Out of the West: Candidates court the demagogues of the airwaves

WASHINGTON - When Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton are currying favour with the same people, it's worth paying attention. Thus it was the other day, at the fourth annual convention of radio chat-show hosts. Some 250 of this quintesentially American species had gathered in the Mayflower Hotel here. The Vice-President was present in person, the Democratic candidate by satellite link.

Once upon a time, radio chat-shows provided just blather, the wallpaper sound of America on wheels, whose sole function was to while away the hours on the Interstate. The topics were money, sex, death - or rather infinite permutations of all three.

But in this bizarre election year where the New Media rule, the chat-shows suddenly matter. We are witnessing the politics of anger - and anger is the stuff of life for the merchants of phone-in, whose main business is to rant away against the system for hours on end. There are 600 of them, dispensing righteous indignation across the country. Their common lodestar is Ross Perot, the people's fury made flesh. Mr Perot is even promising to employ an 'electronic town hall' to help govern America. Past presidents, notably FDR and Ronald Reagan, have made skilful use of radio, but Mr Perot would be the art's apotheosis. Many chat-show hosts behave like presidents; Mr Perot could be the first president to behave like a chat-show host.

The breed, as displayed at the Mayflower, is remarkably homogeneous. The hosts tend to be white, in their mid-forties, slightly overweight, hyper-patriotic and conservative. They can be unbelievably rude: pity the caller who attempts to dispute the dogma of the day. Their journalism, if such it may be called, is neither investigative nor analytical, merely demagogic. Their preferred targets include liberals, Congress, homosexuals, Bill Clinton, feminists and foreigners. Dan Quayle elicits an odd ambivalence. His misspelling of 'potato' still has them rolling in the aisles. But when the Vice- President gets on his 'America First' tack, and weighs into the liberal 'cultural elite', he is one of their own.

Around these parts, the star is the one-time Watergate 'plumber' Gordon Liddy, who dispenses three hours of wisdom daily from a station in Virginia. But the unchallenged monarch of the ether is one Rush Limbaugh, who tips the scales at 16 stone and is said to earn dollars 1m ( pounds 526,000) a year. Every weekday at noon, Limbaugh is out there scorching the airwaves live from New York City, heard by an estimated 12 million listeners to more than 400 syndicated stations around the country. There are Limbaugh T-shirts, golf balls, coffee mugs and bumper stickers. A little while ago came the ultimate proof of Limbaugh the political force: an invitation from George Bush for dinner and a night at the White House, in the Lincoln Bedroom no less. The word is, the President even carried his bags inside, a calculated attempt to humour an individual who calls himself 'the most dangerous man in America'.

And for carnivorous conservatism, Limbaugh takes some beating. Global warming, he avers, is an anti-American plot cooked up by communists and their sympathisers in the environmental movement. His description of radical feminists as 'Femi-Nazis' has entered the language. Real fans (and precious few others get on his show) call themselves Dittoheads, denoting their unquestioning agreement with every lunacy that gushes from their hero's mouth. 'The worst thing in life,' Limbaugh says modestly, 'is that I can't listen to me.' Soon though he'll have a chance to see himself. This autumn he begins a nightly television chat-show, just in time for the climax of the presidential campaign. Will the first guest be George Bush?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss