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According to Rush Limbaugh, I’m a hard-core liberal, no different than Michael Moore who paid the bail for “the serial rapist Julian Assange.” Also, I’m not willing to admit who the terrorists are, and I’m helping to kill Christmas.
It’s all because I co-founded a new group that launched this week called No Labels. We’re Republicans, Democrats and Independents—dedicated to confronting the culture of hyper-partisanship that is distorting our debates and stopping our nation from solving the serious challenges we face.
This idea is threatening to professional polarizers like El Rushbo—which is why he devoted an hour of his show this week to attacking us. In particular, he took personal aim at co-founders Mark McKinnon (a Republican Bush/McCain adviser and fellow Daily Beast columnist), Kiki McLean (a Texas Democrat and Clinton administration alum) and myself. In the process, he again proved the need for No Labels.
Rush’s core concern seems to be that there is no such thing as the center or independent voters. He believes that America is divided between the far-right and the far-left, and he likes to offer only that false choice because he believes it’s a fight he can win. But an emphasis on swing voters or independents—the largest and fastest-growing segment of the electorate—makes the math more complicated. It screws an inflexible ideologue up.
Criticizing Limbaugh is not the same thing as demonizing him. We can recognize that he is a talented broadcaster, a popular political entertainer for folks on the far-right. He also helped create a big part of the problem in our politics today.
He uses conflict, tension, fear and resentment to drum up his ratings, appealing to a narrow but intense (and aging) niche audience by using the old trick of dividing Americans into "us" vs. "them," perpetuating the polarization he profits from. That’s why it’s a little absurd to hear Limbaugh point out disapprovingly that my book Wingnuts itself uses a label to describe the use of fear and hate by hyper-partisans. Its funny how quickly people who throw around labels for a living ("feminazi," for example) cry foul when a term like Wingnut is directed at them. But bullies are always shocked when you punch back.
John Avlon's new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America" is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of "Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics" and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.