Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Limbaugh's Leadership Role

On January 23, President Obama told a group of Republican legislators, “You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”[1] By doing so, he recognized Limbaugh as one of the chief spokesmen for conservative politics and a leader of the Republican Party. Kathleen Parker verified how highly the right wing esteems Limbaugh when she crowed

Excuse me, Mr. President, but you've been baited by none other than the Master Fisherman. Limbaugh tossed you a lure and you chomped.[2]

Reporter Joe Garofoli, at, went further still, claiming that Obama's remark elevated Limbaugh's status and influence:

But in citing Limbaugh as influential, the president of the United States elevated a talk show host to his level - the leader of the free world. And in a leadership vacuum like the one that conservatives find themselves in after last November's devastating electoral losses, loud voices - like Limbaugh's with his 13 million weekly listeners - echo even louder.[3]

Garofoli cites David Keane, chairman of the American Conservative Union, as denying that Limbaugh is a leader of the party.

"He can't fulfill that role because that's not where he works."[3]

But anyone who denies that Limbaugh is a leader of the party is either confused or intentionally obtuse. A leader is one who can give his followers instructions that he expects to be carried out and that is exactly what Limbaugh did in the case of Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.

After President Obama called him out, Limbaugh crowed that Obama is

obviously more frightened of me than he is Mitch McConnell. He's more frightened of me, than he is of, say, John Boehner, which doesn't say much about our party.[4]

Gingrey replied in an interview with politico,

I think that our leadership, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, are taking the right approach[4]

That seems tame enough. Gingrey probably figured he could score some easy points with the leadership by defending them in public. But he made the mistake of directly contradicting Limbaugh. A “high volume of calls and correspondence to his office”[4] persuaded Gingrey to go on the air with Limbaugh the next day to apologize.

I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments (laughs) and I just wanted to tell you, Rush, and -- and all our conservative giants who help us so much to maintain our base and grow it and get back this majority that I regret those stupid comments.[5]

So Limbaugh is not a leader of the Republican Party? I'm reminded of Stalin's dismissal of the Pope: “How many divisions has he got?” Plenty, apparently.

2008 Republican Campaign

Limbaugh's leadership of the Republican Party over the past two years has left them in desperate straits. The most important item on the Republican agenda was the Presidential Election. Then-President Bush had little influence remaining with the party and the nomination was up for grabs. Rush began pushing the candidacy of Mitt Romney by bashing John McCain.

RUSH: [McCain] stabbed his own president in the back on legislation, a number of times. He doesn’t support his party or his president when the chips are down. He called people who want to protect the border racists, nativists, protectionists, and worse. And what kind of character is it that tries to slide all that through under cover of darkness, in a back room.[6]

Never satisfied with half-measures, Rush predicted McCain's nomination would destroy the Republican party.

RUSH: I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys [Huckabee or McCain] get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party, it's going to change it forever, be the end of it. A lot of people aren't going to vote. You watch.[7]

But his efforts on behalf of Romney failed. Instead of admitting failure, Limbaugh claimed he was being blamed unfairly and denied supporting anyone:

RUSH: Let me help you with something here. You are asserting here that I had the power to coalesce people around Huckabee, and since I chose not to do it, we got McCain, and therefore you are somewhat blaming me --

CALLER: Yes, I am.

RUSH: -- that we lost because McCain is the nominee. All right, you tell me what I am supposed to do when I am sent an e-mail quoting a Huckabee campaign advisor speaking anonymously saying, "We don't care about Limbaugh, he's just part of the Republican National Committee talking points, he just says what he's being fed to say by the Republican establishment." I mean the e-mail I got was entitled, "Huckabee Forces Attack Limbaugh." Now, what am I supposed to do there, Ivan?

CALLER: Well, Rush, what I want to say is --

RUSH: I don't endorse people during primaries anyway. Candidates are supposed to win elections, not me. [8]

Limbaugh's stock in trade is a continuous stream of talk. He puts out an amazing 10,000 words a day during a three-hour show that airs 5 days a week. [9] That's the equivalent of writing the King James Bible every three months. So people forget what he says, remembering only that he denied saying it.

For all the words he broadcasts, though, Limbaugh is surprisingly careful about what he says and how he says it. Notice in this case he says he doesn't “endorse people”, which was literally true in that Limbaugh made no “official” endorsement. But it's hard to claim you didn't endorse anyone when you say that the election of his rivals would destroy the Republican Party.

Towards the end of February, Limbaugh began urging Republicans in primary states to reregister as Democrats and vote for Hillary Clinton. He called this idea “Operation Chaos”.[10]His intent, he claimed, was to make the Democratic Party appear confused and indecisive. But perhaps Limbaugh was just playing games with his listeners.

Although McCain had wrapped up the Republican nomination by April 8, Limbaugh kept up his criticism, saying

I don't know who in government I would hire to do anything if I ran a major corporation. I don't know who I would hire to fix it, streamline it, and run it. Senator McCain hasn't run a business like this, yet he's saying, "I'm going to rein in CEO pay." This is all just liberal lingo. It's all pandering on the basis of class envy.[11]
This is vintage Limbaugh, the non-attacking attack. He doesn't directly accuse McCain of anything, but he implies that McCain is liberal, or at least not a true (Limbaugh) conservative. He also implies that McCain is a hypocrite because he panders to the liberals. Finally, he implies that McCain is socialistic, because he arouses class envy.

As late as the end of April, Limbaugh criticized McCain for not being a conservative and not being a good Republican:

Senator McCain, with these outbursts last night and today, seems to have reserved the right to dictate to all Republicans what they should say, what they shouldn't say, what they should think; while at the same time reserving for himself the right to abandon the Republican Party whenever he so chooses. [12]

Limbaugh Reveals the Mystery Behind the Money Market Meltdown

On January 27 2009, Congressman Kanjorsky appeared on CSPAN to discuss the financial aftermath of the failure of Lehman Brothers. He said that the Federal Reserve Board had told Congress there had been an electronic run on money market funds two days later, on [16 December 2008]. The Bush Administration immediately suspended trading in money market funds and announced that accounts would be insured to $250,000. Kanjorsky said

If they had not done that, their estimation was that by two o'clock that afternoon, $5-1/2 trillion dollars would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States, and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed. It would have been the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it.[13]

This amazing development came on the heels of a deliberate decision by the Bush administration to allow Lehman Brothers to fail. But Limbaugh never mentioned the Lehman Brothers failure in his account. nor the possibility that Bush's laissez-faire policies may have been responsible for the crisis. Instead, he began casting around for someone else to blame.

The question is who was doing this? Who was withdrawing all this money? And the next question is why? That's where my mind starts exploding, and this is dangerous to have these explosions going this way. Could it have been George Soros? Could it have been a consortium of countries -- Russia, China, Venezuela -- countries that are eager to have Barack Obama elected because they know that will make it easier for them to continue their own foreign policies in the world?[14]

This fanciful speculation, two days after the Lehman Brothers failure, is the equivalent of finding an angry bull in a shop filled with broken crockery and saying, “I wonder how all this stuff got broken?” Instead of making an intelligent guess, Limbaugh simply rounds up the usual suspects.

Later investigation proved that the crisis was not caused by George Soros et al., but by

pullouts by investors such as corporations and pension funds that threatened the whole system, leaving the government scrambling to prop up an industry holding about $3.4 trillion in assets.[15]

Limbaugh Takes On Obama

Obama's challenge to Limbaugh did not come out of the blue. On 16 January 2009, Limbaugh declared his intention to oppose Obama's plans to rejuvenate the American economy:

I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed.[16]

Asked by a magazine (or so he said) to send a 400 word essay on his “hope” for the Obama presidency, he replied bluntly over the air,

Okay, I'll send you a response, but I don't need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails...Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here.

Even after the Bush administration recognized its error in letting Lehman Brothers fail, Limbaugh and his supporters are recommending that the government should let all the banks fail and let the market take care of itself. Clearly the Republicans in Congress are following his lead. But Obama should not be advising them to stop because they are following him right over the cliff.

In 2008, while gaining listeners, Limbaugh failed to stop the nomination of John McCain. He has failed to stop the nomination and victory of Barack Obama. He still influences Congress, but Republicans are losing head count. Instead of reviewing the policies that lead to the credit crisis, Limbaugh still blames liberals.

The Republican dead-enders in Congress can read the polls. They have feared Limbaugh's attacks in the past because he can mobilize his supporters to support right-wing challenges in their districts. But the polls tell a different story today. They are warning that the danger lies in a challenge from the left. Sooner or later the Republicans must rethink their position and begin to rebuild their party with a philosophy that does not conflict so dangerously with reality.

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