By Jim Derych
As might be expected from the title, Confessions of a Former Dittohead sheds light on the Rush Limbaugh phenomena for those who already think hes an idiot. But the pleasant surprise is that it also presents some incisive arguments that could be used in a sincere attempt to convert those who think hes a hero. Should Rush fans actually read this friendly little book, its light and informal style might just make them think again. Derych is neither preachy nor condescending; mostly hes rather modest about his transformation. This isnt so much a tell-all confessional self-expose' as much as an honest mea culpa.
By his own account, Derych used to subscribe to the Rush theory of government and politics. Somewhere in early 2004, however, he had reached the tipping point and officially counted himself among the Democrats. As with most self-realizations, Derychs conversion was borne of a thousand cuts. Derych openly documents many of his cuts and in the process exposes the straw man, carefully constructing the case for those who might try to suss out Rush fans. He even throws in some caveats in the how-to department.
Derychs first public confession about his official change of heart was posted to the Daily Kos website in February 2005. Greeted by hundreds of comments from other readers, eventually he turned his confessions into a book. This book is his story, written in the breezy, personal style of a blog, but organized to elicit understanding of his evolution of thought. Derych doesnt vent so much as unveil his own past thinking in order to enlighten; he clearly lays out the thought patterns of a Rush fan by offering up his own experience, including the illogic that he once hung his hat on. This isnt a heart-wrenching, painful self-analysis if he suffered in the process its not part of this narrative; its amazingly nonjudgmental and matter-of-fact for all its indictments of both himself and of the false gods worshipped by current Rush followers.
Growing up in a conservative, Nixon Republican household, Derych went to college in Tennessee, not exactly a bastion of liberal thought. His father was a big Rush fan and Derych got hooked, like millions of others, on the slippery slope of needing to justify ones baser instincts. On his first introduction to Rushspeak, Derych was young and innocent, void of political views, as he describes himself at the time the perfect audience. Derych explains the technique: Rush rants are spoken with authority and certainty and are argued with a convincing passion, making them hard to resist for the uninformed. Rush caters to those who long to live in an ordered world that has a simple solution to every problem. Even if they dont start out in total agreement with the Rush view of the world, its easy to get there with Rush logic. As Derych explains, a constant theme of Rush ... is getting you halfway to an unsupported allegation and then letting you go the rest of the way on your own. Rush is not for deep thinkers or even anyone with any modicum of intellectual honesty, as Derych paints the mindset. As one who understands Rushs popularity and the millions of listeners who have not crossed the line, Derych sets out to demystify Rush thinking.
Since Derych spent a lot of time listening to Rush rants, admiring Rush, nodding ditto to others who also were effusive in their admiration, he is in a good position to deconstruct the tenets of belief that he once upheld. As we read through Derychs account of his evolution, it is apparent that Derych already owned some fairly standard conservative views that were reinforced by the Rush patrol. Derych confesses to feelings of insecurity and describes how Rush makes his audience feel like theyre not alone, that they are part of a group that takes pride in their knowledge of the world.
Like all effective propaganda, the Limbaugh rhetoric preys on peoples fears and insecurities and has little to do with facts. In Derychs analysis, the conservative worldview is based on ignorance. He comes to this conclusion based on a review of his old belief system and how he acquired it; ditto- he swallowed all the partial truths Rush profusely supplied ultimately getting all his news and views directly from Rush, no questions asked. Apparently, this is the basic hallmark of all Rush fans: Rush supplies the facts, which are confirmed by Fox News. Case closedno other information can get in.
As Derych slowly became disillusioned by a series of events that continued to offer an alternative reality--facts that he couldnt easily dismiss--he started to listen more carefully and question some of the premises. As he did so, he discovered the duplicity of the arguments. One by one, his core beliefs went by the wayside.
Derych describes this transformation in an easy-to-read style, allowing the reader a glimpse of what it takes to undergo such radical change about controversial issues: abortion, gay rights, religion, and fiscal policy, to name a few. Derychs candor allows you to enter the mindset and follow the logic (or illogic). For those who are already on the Left, its an interesting read with some practical advise on how to talk to a Rush fan and score points in the process. For those on the Right, if you can get them to read the book, they may be able to empathize and identify with Derych enough to start to chisel away at the façade of what Derych tags the right-wing reasoning chip.
Derych takes each issue, pulls apart the Rush logic and explains how to crack open the door. As a professional financial planner, Derych is particularly strong on making his case in fiscal matters, including taxes, government spending and Social Security. It seems like arguing with facts would be self-evident, but to the "dittiot" (Derychs term for those who have lost all sense of reason and follow blindly), it is not. Derych argues that dittoheads must be force-fed with truth and he cautions that it is not an easy task mostly because dittoheads have been brainwashed to believe that the facts fed by Rush are true - no proof required. There is no critical thinking going on in the brain of a dittohead.
By providing the facts and showing the illogic used by the average dittohead, Derych reveals their game. Not that dittoheads are insincere and believe they are wrong; they dont. They have given their minds to Rush so that he can mold them in his own image. With Derych as a counter, its possible that Rush could lose some of his audience. But first theyd have to read the book, or at least be approached by someone who has. If theres hope for spreading truth, this is a step in the right direction.
Derych states that dittoheads are immune to any information that runs counter to their view. One could argue that most people filter out counter views and in the polarized world of politics that we live in today, this pattern seems to be more widespread than ever. Looking at the splintered Left, its not so much that they dont attend to counterarguments, but that on each issue, the Right has forced them into a position of scrambling to defend facts rather than advance real differences in basic opinions about how the facts should be used in the ideation of policy. The faith-based reality clung to by the conservatives who now dominate the Republican Party filters out facts, facts that are well-documented and until rather recently, would not be in dispute. This makes it impossible to have a civil discourse, puts the Democrats on the defensive, and further fractures the Left. When the facts are changed to fit the doctrine, its hard to keep an argument at normal decibels.
There used to be Republicans who could defend their tenets without resorting to falsifying and distorting information; they may have had a different perspective, but they werent dishonest and they didnt depend on bogus claims. One could disagree, but both sides were arguing from the same reality. In the last couple of decades that has changed. Derych has made a big contribution to showing how that divide may be narrowed. Like the early days of the Gingrich movement, one small step at a time on a personal level where each cut bleeds a little and needs fresh air to heal. Derych supplies some fresh air.