Rush Limbaugh: "Why can't we be more like China?"

The conservative icon reinvents himself as a supporter of government intervention in the economy. Give me my state-subsidized SUV, or give me death!

Published July 29, 2008 9:45PM (EDT)

"How does it make you feel," asks Rush Limbaugh, "that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can't see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower?"

Rush, evidently, became quite upset after reading Monday's Washington Post article detailing how Chinese fuel subsidies are insulating Chinese automobile buyers from the true cost of gas. While Americans are stuffing themselves into teeny-weeny Priuses and resigning themselves to only three or four blaring speakers, the Chinese are living large. This makes Rush unhappy.

But such talk even upsets other conservatives. Blogging at the American Conservative Clark Stooksbury writes:

It's amazing what passes for conservatism these days. The market is currently dictating that Americans become more fuel efficient, which Limbaugh apparently disapproves of. Imagine the uproar if Obama or Clinton said that the U.S. should become more like China.

If rightwingers should ever wonder how they got into their current predicament, they should start by looking at their AM radio dials.

His colleague Daniel Larison chimes in:

Limbaugh offers here the absurd spectacle of "conservatism" as the embrace of endless consumption and degradation of nature, and really what this reveals is a desire to belong to something like a pink subsidy state (a modified version of what James has called the pink police state). The implication here seems to be that if the market can no longer accommodate sufficient levels of consumption, the state should come in to subsidize that consumption and over-consumption, but above all it is a declaration that egregiously conspicuous consumption has something to do with national status and power.

Yes, it's true. Rush Limbaugh is giving the "ChiComs" props for employing totalitarian state power to rig the marketplace so Chinese drivers can wallow in Hummer-ville. It's no wonder that conservatives who can think are alarmed, because Limbaugh's plaintive yelping is all too revealing of a mind-set that is appalled if government power is used to care for the sick or feed the hungry, but outraged if nothing is done to ensure the continued economic viability of the Ford Expedition.

See, the ChiComs need their economy growing. They need people driving around, moving around. They need people to be able to afford fuel, so they're subsidizing fuel. They're not bailing people out of stupid home mortgage messes. They're buying their gasoline for them, because they need an economy. Know what energy means to this, the whole subject of economic growth.

This is very dangerous ground for Limbaugh. Because if it's OK for the Chinese to buy gasoline for their citizens, then why isn't it OK for the U.S. government to buy healthcare for Americans? Slippery slope time!

Except, really, I suspect that Rush Limbaugh's real issue is not his unhappiness with American energy policy, but a straightforward attack of envy. How dare the Shanghainese get to ride in giant SUVs while Americans are forced into "bubbles with wheels, lawn mowers with wheels, battery powered cars and so forth"?

But if that's the case, Rush can relax. If Chinese SUV-mania continues at its current growth rate, no amount of changed consumer behavior in the U.S. will make a long-term difference in the global price of oil. The faster the Chinese get out on the highway, the quicker oil prices will rise even higher, and not even the most dedicated totalitarian government will be able to do anything meaningful about it. Sooner or later, we'll all be riding lawn mowers, and Limbaugh will have to find something else to complain about.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Globalization How The World Works Rush Limbaugh