Despite declining ratings, fleeing advertisers and stations responding to it all by exploring other options, Rush Limbaugh remains the king of shout radio, even if his empire isn’t as glorious as it once was. Limbaugh’s millions of listeners earned themselves the nickname “dittoheads” for their habit of calling into the show with the single-word comment “ditto!” From the beginning of Limbaugh’s reign, his flock has hung on his every word, no matter how outrageous or divorced from reality the word is.
Politics is now shaping what people believe is true far more than the truth shapes people’s politics. The age of propaganda and double-talk Orwell warned about is upon us. Over-the-air screamers like Rush Limbaugh have had a big hand in bringing us to this point. But even those who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to him have given him a hand over the years in their own way.
If “ditto” is the watchword of Limbaugh’s faithful, the other side’s go-to phrase has to be “yes but.”
A few brave souls summon the courage to say college should be free in America as it is in so many other countries, and a chorus of their ideological soulmates answers “yes, but how could we possibly afford that?” Never mind past generations of Americans managed to afford a system of free public education all the way through high school when industrialization prompted their kids and grandkids to stop living off the land and head off to factories and offices, where more education and training were needed. Never mind that we are now going through deindustrialization and transitioning to an economy where a high school diploma alone no longer provides a reliable path to the American Dream.
Someone calls for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, and this shot across the bow draws friendly fire in return. Those claiming to be sympathetic to the plight of the working poor can’t help but ask “yes, but won’t that slow the economy and kill jobs?” Never mind that the minimum wage has been raised more than 20 times without putting the brakes on economic growth or making jobs vanish. On the contrary, the economy continued to grow and there were more jobs than ever. And with good reason. Minimum wage increases give low-wage workers more money to spend, and good capitalists hustle to supply what better-paid workers demand. The economy is stimulated, not dragged down, despite all the “yes buts.”
Health care for all. “Yes, but that’s a pipe dream. It’ll never happen.” Never mind that nearly all other developed nations provide universal access to medical care. The U.S. stands virtually alone in failing to do so.
These kinds of advances are possible if those who believe in them speak with the courage of conviction. “Yes, but the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the corporate media will never let these voices be heard.” Never mind that those who fought to end slavery or give women the vote or lift the elderly out of poverty with Social Security or put child labor laws in place did not have social media or email much less their own TV or radio networks. Printing presses and telegraphs had been invented, but not too many abolitionists or suffragettes or early trade unionists owned one of those. Yet their ideas found their way to mass audiences.
All it takes for common men and women to have a place at the table rather than being on the menu in the corridors of power is to fill offices with representatives of their choosing. “Yes, but elections have been rigged with gerrymandered political boundaries and voter suppression tactics.” Never mind that neither gerrymandering nor voter suppression is a recent invention. These practices are as old as the republic, and they have been used by powerful elites and overcome by agents of change many times before. No yes buts about it.