yes, right alongside liberals like Jefferson. We need to talk about balances of power and competing interests and make decisions.

    And we need to read our Fred Hayak.

    As you will recall, I’m a big fan of Isaiah Berlin, and this is his schtick—balancing competing interests.

    But I continue to be nervous about authoritarian impulses in people. The last century demands vigilence. I do hope you can get your hands on Altemeyer’s “The Authoritarian Spectre.” It was a very convincing study (from my vantage), and influences my thought on this.

    You might also want to google the phrase “ur fascism umberto eco”. It should bring up a list that eco suggests is characteristic of contemporary authoritarianism.


  5. David Main says:

    Limbaugh and Paul, not a winning combination.

  6. This including the comment stream is a great read. I don’t think I’d seen it before. I especially like the comparison between the separate branches and the balance of power between big corporation, big labor, and big government, none of which you want unchecked.

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