OFF THE GRID

Limbaugh, Beck, Palin: Who Wins?

Jan 15, 10 | 8:26 AM   byMichael Wolff
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It gets ever-harder for nonbelievers to have even the most basic idea of the game plan or reality-quotient or cultural context or political expectations of the nation’s leading trio of conservative personalities—Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin.

The Glenn Beck interview the other night with Sarah Palin, both of them now on the Fox News payroll, was, for any outsider, inaccessible. If you’re not a conservative ideologue or white-bread cretin, there isn’t any reasonable way to consider the Beck-Palin conversation as something other than cynical, hyperbolic, purely ridiculous, or nutty. The normal majority is excluded from the real subtext. We can’t get it.

So I’m just guessing at what’s going on.

But it could be that what’s happening here, the true message that is animating this pile on of inanities and, especially, in the case of Limbaugh, extreme and bewildering utterances, is that they hate each other.

To my naked eye, Beck and Palin each seemed like they wanted to set upon the other. Sugariness masks real bile. Indeed, he actually snarled at her once, calling "bullcrap" when she evaded his question of who her favorite founding father was (clearly unable to name one).

Limbaugh’s more and more insistent insertions of himself into virtually any issue of the moment can reasonably seem like his own counter-offensive to, and attention-getting effort in the face of, this new Fox coalition of conservative stars.

Partly, this has to be a market-share game. The universe of white, over-fifty, extreme right-wingers, most with slightly-under-average IQs, isn’t growing, although it may be getting more extreme. Every significant new voice fragments the market more.

It was, prior to the emergence of Beck and Palin last year, a significantly tamer and more orderly market—Limbaugh covered daytime, Fox got primetime. Now, each of these major voices is—and here I am trying to imagine the subtext—asking for a special amount of loyalty. They’re asking you to be a Limbaugh or Beck or Palin person. They’re all running for top-dog.

This is no longer, I suspect, a singular movement, or program format; rather it’s the fight to be the favorite son or daughter of the nation’s most powerful splinter group.

That is, perhaps, the sound we’re witnessing, which, not privy to the raw emotion of the far-right mind, we cannot so readily decipher: All the awkward politesse, the strained smiles, the weird outbursts, the little boy showing off, the obvious attempt to trip up the popular, but dumb, girl, not to mention the ever-escalating bromides and platitudes and ever more insistent and far-fetched provocations, are a Manichaean struggle for survival in the media world.

It’s hard to know, out here in normalsville, who to bet on.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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