Rusty Shackleford

Forget left of center bloggers, Jon Stewart is this year’s kingmaker. Without him and The Daily Show, the Democrats would not have made such large inroads in the midterm elections. Let me explain why.

In 1994 Republicans swept to victory by gaining 54 seats in the House and 8 seats in the Senate that were previously held by Democrats. While many factors explain the Republican victory--a unified theme around the Contract With America, discontent over the more liberal policies of the early Clinton Administration, corruption in the Democratic leadership, etc--Republicans in the House were quick to name Rush Limbaugh the Republican majority Kingmaker.

Is it possible that a single person was responsible for such a huge shift towards a Republican majority in Congress? Looking back, it seems almost silly to believe it. But that is only because right-wing talk radio has become such an ubiquitous phenomenon. It is everywhere. There are dozens of nationally syndicated right-leaning radio show hosts. Rush Limbaugh may still be the biggest, but his is only one voice among a chorus.

But back in the early 1990s national talk radio was new. It was exciting. It was strange. And although no one knew how it would impact American politics we all knew it was important.

For conservatives listening to Rush Limbaugh became a way to connect with other conservatives. Ditto entered into vocabulary and became a secret handshake for fellow conservatives to identify others of like mind. Remember the "Rush room"? In the back of restaurants we gathered to listen to talk radio in a safe atmosphere away from the politically correct ears of our social betters.

Rush emboldened us. He made us feel like we weren't alone.

To what extent the rise of talk radio played in the victories of 1994 cannot be accurately assessed. Surveys do not entirely capture the true reasons why people vote the way they do. What we do know is that between 1992 and 1994 self-identified conservatives rose 7%, that Republicans were energized, and that Democrats were not.

Talk radio played some role in this. Everyone on the right knew it. Newt Gingrich declared Rush Limbaugh the Majority Kingmaker. Congressional Republicans named Rush an honorary member of the House of Representatives.

12 years later Democrats swept to victory by gaining (at this count) at least 29 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate that were previously held by Republicans. While that margin is not as large as the gains made by Republicans in 1994 (54 in the House, 8 in the Senate) it is certainly a big win.

Rusty Shackleford

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