Good luck, Dan Bongino!
Dan Bongino, a right-wing talk-show host seeking to emulate the late Rush Limbaugh, has been given the herculean task of taking over Limbaugh’s afternoon radio time slot. Part of Limbaugh’s gift was to use unusual techniques to call attention to himself — i.e., the rustling of papers and drumming his fingers on his desk and saying things no one else would while decrying the loss of an America that rested upon his idealistic vision of the 1950s. Limbaugh’s booming voice could be heard in businesses, homes and car radios across America — much in the same way that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats were overheard from house to house.
Replacing Limbaugh would be challenging for any successor. But Dan Bongino admits his task is especially daunting. Upon being named Limbaugh’s heir, Bongino conceded that a “boring” Joe Biden is “a disaster for talk radio.” Rush Limbaugh never faced that dilemma. Bill Clinton was a perfect foil, as the 42nd president denounced the daily “violent personal attacks” Limbaugh levied against him. Barack Obama spurred even more venom from Limbaugh’s lips, with Limbaugh saying four days before Obama was inaugurated, “I hope he fails.”
Donald Trump acted as Limbaugh’s sidekick, and the two were never boring. When asked why she attended Trump’s 2005 nuptials, Hillary Clinton said, “I thought it would be fun to go to his wedding because it is always entertaining.” Boring was never an adjective applied to either man.
President Biden is a lot of things — raconteur, Irish, loquacious, knowledgeable and, yes, boring. Once at a Senate hearing, Barack Obama rolled his eyes during a long Biden soliloquy. Biden’s deep immersion into government-issued policy papers also makes him boring. But after a series of disappointing presidents, boring is exactly what voters wanted in 2020 — someone who could make government work. Upon taking office, 46 percent thought Biden would make government work better; 28 percent said he would make things worse; and 24 percent thought he would have no effect.
A working federal government is something that has been missing for years. Ever since the 1970s, voter distrust is a direct result of repeated government failures. The Vietnam War ended in a U.S. rout. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency because he was guilty of obstructing justice. Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon showed how well-connected people could evade justice. Jimmy Carter never lied, but disappointed, nevertheless.
Ronald Reagan made us feel good, but trickle-down Reaganomics led to grotesque economic inequalities that rivaled the Gilded Age. Bill Clinton was impeached over the Lewinsky affair. The Afghanistan war became America’s longest, and the Iraq war was George W. Bush’s most egregious error. Finally, Donald Trump’s miserable mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic sowed the seeds of his electoral defeat.
Such mismanagement resulted in a steep decline of public confidence. Back in 1969, 64 percent believed that the federal government could be “trusted to tell the truth about what is going on in the world today.” Repeated failures eroded that faith. By 2019, 70 percent of registered voters thought the federal government “is fundamentally broken with many corrupt politicians.” As thousands succumbed to the coronavirus, Americans believed government was severely damaged, and they wanted an honest person to fix it.
Fewer than 100 days into the Biden presidency, there are signs of renewed confidence. Fifty-two percent say they have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in data provided by the government about the coronavirus. This is a turnaround from last Fall when 63 percent had either little or no confidence in the information given. On the 58th day of the Biden presidency (beating his self-imposed 100-day timeline), 100 million vaccine shots have been placed into people’s arms. Moreover, 65 percent of those over age 65 have received at least one shot, and 36 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Such a restoration of public trust is badly needed, especially among the young, who have never known unmitigated national success. Putting a man on the moon and even winning the Cold War are tales told in dusty history books or relegated to infant memories. For millennials and Generation Z, repeated failures have generated a profound cynicism.
Social Security is a prominent example. For decades, young people heaped scorn at the FICA deductions from their salaries, believing they would not collect one penny. In 2014, 76 percent of those who were not retired believed Social Security would not provide the old age benefits they expected to receive. High interest student loans, coupled with a job market laid waste by the pandemic, have only added to the calamities. Making community college free, forgiving some student debt (at least in a targeted fashion), effecting real climate change and bending the arc of racial and gender justice are vital concerns for those destined to spend most of their lives in the 21st century. Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan added generations of new voters to their party’s ranks, Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to do the same —if government can work on their behalf.
Passage of the American Rescue Plan is the largest public works endeavor since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Already, the plan is depositing checks into 85 percent of all household bank accounts, opening more government-run mass vaccination sites, providing personal protection equipment and testing for frontline workers, helping schools to reopen, providing aid to state and local governments, extending unemployment benefits, giving rental assistance to those who need it and cutting child poverty in half. As Biden pithily says, “Shots in arms and money in pockets.”
That’s one way to make government work. And it’s another way to make government boring. Good luck, Dan Bongino. It looks like you’re going to need it.
John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book is titled “What Happened to the Republican Party?”
Editor’s note: Premiere Networks, the company that syndicated Limbaugh’s afternoon program, announced Monday that for the time being it would continue airing a series of guest hosts that play archival audio footage of the late personality.