Is it useful to object when Rush Limbaugh says something particularly odious on the radio, where he is one of the most successful and influential broadcasters alive? Or does reacting to his screeds have the perverse effect of empowering him? In the past, I’ve ignored him at times, but more often I’ve spoken up. I’ve drawn attention to Limbaugh’s shameful habit of falsely accusing people of racism, the way he compromises his craft to ingratiate himself to powerful Republicans, and his habit of deliberately inflaming the racial anxieties of his audience by lying to them.
Today the Internet is once again asking itself, “Has Rush Limbaugh finally gone too far?” It’s a reaction to a statement he made about the Lord’s Resistance Army, “a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.” President Obama has sent American troops to help stop the outlaws. It’s perfectly defensible to wonder, as I do, whether we ought to be intervening militarily in yet another country. (I’d say no.) But that wasn’t Limbaugh’s controversial objection. Consistent with the item on his website, “Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians,” Limbaugh told his substantial audience that the president is sending 100 American troops “to wipe out Christians.”
Predictably, the Obama-is-killing-Christians-on-behalf-of-Muslims meme began to spread among rank-and-file conservatives, until Erick Erickson, the Red State founder, found himself forced to respond:
It is ridiculous that I’m even having to write about this, but I am. In the past 72 hours, I have gotten lots of emails from lots of people who should know better asking me if I’ve heard about Barack Obama sending American troops to Africa to go after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The people hearing the name assume it is a Christian group fighting radical Islamists in the Sudan or some such. It is no such thing.
What Limbaugh said is odious, irresponsible, offensive — but what are you going to do? The man has long since proved that he has no shame. I’ve corresponded with people who’ve been persuaded, by past posts I’ve written, to stop listening to his show, but they’re an unrepresentative few. Are a miniscule number of converts enough to justify talking about his oeuvre?
Perhaps not, unless there is a larger point to be made than the old news that he says indefensible things. In that spirit, I’d like to conclude this post by remarking on Limbaugh’s corrupting influence. We’ve witnessed more than enough controversies like this, where no one is willing to defend the talk radio host’s words, to know his public character and effect on political discourse. We’re not talking about a couple slip ups for which he’s apologized and should be forgiven. The man willfully traffics in odious commentary and has for years and years.
Shame on him, but that isn’t where it ends. George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush ought to be embarrassed that they invited Limbaugh to the White House. The Claremont Institute, whose work I often respect, ought to be mortified that they sullied their Statesmanship Award by bestowing it upon Limbaugh. Shame on National Review for celebrating one of conservatism’s most controversial figures in a symposium that didn’t even acknowledge his many critics on the right. In it Heather Higgins remarked on “Rush’s long track record of accurate predictions and analyses,” Kathryn Jean Lopez commented on his “graciousness and humility,” Mary Matalin said “he epitomizes what we all aspire to be, both as citizens and individuals,” Andrew McCarthy claims his message is “always” delivered with “optimism, civility, and good humor,” and Jay Nordlinger asserted that “he is almost the antithesis of the modern American, in that he doesn’t whine.” Every last claim is too absurd to satire, let alone defend.
Shame on The Heritage Foundation for sponsoring Limbaugh’s radio show, and on the Media Research Center and Human Events for honoring Limbaugh’s excellence … and the list goes on, including the millions of people who support his radio show because they agree with Limbaugh’s ideology, even though they’d be outraged if a liberal trafficked in similarly poisonous rhetoric.
Many conservatives complain, with good reason, when they’re caricatured as racially insensitive purveyors of white anxiety politics who traffic in absurd, paranoid attacks on their political opponents. Yet many of the most prominent brands in the conservative movement elevate a man guilty of those exact things as a “statesman” whose civility and humility ought to inspire us! In doing so, they’ve created a monster, one who knows that so long as his ratings stay high, he can say literally anything and be feted as an intellectual and moral role model. So the outrages arrive at predictable intervals. And Americans hear about them and think badly of the right. Movement conservatives, if you seek integrity in American life, if you seek civility, if you seek converts, tear down this man’s lies! He hasn’t any integrity or self respect left to lose. But you do.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, October 18, 2011
In fact, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Mitt Romney is the very embodiment of the political narrative that will likely define the 2012 Presidential race. Unless there is a miracle, the outcome of next year’s election will likely be determined by whom the public blames for the lousy economy.
Of course the Republicans will argue that the culprit is the “overreaching,” “innovation-stifling” big government and its leader, President Obama. Their prescription to solve the country’s economic woes: eliminate every regulation in sight, cut taxes for the wealthy and free Wall Street bankers that lead us into the promised land.
Democrats, on the other hand, will pin the blame exactly where it belongs — on the reckless speculation of the big Wall Street banks, their Republican enablers — and the stagnant middle class incomes that have resulted from the top one percent of Americans siphoning off virtually all of the country’s economic growth since 1980. They will fault the “do-nothing Republican Congress” for their insistence on defending the status quo, and their refusal to create jobs.
Earlier this summer — when Republicans had succeeded in making “fiscal responsibility” and “deficit reduction” the touchstone of American political discourse — a businessman like Romney appeared to many to be just the ticket. But the tide has turned.
Once they got the debt ceiling “hostage taking” episode behind them, the administration has used its jobs package — and its own budget proposals — to draw a sharp line in the sand. The President has demanded that Congress take action on jobs and pay for it by raising taxes on millionaires.
Then came the Occupy Wall Street Movement — and the worldwide response — that has tapped into the public’s fundamental understanding, and anger, at the real nature of the economic crisis. The fact is that one of the only people around more unpopular than politicians are Wall Street bankers.
Finally, of course, the economic facts on the ground have made it clearer and clearer that right wing economic theories that blame “bloated entitlements” to seniors who make an average of $14,000 a year — and demand “fiscal austerity” — are just plain stupid. According to the Washington Post, even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — long the world’s leading advocate of deficit reduction and “austerity” — has now warned that “austerity may trigger a new recession and is urging countries to look for ways to boost growth.”
As the national economic dialogue has shifted, the public’s view of Mitt Romney has also come into focus. His out-of-touch “1% moments” proliferated.
On August 11, the blog Think Progress captured the now-famous video of Romney opining, “Corporations are people, my friend.” Of course, given his record of dismembering and bankrupting companies at his old firm, Bain Capital, if “corporations are people,” then Romney is guilty of murder.
On August 29th Romney disputed an account about the expansion of his beach front home. “Romney: Beachfront home is being doubled in size, not quadrupled,” The Hill reported.
Then, just a few days ago, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Wall Street donors had abandoned President Obama in droves and flocked to Romney.
Finally, an extraordinary photo surfaced from Romney’s days as CEO of Bain Capital, where he made massive profits while five of the companies under his firm’s direction went bankrupt and thousands of workers lost their jobs.
Apparently their difficulties in finding places to stash their profits became a joke among the young hotshots at Bain. They posed for a photograph with money stuffed in their pockets — even their mouths. There at the center of the picture was the grinning CEO, Mitt Romney, with money overflowing from his pockets and his suit jacket.
There he is — posing as the poster child for the 1%.
The picture could be the iconic image of the iconic line from the film Wall Street: “Greed is Good.”
Increasingly, many Democratic strategists have begun to feel that Romney could be the best possible opponent for President Obama next year.
Think about the way swing voters make political decisions. They don’t make their judgments about how to vote based on “policies or programs.” They evaluate the personal qualities of the candidates.
In determining who is on their side and shares their values — do swing voters choose Romney — the poster child for the 1% — or President Obama?
In the coming campaign, who is more likely to appear as an insider defending the status quo that people don’t like — and who will appear to be an outsider trying to bring change? Normally you’d have to say that the consummate “insider” is the guy who is President of the United States. Not necessarily so if his opponent is Wall Street’s own Mitt Romney.
And several factors unique to Romney make his situation even worse:
Voters want leaders with strong core values. That’s not a description of Mitt Romney who has flip-flopped on just about every position he’s ever taken in public life. When Karl Rove ran George Bush’s campaign against John Kerry he said that Kerry’s statement that he voted for the War in Iraq before he voted against it was the gift that kept on giving. Rove took a Senator with strong convictions and convinced swing voters that he had none. If Rove could do that to Kerry, think about the easy time Democrats will have in convincing America that Romney’s values shift with the wind.
Voters want to connect emotionally with their leaders. Ask Al Gore how important it is for candidates to “connect” with the voters. Romney has the personality of a statue. He just doesn’t make emotional contact.
Much of the Republican smart money is going to Romney because it thinks he is increasingly likely to be the nominee. I can understand why the Wall Street money is going to Romney — they want their guy to be President.
But I’m guessing that if he gets the nomination, by this time next year, Wall Street’s investment in Romney will look about as “smart” as all that money they put into sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps four years ago.
You would have been forgiven for experiencing some ideological whiplash earlier this month when, after listening to two days of speeches emphasizing the profound threat that rights for gay people, legal abortion, and the freedom of religion pose to our society, the attendees of the far-right Values Voter Summit handed a resounding straw poll victory to self-proclaimed libertarian Ron Paul.
Paul’s particular brand of libertarianism has taken hold in the imagination of the Tea Party, allowing its leaders and activists to claim a patriotic devotion to absolute freedom while simultaneously supporting policies that curtail the freedom of women, gay people, and religious minorities.
Who wants to be called a Right-Winger, Neocon or a Neanderthal these days? Welcome to Cafeteria Libertarianism.
“Libertarianism” has become the new code word to cover all that conservative Republican politicians love. They love to invoke a libertarian philosophy when they cut taxes for corporations and the rich, rail against health care reform, take the ax to the social safety net, deregulate Wall Street and block clean elections laws. It’s about freedom, they say. Come on, let’s get the government off of our backs!
The trouble is, the current GOP’s newfound embrace of libertarianism is a hoax. What today’s GOP practices is what I call “cafeteria libertarianism”: picking some freedoms to champion and others to actively work against. It’s an attempt to make the same old policies sound more palatable by twisting a much misunderstood ideology — with a uniquely marketable name — to help make the sale.
Take California Rep. David Dreier who is anti-choice and ironically, to say the least, anti-gay. When asked by a local news station this summer how he could appeal to Tea Party voters, Dreier responded, “I describe myself as a small-’l', libertarian-leaning Republican. I want less government and lower taxes. I believe in a free economy, limited government, a strong defense and personal freedom, that’s why I’m a Republican.” Dreier’s supposed embrace of libertarianism came as a surprise to those of us who have been following his life and politics for years. But Dreier’s not snacking alone at the Libertarian cafeteria — “libertarianism” has become a code word for GOP politicians hoping to appeal to Tea Party voters and corporate funders without the rest of the country taking notice.
When Republican politicians call themselves libertarians they, with very few exceptions, mean they want a small government when it comes to corporate accountability and a big government when it comes to people’s private lives. They don’t want Congress to regulate mine safety, but they do want to penalize small businesses that offer abortion coverage for employees. They don’t want to get in the way of Wall Street bankers fleecing consumers, but they’ll spend endless resources throwing up any and all possible barriers to gay people who want to marry whom they love.
It’s this cafeteria libertarianism, actively pushed by the corporate Right and wholeheartedly embraced by the Tea Party, that has allowed Congress and state legislatures to launch an all-out assault on corporate regulation, workers’ rights, and campaign finance restrictions — all while simultaneously conducting an energetic campaign to intervene in women’s health care, throw up bureaucratic hurdles to the right to vote, harangue practitioners of religions they don’t like and decide who can and cannot get married. Of course you need some powerful intellectual trickery to pull this off — how else can you say that you’re all for states’ rights and at the same time support amending the Constitution to prohibit states to define marriage?
The expert at this kind of trickery is libertarian poster boy and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul, who enjoys an admiring following in the Tea Party movement and among some liberals who like some of the items that Paul has selected from the libertarian menu. Paul, despite his reputation as a hard-line maverick, picks and chooses the liberties he supports just as much as the rest of the GOP: sure, he famously defied his party to oppose the PATRIOT Act and the War on Drugs, but he also called Roe v. Wade a “big mistake” and supports the federal “Defense of Marriage Act.” And he’s far from alone: the oxymoronic anti-choice, anti-gay libertarians are now legion.
Paul has also ably demonstrated why the GOP’s actual libertarian beliefs are misguided at best and dangerous at worst: when Hurricane Irene hit the east coast this summer, taking dozens of lives and causing billions of dollars in damage, Paul reacted by calling for the end of FEMA and saying disasters should be dealt with “like 1900.” 1900, of course, was the year of the infamous Galveston hurricane, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. And at a Republican debate this summer, Paul was met with cheers from the crowd when he said that an uninsured man suffering a life threatening illness is an example of “what freedom is all about.” This is the new standard of freedom?
True liberty is the freedom to live our lives the fullest, care for our families in comfort and make our own decisions about life’s fundamental personal issues. That’s something we can’t do if our government isn’t there to ensure public safety, a healthy environment and a basic safety net when things go wrong… or if our government is dedicated to meddling in our personal lives.
Let’s all agree that we love liberty. But the pick-and-choose liberty and libertarianism that Tea Party Republicans espouse is not only intellectually dishonest, it’s monumentally bad for America.
By: Michael B. Keegan, President-People For The American Way, Published in Huff Post, October 19, 2011