Sweet-talking Wall Street crook Bernard Madoff fleeced several thousand gullible investors out of $50 billion with promises of riches that sounded too good to be true. In fact, they were.
Losing their shirts to Madoff has a counterpart among Republican conservatives: They're losing their self-respect to the far right's Rush Limbaugh, a demagogue with an arsenal of furious criticisms but empty of any real solutions.
Rush is a copycat rabble-rouser, mimicking other notorious figures that used prejudice to spellbind.
In the 1930s, Catholic priest Charles Coughlin hypnotized 40 million Americans per week with his bellicose radio tirades, attacking President Franklin Roosevelt (after once supporting him) and lionizing the Hitler and Mussolini regimes in their early days.
In the 1950s, U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy sowed hysteria with absurd claims of hundreds of communists controlling the U.S. State Department.
Armed now with modern radio and the Internet, Limbaugh is a virtual imitator trying to create loathing of President Obama and wishing him failure, inciting fears that "socialists" (akin in rightwing minds to Joe McCarthy's mythic communists) are seizing power, and deploring big government bailouts as unnecessary.
Limbaugh is precisely what he is and nothing more—not a problem solver, but a pompous entertainer trying to preserve a very profitable audience that delegates its thinking to him. Woe be to those who criticize Rush's stature: Republican heavyweights find themselves groveling for Rush's forgiveness.
Limbaugh relies on race, too. He resigned his ESPN commentary spot after putting down Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb as little more than the untalented black hope of liberal media. He also called Obama's nomination to be president "all about race."
Does Limbaugh have an angle? Sure. He has a media empire and personal mega-fortune to protect at a time when extreme wealth turns off millions of Americans looking for jobs and losing their homes because of Wall Street's recklessness and CEO gluttony. So he poses as an angry populist for the conservative underdogs of America.
By keeping conservatives corralled with angry tirades and dark suspicions, Rush's radio show has paid for a 24,000-square-foot, beach-front home in tony Palm Beach, Fla., plus four smaller houses on the property. He travels on a $54 million Gulfstream 550 private jet. He enjoys a $38 million annual income, which presumably also helps support three ex-wives and for a time funded a drug habit.
He also has a household staff that lights scented candles throughout the main house when Rush returns from a trip on his jet.
No wonder Rush resents higher taxes.