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The Limbaugh Theorem

Earlier this week I wrote a piece about how Barack Obama was criticizing “Washington’s priorities” and the IRS scandal, as if he had not been president for the past four years and four months. There is something brazen and audacious in even attempting something like this. I speculated that Mr. Obama is unable to take responsibility for the problems that have occurred on his watch for reasons rooted in cognitive dissonance (failures cannot possibly happen on the watch of the Great and Mighty Obama). He is engaged in what psychiatrists call disassociation.

A friend alerted me to the fact that a version of this analysis had already been offered up by Rush Limbaugh, who in the aftermath of the 2012 election was trying to make sense of the president’s ability to escape responsibility for his multiple failures. Why did polls show massive dissatisfaction with the country’s direction while at the same time supporting Mr. Obama’s agenda?

This gave rise to what Rush calls the Limbaugh Theorem, which is that Obama has mastered the ability to always be seen as “opposing everything that’s happening, even the things he is causing to happen. He is on a perpetual campaign.” A variation of the Limbaugh Theorem can be seen in the unfolding scandals now buffeting the administration. According to Rush, “[Obama] gets away with everything precisely by appearing to have no involvement with it … He gets away with not being tied to [the IRS scandal] like he’s not tied to the jobs numbers, he’s not tied to the debt, he’s not tied to the economy. He’s not tied to anything going wrong.”

It seems to me the Limbaugh Theorem is on the mark, that Limbaugh once again got it right and got it early. Mr. Obama has shown a remarkable, Houdini-like ability to escape accountability for his mistakes. Part of the explanation for this undoubtedly has to do with an unprecedented bias in the press and how they choose to frame stories. Part of it may also have to do with what is known as “low information voters.” But the fact that the American people have allowed the president to escape responsibility for his failed policies time and again is clearly problematic. The question is whether Obama can replicate in his second term what he did in his first. I hope not, and in the end I believe the truth will out. But it’s not foreordained, and we’ll find out soon enough. 



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