Sunday, March 1, 2009

Limbaugh @ CPAC

I believe the first rule of a good speech is to give one that others do not have to explain for you. If you give a speech full of crazy rants that can be clipped into, ahem, "interesting" soundbites, you have not given a good speech. If you give a speech that is easily misunderstood, you have not given a good speech. If you give a speech intended for a certain crowd that will be played ad naseum for a different one, and that different crowd is confused and insulted, you have not given a good speech.

When Rush Limbaugh addressed CPAC this Saturday, the crowd was nothing less than orgasmic. In down times, it's easy to get a crowd to love you: just tell them they're better than the other side. Limbaugh has drawn a line with this speech, in two ways. First, he doubled down on his assertion that he wants Obama to fail by not only repeating his criticism, but criticizing those who think his assertion is too harsh. Second, as the pro tempore leader of the Republican Party (anyone who thinks Michael Steele is in charge should note that he accepted Colbert's rap battle challenge this Thursday), Limbaugh put a face on the Republican party that they desperately need to get away from: That the Republicans are just a bunch of sweaty, angry white men.

I listened to all of Rush's hour-and-a-half speech, and if he thinks he got Democrats/Liberals angry, he's wrong. I don't know if he's watched Obama so far, but he's not likely to listen to someone who's bitter and screaming. Of course, the CPAC conference is decidedly reactionary, but not everyone knows that. Mr. Limbaugh, your audience was not Obama: he has far more important things to do, and he has lots of lackeys to watch you for him (to use in political ads). Your audience was the independent and undecided voter who will see the craziest parts of your speech played over and over in the news.

In order to earn the "psychology" label, I should examine not just what words Rush used, but his overall tone. Limbaugh, when on mute, played out a script similar to if you had watched his speech at full volume, namely, "AAAAHHHHH!! I HATE THEM SO MUCH!!". Waving his arms wildly, flapping his jowls, Limbaugh's anger was almost overbearing. When he did smile or show affection, you could tell it was in sarcasm. The fake smiles combined with the "bear hug" gesticulation and the shirt that was unbuttoned a little too far paints a picture of someone who is likely to die of heart complications. If Obama does see this speech, he won't be angry. Obama (and lots of undecided voters) will likely look at his loved ones in a confused way, stroke his chin and say, "hmmm..."

Obama on mute is entirely a different story. Even Republicans would agree he exudes peace. On those rare occasions when he cracks a joke at the expense of the other side, his smile is genuine: the smile pushing the skin under his eyes upward. His gestures are slow and inclusive as opposed to the fast, dominating hand motions of Rush. Palms held upward to us by Obama... Palms thrust down at us by Rush.

If the Republicans think this strategy will work, they are sadly mistaken... I think.

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