Having infuriated millions of Robin Williams fans with insensitive remarks on the late actor’s suicide, Rush Limbaugh now blames the “liberal media” and “despicable leftists” for distorting his innocent message.
This is an old dodge for Limbaugh. Yet however he parses his language, there can be no doubt that he sought to exploit a tragic event for what he likes to call “political education.” His attempt to brand Williams’ suicide with “the leftist worldview” was perfectly plain. And as usual, his alibi is plainly false.
In his original commentary on Williams, Limbaugh quoted Fox News – hardly a “liberal media” source even by his elastic definition – about the great comic’s possible motivations for taking his own life:
I mean, right here there’s a story on the Fox News website. Do you know, it says right here, that the real reasons that Robin Williams killed himself are he was embarrassed at having to take television roles after a sterling movie career….He’d had some divorces that ripped up his net worth, and he had a big ranch in Napa that he couldn’t afford any longer and had to put up for sale, and a house in Tiburon that he couldn’t afford anymore. This is all what’s in the Fox News story.
He had it all, but he had nothing. He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside. I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has.
Pursuing this tendentious theme, Limbaugh went on to mention the “survivor’s guilt” that Williams reportedly suffered over the early deaths of three close show-business friends, Christopher Reeve, John Belushi, and Andy Kaufman. “He could never get over the guilt that they died and he didn’t. Well, that is a constant measurement that is made by political leftists in judging the country,” he harrumphed, concluding with a few incomprehensible sentences about “outcome-based education.” (Even more oddly, Limbaugh promoted a wonderful appreciation of Williams in the Guardian by Russell Brand — an actor with very strong left-wing opinions.)
Still, his point was unmistakable: If you’re concerned about life’s unfairness – as Robin Williams, a dedicated lifelong liberal, certainly was – then you probably suffer from a dark and pessimistic worldview that may very well lead you to kill yourself.
Insofar as Limbaugh pretends to be educating the public, let’s school him by turning around his exploitative blather and putting him in the place of his rhetorical victim. A decade ago, when the radio talker’s addictive dependency on prescription painkillers was first exposed, it would have been easy enough to lampoon his behavior as an expression of his right-wing worldview.
Popping mouthfuls of oxycontin? He thought he could get away with it because of his wealth and status, like so many other millionaire crooks. Violating the narcotics code? He hates government and thinks he can ignore laws that inconvenience him, just like the Bundy Ranch gang. Publicly urging criminal prosecution of drug addicts while indulging the same weakness? He is just another moral hypocrite, like so many of his cronies on the right, from William Bennett to Newt Gingrich to… Rush Limbaugh.
As America watched Limbaugh struggle with his own personal issues, nobody tried to claim that he became a junkie because of his political attitudes. Indeed, most liberal commentators wished him a full recovery, even while noting his frequent failures of empathy. A few even suggested that he seize the opportunity to contemplate his habitual cruelty to others — and try to change.
Sadly, that never happened. If it had, then Limbaugh might have come to understand depression and substance abuse, which evidently killed Robin Williams, as illnesses rather than political or moral failing – exactly like the addiction that harmed Rush’s hearing and could have claimed his life. He might even have experienced an emotion so often mocked as “liberal” and too often absent from conservative moralizing:
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 15, 2014
“A Republican Chronic Affliction”: From Clinton To Obama; Why GOP Impeachment Fever Is Now So Predictable
Making predictions is a perilous practice for any political journalist. Too often, the would-be seers turn out to be dead wrong – as can be attested to by George Will, Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow, and the humiliated boy genius on Fox News, all of whom projected a big victory for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Yet there is at least one future event that could be safely forecast years ago, almost as soon as Barack Obama entered the White House: a movement among House Republicans to impeach the president.
In the conventional wisdom that chronically afflicts Washington, all the current muttering about impeachment is merely a theatrical display for the GOP’s wingnut base – as Democrats use the same threat to stir emotions (and donations) among Obama loyalists. Such complacent analysis misreads not only the mood and character of the Republican Party’s dominant Tea Party wing, but the recent history of impeachment as a political instrument of the far right.
The same forces that have sought to ruin Obama from the beginning were hatching schemes to remove Bill Clinton from office long before the unveiling of his reckless indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Back then, the talk of impeachment among zealots who schemed against Clinton, ranging from Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and disgraced former attorney general Ed Meese to an assortment of back-bench congressmembers and religious hucksters, could be easily brushed aside. Today, many of the survivors among that old cast of characters are peddling Impeach Obama bumperstickers– notably including Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, which features an “impeachment store” online.
Claims that Clinton had committed a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment under the Constitution dated as far back as 1994, the year after his inauguration, when the teamwork of determined right-wing activists and incompetent mainstream reporters ginned up a series of phony scandals. At secret meetings, the leadership of ultra-right organizations such as the Council for National Policy persuaded themselves that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted (for something), and that Bill Clinton could soon be impeached (for anything).
The itch to impeach Clinton gathered momentum in 1997, not long after his re-election, a democratic victory that did not impress his right-wing enemies. As with Obama, they wanted to undo his presidency not because he had committed a supposed constitutional offense, but simply because his “liberal, globalist, socialist” politics offended their sense of morality. Of course, they feel the same way about Obama today. Indeed, from the perspective of the insurrectionary Tea Party Republicans and other self-styled “patriots,” elections hardly matter at all, unless their candidate wins. To them, a Democratic president lacks legitimacy by definition.
For a pungent whiff of irony, remember that electing Obama in 2008 was supposed to preserve us from another decade of political trench warfare, instigated by those polarizing Clintons. Electing Hillary Clinton would lead America back into the partisan psychodrama of the Nineties, or so the Washington pundits warned us; better to choose that nice, inspirational, bipartisan-sounding senator from Illinois, they advised.
And how did that work out for us? Scarcely through any fault of Obama, the result has been no different from the scary projections of a divisive Clinton presidency: legislative gridlock, economic brinksmanship, kooky conspiracy theories, and now congressional lawsuits accompanied by loud talk of impeachment. Clinton and Obama are just names for the object of hate, against whom any slanderous, mendacious, and vacuous attack can be mounted.
That was why gullible rubes once bought hundreds of thousands of videotapes accusing the Clintons of murder – and why the same kind of suckers bought into the race-baiting “birther” insinuations about Obama. It is why a top House Republican will lie blatantly on television about the Supreme Court’s dozen rebukes of this president’s alleged constitutional overreach – when most of those cases involved George W. Bush.
In temperament and ideology, the Tea Party Republicans who run the House aren’t much different from the Gingrich gang that went after Clinton. They don’t care whether Obama won the election in a near-landslide — or that seeking to remove him would be very dangerous for our country and the world. If their party wins control of the Senate in November, then the reactionary impulse to impeach may well become irresistible.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, August 1, 2014
Dear Mr. Speaker…
On behalf of Democrats everywhere, I would like to ask you to impeach President Obama. Please. I implore you. Nothing would make us happier. You know you want to. You know that merely suing him is not going to satisfy you and your rabid brethren. Impeachment is the only solution. So just go ahead and do it. You have our full and unyielding support!
And why are we so supportive? Because it’ll be the nail in your political coffin. It will finally convince moderate Republican and independent voters that you’re nothing but a worthless cabal of self-serving, tone-deaf, obsessed, manic, hateful, polarizing obstructionists. With your approval ratings swirling in the toilet, and your intransigence paralyzing Washington, impeachment would obliterate any shred of doubt that America’s best interests are the last of your priorities. Not the economy, not jobs, minimum wage, immigration, education or the environment. Screw America. If only you guys worked half as hard at doing your job as you do at tearing down Obama…
He’s Kenyan! He’s an illegal alien! He’s a socialist! He’s a constitutional criminal! He must be stopped! You do realize how crazy you sound, right? And we love every convoluted, insane word of it.
We also support you in this mad quest because we know it will ultimately have no impact on Obama’s presidency or the liberal agenda. To the contrary, it will empower him. Think of all the executive orders he’ll use to push through his policies after he’s impeached. He’ll make you the laughingstock of Washington.
You might want to pay attention to history. What happened to the post-impeachment Bill Clinton? How did former Speaker Newt Gingrich and his merry band of revolutionaries, of which you were one, materially affect his presidency with their venomous lynching? Clinton emerged the victor from that shameful partisan witch hunt. He was acquitted by the Senate, became the most popular politician on the planet, and is still the guy who can charm the pants off folks on both sides of the aisle. And Newt? He was forced to step down as Speaker, left Congress shortly thereafter, and cost his party appreciable seats. And you lost your leadership post for the next decade.
Mr. Speaker, if you relish being this decade’s Gingrich, and want to feel what it’s like to suffer humiliating defeat again over an out-of-control obsession with destroying a Democratic president, we will gleefully watch as you drive the GOP crazy-car straight off the cliff and into utter irrelevance and obsolescence.
By: Andy Ostroy, The Huffington Post Blog, July 29, 2014
Anyone can make a fool of himself. So it’s tempting to dismiss last Thursday’s mega-gaffe by Florida Representative Curt Clawson as indicative of nothing more than the fallibility of the human brain.
But think about the nature of Clawson’s goof. Sitting across a congressional hearing room from Nisha Biswal, an official at the State Department, and Arun Kumar, who works at the Department of Commerce, Clawson addressed the two Indian-Americans as if they were representatives of the government of India. Which is to say: He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.
In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
In fact, Obama’s opponents, including Democrats, have been raising questions about his Americanness since he began seeking the presidency. In a March 2007 memo, Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist, argued that she should attack Obama for “not [being] at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.” Had Obama been white and named Joe Smith, Penn’s line of attack would have been inconceivable, since Obama’s thinking and values were typical of a liberal Democrat’s, and similar to Clinton’s own. Penn’s effort to question Obama’s Americanness was entirely a function of the fact that he traced his ancestry to the third world and had spent some of his childhood abroad.
Since Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, it has been the Republicans’ turn. Newt Gingrich has claimed Obama possesses a “Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.” Dick Cheney has said, “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes in the U.S. as an exceptional nation.” Indeed, a major thrust of the GOP’s attack on Obama is that he doesn’t understand America, doesn’t believe in America and wants to turn it into something fundamentally different from what it has always been. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was attacked relentlessly for his supposed lack of personal integrity and failure to serve in Vietnam. But conservatives rarely questioned his connection to the United States.
It’s not just Obama. In various ways in recent years, conservatives have questioned the Americanness of American Muslims. Michele Bachmann suggested that Huma Abedin and other Muslim-Americans serving in the national-security bureaucracy might be more loyal to foreign Islamist movements than to the United States. Another former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, in 2011 said he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet because “Muslims in this country, some of them, try to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.” A Public Religion Research Institute poll that same year found that 63 percent of Republicans believed Islam contradicts American values.
The link between the GOP’s tendency to question the Americanness of Muslim- Americans and Clawson’s assumption that the Indian-Americans sitting across from him were not American becomes clearer when you realize that in contemporary American discourse, “Muslim” is often seen as a race. Several of the most high-profile hate crimes committed in “retaliation” for 9/11 occurred not against Muslims but against South Asian Hindus or Sikhs. Representative Peter King has called for profiling suspected terrorists based upon their “religious background or ethnicity,” even though Islam is no more an ethnicity than is Christianity. The implication, of course, is that Muslims are brown.
One even sees traces of this tendency to un-Americanize immigrants from the developing world in the way some Americans see Hispanics. When Arizona in 2010 passed a law empowering law enforcement to detain anyone who presented a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally, critics rightly wondered what criteria the police could possibly use to suspect someone of being undocumented other than the fact that they looked or sounded Hispanic. A 2012 poll by the National Hispanic Media Coalition found that one-third of Americans believed most Hispanics in the United States were undocumented. In other words, many Americans associate being Hispanic with not being legally American. That’s pretty similar to the assumption Congressman Clawson made about Biswal and Kumar.
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.
By: Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, July 27, 2014
It feels like we go through this same routine every few months or so. “Meet the Press” reaches some new low point for ratings, and chatter starts building about how time is running out for host David Gregory. The newest round of speculation comes courtesy of the New York Post and Page Six, which cites “an NBC source” in reporting that Gregory will be given the boot after the midterm elections. NBC, of course, denies all this as mere rumor-mongering and says that they’re sticking with Gregory.
The network’s commitment to Gregory as host of “Meet the Press” is a bit confounding, given that during his tenure the show has collapsed in viewership and has become basically unwatchable. NBC would be completely justified in giving him the boot. And after it does that, it should take the next logical step and just cancel “Meet the Press.”
Forget about a new host, forget about juggling the format, forget about more celebrity guest panelists. They should burn it down from top to bottom.
The problem with “Meet the Press” is that it’s too much of an icon of insider D.C. culture. Its role as a public affairs program has been usurped by a small army of vacant pundits who serve up shallow, predictable opinions that never stray too far from accepted conventional wisdom. And it’s always the same rotating cast of talking heads. Since the beginning of 2013, Newt Gingrich has appeared five times on the program. Rudy Giuliani has made four appearances. Harold Ford Jr. has been on seven times. Nobody gives a thin damn what these people have to say. The past few months have seen Gregory host both Tony Blair and Paul Wolfowitz to discuss violence in Iraq and how the U.S. should fight terrorism. It’s almost as if he’s inviting you not to take him seriously.
Essentially, the show has become a playground for people whose primary calling in life is to be around people in power. And when you look at the names most often mentioned as replacements for Gregory, you don’t see much hope of this dynamic changing. Chuck Todd, who is considered the front-runner for the gig owing to his reputation as a “political junkie,” is as much a devotee of Beltway insiderism as Gregory, and exhibits the sort of forced-centrist behavior that serious pundits believe insulates them from accusations of bias.
The other names that frequently get tossed around? “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who basically already host their own version of David Gregory’s “Meet the Press” – unwatchable, power-worshiping, dripping with elite condescension, and weirdly tolerant of Harold Ford.
This is a problem facing all the Sunday shows: They’ve become basically indistinguishable from each other, and they’re all fighting for the same dwindling segment of the population that still cares to spend their weekend mornings watching a bunch of (mostly male and white) establishment figures politely argue about politics. Each one is an hour-long exercise in confirmation bias for wealthy old people who want their opinions mouthed back at them by other wealthy old people.
“Meet the Press” under Gregory has tried to shake things up a bit while still hewing to the same tired format, and it’s been a disaster. The average show can feature as many as eight or 10 guests and segments that shift rapidly from one topic to the next without ever pausing to really engage with any of them. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi described a prototypical show this past April, during the last round of speculation surrounding Gregory’s future:
After opening with Gregory’s taped interview with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the host moved swiftly to live dual-screen chats with Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). Then it was on to the journalists’ roundtable discussion, followed by an interview with Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) about health care and the midterm elections.
Then, still more segments: A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”
A program that frenetic virtually guarantees that nothing interesting will happen. “More interviews, more voices, does not automatically lead to more ‘interesting’ content,” Dave Weigel wrote back in May. “It leads to more content in less time—and less exploration of each subject covered. It robs the Sunday shows of their old advantage, their ability to lock subjects in a well-lit room for most of an hour and boil away their talking points.”
It might be time to realize that there’s no fixing the Sunday shows because they can’t be fixed. Their audiences will continue to disappear, and their influence will continue to wane regardless of which Beltway journalist is elevated to the host’s chair. NBC will ride out “Meet the Press” for as long as it’s profitable, but they’re just prolonging the sad, slow decline.
By: Simon Maloy, Salon, July 25, 2014