Editor's note: Rachel Motte blogs at www.evangelicaloutpost.com and writes for Wheatstone Academy, a Christian educational program for high school students. She is a graduate of Biola University and the Torrey Honors Institute.
Rachel Motte says Rush Limbaugh still can animate conservative popular opinion.
(CNN) -- It's no secret that liberals throughout the nation are rejoicing at Rush Limbaugh's supposed status as leader of the Republican Party. I can see why. He's easy to pick on.
His rhetoric is extreme, and his personal life has at times been less than picture-perfect. I've heard some pundits refer to Vice President Joe Biden as "the gift that keeps on giving." I imagine the left feels the same way about Limbaugh.
Rush was an integral part of my childhood. I must have been 6 or 7 when I started listening in the late 1980s. I remember that my parents and their friends found him refreshing, and I remember that he made them laugh.
I memorized his song parodies and even tried to write a few of my own based on the events I heard him talk about. When I was 11, I once spent several hours trying to call his show, redialing after every busy signal, over and over. I never got through. It's probably just as well; I think I had planned to try to talk him into running for president. I no longer think he'd make a good president -- we're all much better off when he sits behind the EIB microphone.
Rush taught me a lot about personal responsibility, the value of freedom of speech and the love of country. At 26, I've outgrown many of my childhood habits, but I never outgrew Rush.
Have conservatives outgrown him? Is it time to distance ourselves by dismissing him as just "an entertainer," as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele initially did before apologizing?
My friend John Mark Reynolds wrote recently that Rush is "a shallow thinker" who will alienate today's young adults rather than draw them in. He argued that Rush's "insider lingo" and harsh demeanor are problematic at a time when the Republican Party is losing the young adult vote.
Is he right? Has Rush Limbaugh outlived his usefulness to the conservative movement? Should we take a cue from the Democrats' glee and relegate El Rushbo to a back room like an aging and unpopular distant relative?
Not by a long shot.
Rush doesn't need to be removed as leader of the Republican Party, because he's never held that position, much as Democrats would like you to think he has. He's a vitally necessary part of the conservative movement, but he's no one's leader. Don't give him more credit than he deserves, and don't fall prey to the Democrats' carefully planned attempts to inflate his authority.
Steele learned the hard way a few days ago that the opposite extreme is also not true -- Rush is not a mere entertainer.
One of his most important contributions to the conservative movement has been his ability to energize the base. This is particularly vital now given the recent election results. Someone has to keep the troops from giving up, and like it or not, for now that someone is Rush. It doesn't really matter whether he's a shallow thinker. What does matter is that he knows how to prod people into action.
That's all well and good, but is it sustainable? What works for me and for the many other "Rush babies" out there may not work for our younger siblings.
Thanks to the Obama campaign, new activists aren't going to be as easily attracted by witty aphorisms and wordplays as previous demographics were.
President Obama's impressive rhetorical skills appeared to raise the level of public discourse during the campaign. As far as I can tell he didn't actually say anything new, but so many things sounded new when he said them.
I don't think he changed the content of the age-old feud between right and left, but he did change the style, providing a stark contrast to the admittedly strident tones of some on the right. That's going to change the way young people all over will approach the political process; after all, 66 percent of the 29-and-under crowd voted for Obama.
Rush's personal influence will decline because of this shift in rhetorical style, but we're not yet at the point where it is unimportant. The current crop of college students may not call themselves "dittoheads," but their mentors and heroes within the movement still do, and that will continue to be significant for a while yet.
Do we need leaders who can inspire the next generation of young conservatives? Absolutely. Is Rush the best man for that job? At this point, yes, though that will probably change in the next few years.
One thing is likely -- the next big conservative leaders who do resonate well with the age group that favors Obama will cite Rush as a major influence. His work won't end with him. And that's as it should be.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Motte.
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