Limbaugh and the audacity of mendacity
Rush Limbaugh's new contract -- $50-million-plus annually for eight years -- secures his title as the world's highest- paid professional liar. Rush makes this easy money with the same primitive propaganda techniques that he has successfully exploited for two decades.
In one of his latest intellectual scams, Limbaugh repeatedly blames Democrats for high gasoline prices. "Have you noticed," Limbaugh asks a befuddled caller, "that gas prices went up when the Democrats took control of Congress?"
This clumsy innuendo simultaneously embodies a lie and a violation of an elementary principle of formal logic. Skyrocketing gas prices are correlated with the Bush administration's tenure. After dipping to an inflation-corrected $1.30 in 2002, gas prices have since climbed on an oscillating trajectory to $4-plus in June, more than tripling in six years. Since President Bush took office, gas prices have more than doubled, a rate nearly three times the rise during the Clinton years. Limbaugh has no excuse for not recognizing these statistical facts.
Underlying Limbaugh's distortion lurks an even more serious logical error. Even if it had been factually accurate, his correlation of Democrats' control of Congress with gas-price escalation violates a basic rule of logical deduction. This fallacy has been known since antiquity as "post hoc ergo propter hoc" or, "after this, because of this."
Primitives perpetuate superstitions via the post-hoc fallacy. During a drought, when it finally rains after the tribe stages 10 futile rain dances, the Indians are convinced that the 11th dance caused rain. Such superstitions endure for centuries, even millennia. They are congenial to humankind's natural mental inertia. Logical thinking is as unnatural as the ballet.
Limbaugh is our most strident spokesman for moral and intellectual primitives who reason like savages. He, Sean Hannity, and their fellow conservative talk-show hosts exploit a whole panoply of logical fallacies -- the slippery slope, strawmen, red herrings, single-entry bookkeeping, circular reasoning and heads-I-win-tails-you-lose. These are powerful weapons for deceiving gullible mass audiences.
There is a simple explanation for the rise in gas prices. With the rapid rise in oil demand from burgeoning industrial giants like China and India, the economics of oil collided with the law of supply and demand. In strict accordance with that law, oil prices have skyrocketed with surging world demand, which constantly threatens to overwhelm diminishing supplies.
This explanation won't satisfy conspiracy theorists, who single out oil companies as uniquely satanic, price-gouging monsters. Hedge-fund managers, speculating in futures markets, are probably the worst villains exploiting the situation to drive up oil prices above the supply-demand equilibrium. But few in Limbaugh's audience know that hedge funds exist. It's easier to blame Democrats.
If he really believed the post-hoc fallacy, Limbaugh would blame George Bush, not the Democrats, for high gas prices. But that would require honesty from this Vietnam-draft-dodging, closet-junkie, college dropout. Limbaugh got where he is by duping his simple-minded votaries with his venomous lies.
Limbaugh and his fellow talk-show hosts, abetted by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, have done a marvelous job poisoning rational political debate, accelerating the dumbing of America.
C.W. Griffin is a retired consulting engineer who lives in Honolulu.