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Ezra Klein on the New York Times on Rush Limbaugh

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Yet another edition in the New York Times death spiral watch.

The ethics-free New York Times reporter who should be fired is Zev Chafets. The ethics-free editor of the New York Times Magazine who should be fired is Gerald Marzorat. The Deputy Managing Editor who should be fired is Jonathan Landman. The Managing Editors who should be fired are Jill Abramson and John Geddes. The Executive Editor who should be fired is Bill Keller.

Outsourced to Ezra Klein:

EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect: If you happened to be unaware that there's a guy named Rush Limbaugh who hosts a popular program on AM radio, then this New York Times's profile will be an incredibly illuminating read. But if you happen to be aware of that guy already, and are wondering about the implications of the most popular radio host in America being a global warming denialist and self-described "defender of corporate America," then the piece stands as an extraordinary act of editorial cowardice.

The profile reads a bit like Gadsby, the famed novel written entirely without the letter "e." Here, the Times appears to have challenged itself to write 8,000 words on Limbaugh without saying anything that could be even remotely interpreted as critical.... [T]hey wrote a puff piece. See? Liberals can be fair and balanced too!

But deep within the article are glimmers of a more interesting profile about Limbaugh and the state of contemporary conservatism. Limbaugh -- and Karl Rove, and Jay Nordlinger, and a host of others -- believe Limbaugh to be the intellectual soul of contemporary conservatism. Liberals learn about conservatism from David Brooks, but conservatives learn conservatism from Rush. And we're talking two entirely different conservatisms. Here, for instance, is what Limbaugh describes as his presidential platform:

  1. Open the continental shelf to drilling. Ditto the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  2. Establish a 17 percent flat tax.
  3. Privatize Social Security.
  4. Give parents school vouchers to break the monopoly of public education.
  5. Revoke Jimmy Carter’s passport while he is out of the country.
  6. Abandon all government policies based on the hoax of man-made global warming.

If liberalish conservative intellectuals seek a Sam's Club Conservatism, then #2 and #3 are the more traditional variant: Mercedes conservatism. #4 is a bad public policy idea, but it is a public policy idea. But #1 #5, and #6... [a] bankrupt movement: They're pure resentment politics mixed with a toxic distaste for empiricism. The stereotypical liberal loves the environment, so Limbaugh will drill up the shelf, a policy that won't do much to increase the oil supply, but will presumably piss off Al Gore. And you know what will really piss off Al Gore? Doing nothing about global warming. Denying its very existence. Oh, and for good measure, screw Jimmy Carter.

So what does this mean for conservatism? Who cares!? The point of this piece was to leave Limbaugh relatively happy once it was published. In that, the Times succeeded. But Limbaugh fits into an interesting and long-running tension in the conservative movement: Where is its soul? Was it Jesse Helms, a stone-cold racist and bigot? Liberals, in good faith, sort of assumed Helms a marginal figure, and have been informed, in recent days, that he was in fact a key figure. Were Limbaugh to drop dead tomorrow, the obituaries would no doubt extol him as a leading conservative thinker and actor. What does that say about conservatism?

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