THE BLOG
06/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Does Limbaugh Matter?

It's Elmer Gantry denouncing sin for Screed Radio to complain about Obama's "character assassination" and opposition to the "majority." Obama's 53 percent election is more than Limbaugh's 3 percent of a radio audience. Should we even bother to answer folks who love America yet hate democracy? Probably.

The dirty secret of the Music Men of talk is that doing well electronically is different than electorally. Limbaugh and Beck surely succeed by the metrics of the media, where a 3 share is a big win. But 3 percent of the vote is not so hot.

Limbaugh recently expressed shock, shock that Obama would criticize him for "vitriol." He countered that the President didn't represent the majority of Americans. Rush does? Let's look at the numbers:

  • Limbaugh's favorables in numerous polls over time are about 25 percent and his negatives over 50%.
  • Bush ended his presidency with a 26 percent favorable rating, half of Obama's approximately 50% today.
  • Obama won the largest majority of the popular vote of any Democrat for President this past century other than Johnson in '64 and FDR.
  • Democrats control 56 percent and 60 percent of House and of Senate seats respectively -- hence passage of health care.

A question: should any serious person take time to factually rebut people who are allergic to facts? Who try to out-exaggerate each other to get small percentages of Americans to listen and watch? My wife yells at the TV -- and sometimes me -- "why do we pay attention to these idiots?"

Regrettably, we have to. Of course Media Matters and Rachel Maddow and so many others chronicle all their provable lies and ideological hysteria. Most Americans understand that they are the WWF of talk -- we know they're frauds but sure are entertaining.

Most. But not all.

A quarter of the country, give or take, believe that Sarah Palin is qualified to be President and Barack Obama is a socialist and a Muslim -- and not much will change their minds. They have a "content bias" so severe -- watch Tea Party rallies -- that even proof of the contrary only makes them dig in deeper. Perhaps another third of America regularly support Democrats, science and regulated capitalism. The final 40 percent are self-defined Independents who could tip one way or the other depending on conditions and intensity.

And the repetitive intensity of Limbaugh, Beck and Fox "News" is living proof of Mark Twain's wisdom that "a lie gets half-way around the world before truth puts on its boots." As John Kerry found out to his dismay when he was swiftboated, not answering absurd, repeated charges runs the risk that they will become embedded truth to small numbers of key voters.

Unless Democrats and the reality-based world are willing to surrender power to a reactionary fringe, it's essential that they fight lies with facts. It's essential that they understand that the problem is not just Fox, which has at most 2 million steady viewers, but Screed Radio which has probably 20 million. 91% of all radio talk is conservative and permit no exchanges, only monologues.

How often does Limbaugh ever debate anyone in real time or allow liberals on air? Does Sarah Palin say anything other than on Facebook and Fox? Ever answer serious questions?

So let's get used to a world where elections and governance are determined often at the margins, like 537 votes in Florida in 2000, and that Limbaugh and Beck are in the business of out-exaggerating each other for headlines and ratings to grab 3 percent. No need to appeal to a majority in that world.

Should the President then have even mentioned Limbaugh in his CBS morning interview? The reality is that these two benefit from each other since they have different audiences. Limbaugh has to rile his Dittoheads by always staying offensively on the offensive against Obama. And Obama has to persuade the majority who don't like Limbaugh. These mutually beneficial exchanges, therefore, will continue.

So when the far (f)right goes on and goes off about Obama's ruining the economy and is a "totalitarian," the rest of us can't merely scoff but have an obligation to calmly point out the obvious in whatever platforms are available that a) actually it was W who crashed the economy and the unemployment rate under Reagan in his 15th month was higher than Obama's and b) enacting laws because you won electoral majorities is called democracy.

Such a debate won't sway the "loud minority" in Sen. Harry Reid's nice phrase but some open-minded Independents will realize that those who are purely negative and nasty are not the true patriots. It's a job and we all have to do it.