A few weeks back, when the "Rush Limbaugh rules the GOP" meme was first making the rounds, Tim F. at Balloon Juice sought to highlight Limbaugh's power among Republicans by contrasting their treatment of him with the Democrats' treatment of Michael Moore. Why did Tim F. choose Moore as the liberal version of Limbaugh? Mainly, I think, because they're both big white guys. It seems to me that, apart from that, and apart from the fact that both have published several books and hosted short-lived television shows, the comparison is not an apt one.
Michael Moore makes documentaries. Since 1989 he has produced six cinematic documentaries, two televised documentaries, and the comedy film Canadian Bacon. Most of his work has appeared in movie theaters, which is to say, people who wished to see them had to travel to a movie theater and pay money to do so.
Rush Limbaugh hosts a radio show. Since 1988 his show has been broadcast three hours a day, five days a week, on hundreds of stations all across the United States. People who wish to hear his show only have to walk over to a radio, tune in an AM station, and listen. His success has resulted in the creation of an entire industry devoted to right-wing talk radio gasbags.
Who is the left's Limbaugh? If you want to know what a liberal Rush Limbaugh would be like, imagine the following:
The time is fifteen years in the future. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party dominates Congress, a liberal Democrat is President of the United States, the cable news shows and the Sunday morning bobblehead shows always make sure to invite at least one liberal talking head, and usually more than one, because their greatest fear is being accused of exhibiting conservative bias. The liberal wing of the blogosphere is the source of the talking points that dominate American political discourse, and Daily Kos is the most important left-leaning blog in America. In this scenario, Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga would be to the Democratic Party what Rush Limbaugh currently is to the Republican Party.*
Right now, there is no liberal Rush Limbaugh, which is an important reason why conservatives still dominate American political discourse even though their policies have been discredited and they have lost control of the federal government. This is also why Nate Silver is wrong (an unusual situation for him to be in) when he says that the GOP has no leader, just as the Democratic Party had no leader in 2005. In 2005 the Democrats had no Limbaugh analog with a nationally syndicated soapbox and a nationwide mass following to dictate orthodoxy and punish any politician who got out of line. That's why, as I've said before, Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP.
* I suppose to make the analogy more accurate I ought to have moderate Republicans control Congress and the White House following eight years of disastrously incompetent liberal government, but I can't make myself believe that there will be any moderate Republicans around in fifteen years, or that liberal Democrats could screw things up as badly as conservative Republicans have.