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The Making Of A Conservative Heretic

A few days ago, Jon tweaked Jerry Taylor, a poster at the Corner, for refering to Rush Limbaugh and his conservative TV and radio brethren as figures who are "thought to be relatively unpopular with non-movement Americans." Jon imagined that this was a characteristic example of low-grade conservative disingenuousness, a unwillingness to acknowlege that Limbaugh is, in fact, demonstrably unpopular.

Taylor replied, essentially saying that he wasn't being disingenuous; he simply hadn't seen the polls in question. What happened next was more interesting, however, as it suggests that a certain degree of disingenuousness (or delusion) is now mandatory for anyone who hopes to remain a "conservative" in good standing. Taylor, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, allowed that he was not a fan of either Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, and questioned, quite reasonably, whether "either of these guys actually convince anyone (elitist or not) outside of the choir? Limbaugh’s popularity numbers suggest not."

The response from fellow Cornerites alternated between eager attacks on this heresy and entreaties for this whole unseemly line of discussion to just go away (sometimes within the same item). In a series of posts berating Taylor, Kathryn Jean Lopez enthused that "Everyone loves to say Rush is an "entertainer," which is absolutely true — he is entertaining — but he's also a teacher"; argued that "To casually or worse link to that New York Times item is really an unfair representation of what happens on the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh shows"; and decried the "ignorant, nasty nonsense being said about Rush and Sean," while posting an email from a reader stating "We shouldn’t have to defend Rush from attackers on the inside like this."

Taylor replied to this barrage with another post, gently suggesting that "a 19 percent approval rating pretty much tells us all we need to know about whether Rush Limbaugh is persuading America to embrace conservatism," and compounding his heresy by citing Al Franken's books as useful sources for examples of Limbaugh and Hannity's reliance on "dodgy evidence."

This, of course, was the equivalent of waving a red handkerchief soaked with heifer pheromones in front of a herd of bulls on prison furlough. Mark Steyn fumed that Lopez "should have been harder on Jerry Taylor's post," calling Taylor an "obscure think-tanker lazily endors[ing] the liberal critique of American conservatism’s only mass outlet" and confessing "I don’t quite understand where The Corner’s going with this shtick." In a subsequent post, Steyn called the citation of Franken's books "pathetic on its face, and an embarrassment to National Review," though a reader at least let him know that their titles--Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)--were ironic.

Lopez chimed in a few more times as well, offering the novel theory that "The White House and everyone else on the Left wants Rush and Sean to be the enemies because they are effective"--awfully sporting of the left!--and boasting that "People on the Right do recklessly say the likes of what Jerry did today. I think they should be called on it when they do. That happened here," while at the same time trying to declare the conversation over. ("I'd just like to move on and continue that fight for all that is good and right and just. Hitting Rush and Sean isn't.")

Taylor, arguably displaying more bravery than judgment, replied once more, asking "Do you want President Obama to succeed in painting the Republican party as the party of Rush Limbaugh? Given his sub-Nixon popularity figures, I can’t believe I’m causing a firestorm by suggesting the answer here is probably 'no,' " and offering a series of calm, sensible responses to Steyn and Lopez's fulminations.

Lopez responded by restating her peculiar contention--belied by logic, action, and a great deal of reporting--that "Rahm & friends are loving Righties trying to distance themselves from Rush & Sean." And Rich Lowry weighed in, pointing out that "At NR, we see the evidence of [Limbaugh's] influence every time we encounter intern candidates who say they first were attracted to conservatism by hearing Rush," and citing yet another reader email. Lopez concluded the discussion with a post that seems to argue that the very fact that there is polling on Limbaugh proves that he is popular, even if said polling shows that most people don't like him.

And that's where things seems to stand at the moment. I encourage anyone with the time and interest to follow the links, as there was far too much to quote directly. And if any friends of Jerry Taylor happen to read this post, I'd recommend giving him a call to ensure that he's okay and still able to pick up the phone.

--Christopher Orr