Limbaugh, Failure, and Media Distortion

Commenter Bithead alerts me to a cross-blog debate that I somehow missed between Patrick Frey and Jeff Goldstein over Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope Obama fails” line at CPAC and the ensuing media frenzy.  Essentially, Patrick argues that conservatives should be more careful about what they say so as to avoid being distorted in the media and Jeff retorts that conservatives should be free to say what they want and expect to be treated honorably.

As a general matter, I’m with Jeff on this one.  I’m tired of obviously benign remarks being portrayed in the worst possible light for the sake of controversy and think it’s the duty of all good pundits to cry Foul when it’s being done. I’m equal opportunity in that regard.  When Joe Biden got charged with racism for calling Obama bright, clean, and articulate, I had his back.  When Team McCain claimed Obama called Sarah Palin a pig, I begged to differ.

Had Limbaugh delivered the “I hope Obama fails” line in the course of a three hour stream of consciousness monologue in the course of his daily radio show, I’d defend it, too.  But he didn’t.  It was part of a prepared speech with a major media presence and deliberately crafted to get precisely the reaction it got.   Of course “I want Obama to fail” was going to make the headlines.  He’d have been disappointed if it hadn’t!

Rush is a provocateur and a showman.  Ginning up controversy is free publicity which drives up interest in his show and thus his audience and his ability to charge “confiscatory advertising rates.”  Good on him for mastering his craft so well.

But I’m not going to then turn around and treat his deliberate provocation as part of a serious debate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    And yet here it is again, stealing your attention.

    (Alternative reading: The Fed’s moral hazard maximising strategy)

  2. Jay Webber says:

    I think you’ve nailed the problem — how to treat Limbaugh — as a showman or a serious political thinker. Until that debate is resolved, the GOP will have some serious internal friction. It for now has decided to be the anti-Obama party, in pat because of Limbaugh, but as for the direction it wants to lead the country, that is still unclear.

    On another note, can we expect daily Limbaugh postings? I notice they do get the most comments.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jay and Odo – Rush is an interesting phenomenon but, no, I don’t expect to do daily postings.

  4. Pete Burgess says:

    James, I believe Rush first uttered his wish, on air, before the CPAC speech.

    Mr. Webber, as a conservative and fan of Rush, I believe we know where we want to take America. It may not satisfy policy wonks and intellectual elitists, but I am confident Rushs’ devotees and other conservatives have a clear understanding of how we would shape the future of this country. It would parallel Randian thought, adjusted, of course, to keep liberals satisfied with just enough government meddling to make themselves feel relevant.

  5. odograph says:

    Heh, that’s OK James. Pete reminds me why I find the Rush obsession so funny.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    The left wants to make it about Rush while the right wants to make it about Obama’s policies. Who is being more serious? Who is more concerned for the country? Who wants real debate and who wants side shows that distract from real debate? The answer is obvious. The conservatives of this country want to talk about Obama’s plan of deception while the liberals want to talk about Rush.

    Since I don’t listen to Rush, as many conservatives don’t, I have to stick to talking about Obama’s ruse on the American people and let others gossip about radio hosts.

  7. odograph says:

    Well I, the centrist, dropped a link above to something that goes beyond partisan politics. Something neither “side” wants to discuss?

    More: iBanks Grabbed $50 Billion in AIG Bailout Cash

    I’ve been saying that I think the banking aspect is bigger in this crisis than the stimulus and “Obama’s spending” but I’ve observed that the right likes to split off “spending” because they can make it an Obama morality play.

    We’d be better served if pundits would simply rank these things by dollar expenditures, and then start at the top, rather than at the bottom, or off the map with Rush.

  8. Our Paul says:

    Well said James, with only one minor disagreement. By most definitions, Rush fails to meet reasonable criteria of an “entertainer”. He is an entrepreneur who sells a rather vicious brand of rabble rousing speech to the advertising industry. His audience is primarily male, and their emotions for the greater part center on hate of all things liberal, progressive, or who might disagree with their manly code.

    Joan Walsh of Saloon has a nice examination of Mr. Lindbaugh occasional indiscretions with an associated “thought experiment” which I recommend to you and the readership. As a student of the pen as a stiletto, I offer the following from Joan:

    … Limbaugh’s the “role model” for the party of family values? A thrice-divorced, drug-abusing, Parkinson’s-mocking, cigar-sucking egomaniac, a poster boy for meanness, overindulgence and excess?

    So for now the future of the party is an admitted Oxycontin addict who plea-bargained his way out of a drug conviction, who mocks children and Parkinson’s sufferers, who exhibits strange sexual fears about our first black president (why is he worried about “grabbing his ankles?”), who was famously detained on a Dominican Republic vacation for carrying Viagra without a prescription?

    Joan’s screed is sprinkled with enough links to substantiate Rush persistent anti-social behavior. The article will entertain all budding curbstone psychologists. Maybe you are right, he may be an entertainer after all.

  9. Floyd says:

    The source of the controversy is not Rush’s commentary.
    It is rather the inability of the left, and the Obama camp in the media, to stretch their mentally challenged attention span beyond a sound bite, or even a “sound crumb”.Either that, or they conspire, condescendingly, to deceive the public.

    So, which are they? Outright liars, or just mentally challenged…. You choose!

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I wonder if I am the only person here who watched Limbaugh’s speech on TV. He made the statement in question with caution it would be distorted by the media. I believe he said it would be taken out of context. The contrast is glaring when comparing Rush and B. Hussein. One believes in limited government, liberty and personal responsibility. The other believes he knows what is best for us. A nanny state, where government takes responsibility and control of your life from birth to death. Government decides who gets what health care. Rush believes in the American way and Obama has more in common with the beliefs of Hugo Chavez. Ones can speak from notes, the other must have a teleprompter to give even the smallest speech. Obama wants to transform this nation from what it was established to be. To some socialistic, revenue sharing (where the government gets the largest share) or worse state. I hope and pray Obama fails, just as Rush does, in his mission to socialize or communize this country. Frank Marshall Davis, Saul Alinski, William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright where and are Obamas mentors. Why would anyone want their policies to succeed?

  11. lunacy says:

    Accusing Limbaugh of a “vicious brand of rabble rousing” and then using Joan Walsh to assert that claim and that Rush is a hypocrite, now THAT’s entertainment.

  12. Phil Smith says:

    I am just trying figure out how to work Passage to Bangkok into all this.

  13. Our Paul says:

    Our centrist correspondent odograph is trying to divert our attention from Rush’s position in the constellation of center right (conservative / libertarian / Republican) luminaries by bringing up the AIG and banking crisis. Perhaps we can distract him a tad bit by sending him off to a conversation with Joseph Stiglitz whose take on the problem is different from that of the economist advising Obama.

    In the interim we can ponder the difference between James rather benign view of Rush’s influence on conservatism and that of Daniel Larison:

    On a related note, it might be worth thinking about why language normally reserved for the sociology of religion is being applied to describe what is overwhelmingly a narrowly political movement. Reihan is hardly the first or only one to do this, but it is worth calling to our attention when you have Limbaugh stating, “Conservativism is what it is and it is forever.” As Rod asked at the time: “Do they really believe politics is dogmatic religion?” In fact, they probably don’t, but in Limbaugh’s case he is speaking about a political persuasion in a quasi-religious idiom that ideologues over the centuries have used. The “cause” becomes something like a substitute religion, in this case complete with its own half-baked doctrines derived from Whig myths and Enlightenment-era fantasies that is then dubbed a “philosophy,” when it is true enough that it does not deserve the name. Like any ideologue, Limbaugh latches on to a few readily-digestible, repeatable slogans or words and deploys them as and when needed.

    Here we have to take a deep breath, for what Larison is saying takes a bit of time to sink in. Simply stated, conservative ideology is no friend of conservative philosophy. Friend Daniel concludes by placing a few nails into Rush’s coffin:

    As Kirk and many others have attested, principles are not ideology, but in the substitution of ideology for principles, which is what Limbaugh does, he and others like him are doing far more damage to any sort of sane conservative politics in this country than the occasional pundit or wonk who argues for particular policy proposals. So Limbaugh alone is not the problem, but he is a significant part of the current problem.

    I doubt that Larison’s ponderous prose will energize the frontal cortex of true conservative ideologues, they after all have their mantra that is recited in unison. Thus, Zelsdorf Ragshaft III ( 11:56 am) comments are not unexpected. The Gloria in Excelsis Regan is missing, but the usual devils, including Lucifer (rev. Wright) were there, and of course the central lines from the Credo: “(I) believe(s) in limited government, liberty and personal responsibility.”

    I am gratified that correspondent lunacy (12:17 pm) was entertained by my post. I am a slow thinker, and a slow writer. Any compliment, even if ironic is appreciated. As such he surely loved Zeldorf’s great line “Rush believes in the American way…” after reading Joan Walsh’s compilation of his behavioral traits. Do not forget to bring your Viagra on your vacation visit to the Dominican Republic guys, we would not want to leave any women, or ankle grasping males(*) unsatisfied.

    My many thanks to Joan Walsh for refreshing my memory on Rush’s various rabble rousing themes, and for his sterling practice of the American way.

    Psst (*): for this reference you will either have had to listen to Rush’s speech to the C-PAC or read Joan’s column.

  14. sam says:

    Rushs’ devotees and other conservatives have a clear understanding of how we would shape the future of this country. It would parallel Randian thought

    Well that would certainly be something to look forward to.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    The source of the controversy is not Rush’s commentary.

    Actually, the source of all this is the fact that the GOP appears to be completely leaderless…Mitch McConnell and John Boehner…are these people who inspire confidence in the Republican Party? And after the disastrous coming out parties of both Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, who’s left? Mitt Romney? No wonder the bloated drug addict has comfortably filled the enormous void…

  16. OTB reader says:

    How come everyone attacks the source instead of the content? Rush or Obama said… and the response is about the speaker not the substance of the words.

    A stimulus package has been signed into law, and a federal budget proposed that combined is without question, more; spending, government expansion, borrowing, and increased taxation than ever imagined before in the history of this country.

    A private citizen with a microphone to a large audience speaks against this, is he personally the bad guy?

    If people really think Rush Limbaugh is the villain in this dissent of government action, our country is seriously in trouble!

  17. An Interested Party says:

    If people really think Rush Limbaugh is the villain in this dissent of government action, our country is seriously in trouble!

    If people really think Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, George Soros, etc. etc. etc. are the villains in any dissent of government action, our country is seriously in trouble…

  18. anjin-san says:

    One believes in limited government, liberty

    Liberty? Really? So Rush is now in favor of gay people being able to marry who they wish and women being able to make reproductive choices?

    Of course not. He is a typical “conservative” who believes in personal freedom, except in the areas where he wants laws to force people to believe the way he thinks they should.

  19. steve s says:

    I am confident Rushs’ devotees and other conservatives have a clear understanding of how we would shape the future of this country. It would parallel Randian thoughtI am confident Rushs’ devotees and other conservatives have a clear understanding of how we would shape the future of this country. It would parallel Randian thought

    thank god that’ll never happen. I don’t want to live in an anarchic hellhole.

  20. steve s says:

    come to think of it, i wouldn’t. I’d just move to canada, or new zealand, or some other place where they didn’t base their decisions on a crank utopian novelist.

  21. Bithead says:

    I’ll say this a little differently. Mostly, because I think, little bit more sure of myself than is Limbaugh, on this point; I don’t hope Obama will fail. I state itthe flatly;

    Obama will fail. There is no question in my mind that he will fail. He will fail totally. He will fail miserably. And we will pay the price.

    The reason is simple; looking into history, we see that socialism has always failed, invariably , and totally, and usually with rather nasty results.

  22. steve s says:

    How come everyone attacks the source instead of the content? Rush or Obama said… and the response is about the speaker not the substance of the words.

    The content doesn’t need attacking, it’s prima facie repulsive to the 75% of people who aren’t the GOP base. The practical consequences of the president failing are more of us losing our jobs and dying in Iraq. That doesn’t need to be attacked, Obama’s just trying to strengthen the link to those awful sentiments to the GOP, in hopes that the public’s opinion of the GOP moves from “Horrible” to “Nightmarishly Horrible”, and then hopefully in 2010 he can get a senate where economic illiterates have no power to stop him.

  23. Bithead says:

    ‘d just move to canada, or new zealand, or some other place where they didn’t base their decisions on a crank utopian novelist.

    What, Marx?

  24. steve s says:

    Actually, the source of all this is the fact that the GOP appears to be completely leaderless…Mitch McConnell and John Boehner…are these people who inspire confidence in the Republican Party? And after the disastrous coming out parties of both Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, who’s left? Mitt Romney? No wonder the bloated drug addict has comfortably filled the enormous void…
    Posted by An Interested Party | March 7, 2009 | 07:01 pm | Permalink

    They’ve got no leaders and no ideas.

    the public: “What should be do about health care?”
    the GOP: “Tax cuts.”
    the public: “What about the situation in Afghanistan?”
    the GOP: “Tax Cuts.”
    the public: “The ecomomic disaster caused by Wall Street?”
    the GOP: “hmm…that’s a tough one…tax cuts!”
    the public: “I’ve got a loose tooth, what should i do?”
    the GOP: “Tax cuts.”
    the public: “I think your circuitry has been damaged…”
    the GOP: “REAGAN REAGAN REAGAN REAGAN…”
    the public: (Backs away)

  25. odograph says:

    Paul, I do read Stiglitz. I file him “left and pessimistic” of center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if plays out as he suggests. The pessimists have been right so far … and the proponents of a self-regulating free-market ownership society … not so much.

  26. odograph says:

    BTW, I see that Rush discussions are big on the front page of Google News this morning. Rush has his days in the sun.

  27. lunacy says:

    Dear Mr. Our Paul,
    I realize that you have pigeon-holed anyone who may not be offended by Rush as a white male. Ergo, your crude references in your post regarding viagra.

    BUT, not surprisingly, your prejudices and preconceived notions are wrong. And, frankly, I find it a little offensive that you would, a) assume my gender, and b) use such an assumption to suggest sexual hedonism on my part.

    I, sir, am not a white male. Or male of any complexion.

    Rush is not nearly as offensive as you are.

    Yours Truly,
    L

  28. anjin-san says:

    Obama will fail. There is no question in my mind that he will fail. He will fail totally. He will fail miserably. And we will pay the price.

    The reason is simple; looking into history, we see that socialism has always failed, invariably , and totally, and usually with rather nasty results.

    Bit… why don’t you just provide a link to Malkin and skip the pretense?

  29. G.A.Phillips says:

    Liberty? Really? So Rush is now in favor of gay people being able to marry who they wish and women being able to make reproductive choices?

    O MY GOD, dude, two delusional misanthropes of the same gender getting married is liberty how? same goes for murdering the children you don’t want> why oh why can’t I…….
    Subterfuge of deviant and murderous choices makes liberty not.

    and just to set the record “straight” this country was designed for Christians and those who would live by precepts of biblical law, not freaks that what to feel good about the nasty or evil crap the do, sorry but it’s true.

  30. Bithead says:

    Bit… why don’t you just provide a link to Malkin and skip the pretense?

    What, she agrees? Well, good. Smart girl, that. Course, I’ve only been saying this since November, so she’s had time to pick up on it.

    You see, Anjin, unlike you, I don’t need to appeal to authority for my viewpoints.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    …two delusional misanthropes of the same gender getting married is liberty how?

    Umm, how exactly are gay people haters of humankind or delusional?

    and just to set the record “straight” this country was designed for Christians and those who would live by precepts of biblical law, not freaks that what to feel good about the nasty or evil crap the do, sorry but it’s true.

    I see…so Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and, hell, probably even Mormons better get with the program or they should move elsewhere? My my, that raging intolerance is mighty “Christian” of you…by the way, we need only look at the entertainment or political realms to find many, many straight people who are serial adulterers, have numerous divorces and marriages (er, Limbaugh among them), and also do things which you would consider immoral, and yet, it is gay people who are “nasty” and “evil”…

  32. anjin-san says:

    You see, Anjin, unlike you, I don’t need to appeal to authority for my viewpoints.

    No one mentioned an “appeal”. You read, you repeat, you congratulate yourself for being clever. Pretty transparent…

  33. anjin-san says:

    O MY GOD, dude, two delusional misanthropes of the same gender getting married is liberty how?

    Ah. I see. It is ok for you to use the force of law to restrict the liberty of people you don’t like. But you are in favor of individual liberty, as is Rush. “Liberty”, as practiced by the right.

    and just to set the record “straight” this country was designed for Christians and those who would live by precepts of biblical law

    Perhaps this is the record, as interpreted by an ignoramus. Let us look at the founding fathers themselves:

    John Adams:

    “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

    Thomas Jefferson:

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.”

    George Washington:

    To the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789, Washington said that every man “ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

    Benjamin Franklin:

    “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England] and in New England.”

    Tom Paine:

    “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my church. “

  34. tom p says:

    and just to set the record “straight” this country was designed for Christians and those who would live by precepts of biblical law

    Perhaps this is the record, as interpreted by an ignoramus. Let us look at the founding fathers themselves:

    John Adams:

    Thomas Jefferson:

    George Washington:

    Benjamin Franklin:

    Posted by anjin-san

    Anjin… how dare you quote the actual words of the founding fathers! But you missed one, the constitution!!! (Art VI, para 3): “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

    But still, my favorite is.

    Tom Paine: “My own mind is my church.”

    Well done lad, well done.

  35. anjin-san says:

    Also, let us not forget the Treaty of Tripoli, which was signed by President John Adams.

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

  36. Our Paul says:

    Dear Ms. lunacy,

    I apologize for offending you, and thank you for clearing up what puzzled me when I wrote my post. The rough draft of my post was “As such he (she) surely loved Zeldorf’s great line “Rush believes in the American way…” To my mind, that kind of writing on my part would be kind of wimpy on one hand, and offensive on the other.

    I guess I should have just said “he or she”, but then what does a slow thinker do with some of the other avatars that populate the net where sex identification is problematic? In your case, the nom de plume, lunacy, suggests the (cough) gentler sex. We would both agree that a center right male would chose an appellation such as “Mad Dog” or “Howling Warrior”. Nothing other than rank timidity on my part, both your nom the plume, and your phrasing suggested a women correspondent.

    You will note that when referring to your chosen name of lunacy in this posting I did not select the word avatar, which has a modest warrior quality to it, or the word appellation, which is truly sexless, or the phrase nom de guerre, which speaks of testosterone fueled action, but rather nom de plume. In the Romance Language quoted, plume (feather, e.g. quill) has the female connotation.

    The post that you found so offensive is an extension of my first comment (Our Paul | March 7, 2009 | 10:16 am), and is a response to those who feel Rush is a valid spokesman for conservative principles. It quotes David Larison, who blogs for the American Conservative, and who to my mind deserves a daily read. He and others have concluded that Rush is an impediment to conservative thinking.

    One has to dig a bit in Joan Walsh’s Salon screed, but she did take offense to what most of us would:

    … The first lady was furious about that, and even angrier when Rush Limbaugh took this shot: “Everyone knows the Clintons have a cat,” said Limbaugh. “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” And he held up a picture of Chelsea. (from a Washington Post Article linked in Joan’s piece).

    All that said, I hope you accept my apologies for disturbing your sensibilities on this fine Sunday. Maybe we can compromise with this description of Rush: He ain’t the sweetest pea on the block, but he sure is the loudest.

    Your contrite correspondent,

    OP

  37. tom p says:

    Also, let us not forget the Treaty of Tripoli, which was signed by President John Adams.

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

    Anjin, your powers of recollection are a little better than mine (I had all but forgotten about the ToT)

  38. tom p says:

    Our paul, I just wanted to say,

    All that said, I hope you accept my apologies for disturbing your sensibilities on this fine Sunday. Maybe we can compromise with this description of Rush: He ain’t the sweetest pea on the block, but he sure is the loudest.

    Your contrite correspondent,

    well said. It is rare indeed these days when one accepts responsibility for the reaction to one’s words, whether intended or not. Well said, and well done, sir. Well done indeed.

  39. lunacy says:

    Dear Mr. OP,

    You continue to entertain. And I accept your apology. Please, no more viagra ads.

    And I will concede that Rush’s attacks on Chelsea were over the top and highly offensive.

    I do not think this type of offensiveness is typical of Rush, however. Although I myself do not tune in, by proximity to those who do, I have the pleasure of hearing Rush briefly on a regular basis. In general he is less grating and offensive to me than Mr. Olberman, for instance.

    But I find Ms. Coulter less offensive than Mr. Olberman. And Mr. Savage the most offensive of all.

    Yours,
    L