It’s tempting to dismiss this audio clip of Rush Limbaugh saying that Michael Jackson “flourished under Reagan,” “languished under Clinton and Bush,” and “died under Obama” as the irrelevant rantings of a drug-addled mad man. He does claim, after all, that Jackson was an individual and not part of a group, completely ignoring the fact that Jackson built his name up as the star attraction of the Jackson 5. But I would remind anyone who feels the tug of the temptation to remind yourself that this man is de facto head of the Republican party, and adjust your alarm accordingly.
No, what we’re seeing here is the Cult of Reagan moving into the actual deification phase. Reagan is more than a former President, more than a beloved statesman, but now a god with magical powers. He’s apparently the god of individualism and initiative, because Limbaugh’s statement is that Jackson’s very weirdness made him an individual, which is why their god smiled upon him and granted him 7 hit singles off one album and a whole pile of money. Knowing the way Limbaugh and his audience think, this statement has racial undertones, too. It’s been a long-standing right wing argument that black poverty is caused by “dependence” on the “nanny state” and a lack of initiative, so there’s not just a little hint here that Limbaugh is suggesting that “true” Republicans not only break welfare dependency, they hand out hit records as rewards for showing the proper spark of initiative. But I’m just guessing. It’s possible that, for once, Limbaugh wasn’t stewing in his own racist obsessions and just popped this one off strictly as a form of Reagan deification.
As someone who actually remembers the 80s better than Limbaugh apparently does, even though I was a child, I have to point out that Jackson was not actually weird in the 80s. He probably felt a little weird to some people, because contrary to Limbaugh’s assertions, Reagan voters were inspired by conformist attitudes and a desire to return to a fantasy version of the 50s. From that perspective, pretty much all pop stars inspired a “kids these days get off my lawn” attitude, even amongst some of the younger Republican set. But I don’t really see how the iconic Jackson fashions like the red jacket or the single glove were particularly weird (and what about his other favored 80s get-up—the jacket and tie?) were weirder than cardigans over T-shirts (Kurt Cobain’s thing) and the hat craze of the 90s. In fact, it all makes a lot more sense than the hat craze.* Jackson’s career actually slipped the weirder and more disconnected from reality he got.
But when you’re deifying a President and granting him superhuman powers, I guess minor factual errors like this are small compared to the major factual error—the Reagan had superhuman individualism powers!—that you’re touting.
*Sorry, we caught part of “Singles” on TV yesterday, and looking at early 90s fashion will make you long for the 80s, at least the early to mid 80s.