Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rush Limbaugh

Erick Erickson’s Callous Comments

Via Mediaite, the conservative blogger and editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Erick Erickson – while guest hosting for Rush Limbaugh – declared that most people who are getting minimum wage have “probably failed at life.”

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Via Mediaite, the conservative blogger and editor-in-chief of RedState.com, Erick Erickson – while guest hosting for Rush Limbaugh – declared that most people who are getting minimum wage have “probably failed at life.”

According to Mr. Erickson, “The minimum wage is mostly people who failed at life and high school kids. Seriously, look. I don’t mean to be ugly with you people. … If you’re a 30-something-year-old person and you’re making minimum wage you probably failed at life.” He went on to add “It is not that life dealt you a bad hand. Life does not deal you cards. It’s that you failed at life.”

This is wrong and offensive on several levels, starting with this one: Since when does a humane and decent society judge the quality and worth of one’s life based on how much money one makes? Mr. Erickson’s philosophy is a shallow materialism; this is certainly not a criterion a professing Christian (which is what Erickson is) would use. What matters in judging how people live their lives is the content of their character, not the size of their paycheck.

Let’s assume you’re in your mid-20s or early 30s and earning the minimum wage. In addition to that, you’re a loving and devoted daughter, regularly volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, helping coach youth soccer, and treating others with respect and kindness. Have you really “failed at life”?

What if you’re a young man who was raised in the inner city, in a broken family, and received a miserable education. Still, you work hard, earning the minimum wage, and your word is good and you keep out of trouble. You’re even something of an example to your younger brother, who you’re trying to keep on the right path, away from a life of drugs and crime. Are you therefore a failure? And what if you’re a single mother who, instead of receiving welfare, works for the minimum wage? Do you deserve to be mocked by Erick Erickson?

Beyond this, the argument being advanced by Erickson that the circumstances you face aren’t to be taken into account – that it doesn’t really matter whether you’re born in Anacostia or McLean, whether your father works at a Georgetown University or is an inmate at the Central Detention Facility in D.C., whether you have an intellectual disability or an IQ of 120, whether you suffer from depression, autism, or OCD or you’re blessedly free of them – is foolish and callous.

To be clear, the issue here isn’t the merits of the minimum wage; it’s the cast of mind and disposition of heart that would lead Mr. Erickson to say what he did and how he did. That is to say, it’s not simply that the arguments Mr. Erickson advances are misguided; it’s his condescension and mocking tone toward those who are “flipping burgers” or “making my beloved Chick fil A biscuit in the morning” that compounds the offense. What Mr. Erickson is expounding isn’t conservatism; it is a crude and soulless attitude masquerading as conservatism. And it is these kinds of statements that both distort and damage conservatism.

It’s perhaps worth considering the words of another individual that serve as something of a contrast to what Mr. Erickson said earlier today. “There are no ordinary people,” C.S. Lewis wrote.

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Lewis would never have said that a person’s worth or contributions, whether their life was a failure or a success, was based on their income or educational level or social status. He wouldn’t have argued that because his faith would not allow him to argue that. Lewis believed that everyone, no matter at what station or season of life, has inherent dignity because we are made in the image of God and because we are valued by God. Even adults who make the minimum wage.

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Dems Overreach in War on Women Reboot

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

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Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

In Hobby Lobby, the court’s 5-4 majority established that the only guarantees that counted in the case were those of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act that set a high standard for the government to prove that it had a compelling interest to force citizens to violate their religious beliefs. As the decision stated, when it came to matters such as employment discrimination, faith cannot be an excuse for open bias. But the notion of the “right” of citizens to have free contraception or abortion-inducing drugs paid for by an employer who thinks such services violate their religion doesn’t meet the test.

The only parties that were potentially deprived of their rights in Hobby Lobby were the religious owners of the chain stores and other business people in a similar situation. The ObamaCare mandate treated their faith-based opposition to abortion drugs as irrelevant to the desire not for access to such drugs but to compel employers to pay for them. The court rightly decided that to do so to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby was to create a situation in which the owners must choose between their faith and the right to do business. This would have been an intolerable violation of their rights that would create a cribbed definition of religious liberty in which faith must be abandoned in the public square.

Yet for Democrats, this commonsense reassertion of First Amendment protections is a new war on women being waged not by congressional Republicans but by conservative justices.

That’s the message being repeated endlessly on the left as it attempts to turn Hobby Lobby into a judicial version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion. As Politico reports, it didn’t take long for Democratic operatives to begin ginning up their war machine in which the decision is now framed as an effort to impose fundamentalist religion on non-believers and to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

But what the Democrats are forgetting is that a Supreme Court decision protecting constitutional rights is not the moral equivalent of a political gaffe. Try as they might, Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling is not a repeat of Rush Limbaugh’s line about contraception advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut.”

No one, not even the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby, is telling Fluke or any other women who wants free contraception or abortion drugs not to have sex or to use these products. But they are making it clear that they should not be forced to pay for these widely available items. Do the Democrats think Americans are so stupid as to misconstrue this entirely reasonable position as a war on women?

Given the events of 2012 when a few stray remarks by Limbaugh and then Akin morphed into a media-driven campaign meme about Republicans and women, perhaps they’re not far off. Limbaugh’s foolish comments about Fluke after she testified before Congress against the mandate helped transform a debate that up until that moment had been correctly focused on the Catholic Church’s principled opposition to the federal plan. Soon, everyone, at least in the mainstream media, was discussing how mean conservatives were to women, not religious freedom.

But a court decision is not so easily hyped into that kind of a distortion. Whether Americans agree with the Greens about abortion, and most probably do not, the reasonable center of American politics understands that this case is about balancing one demand for a benefit against rights. Turning that sort of a nuanced ruling, which limited the impact to a specific kind of company and which also set limits on how far faith could override policy mandates, into a one-liner requires more than an ad buy; it can only work when political operatives are in “big lie” mode.

The Democratic push will fire up their base and that is probably all they really want. But they must also be careful. No one liked it when Limbaugh insulted Fluke and Akin’s comments were as stupid as they were indefensible. But Alito’s decision is the sort of commonsense approach to policy that most Americans crave in that it defended principle while also recognized that even faith can go too far. If Democrats go all-in on an attack on religious liberty, barring a similar error such as that of Limbaugh, they may be the ones overreaching on the issue.

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GOP Hoof-in-Mouth Outbreak Helps Dems

Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

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Mike Huckabee is defiant. Faced with a torrent of criticism for comments he made during his address to last week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee, the talk-show host and former Arkansas governor isn’t backing down from saying Democrats want women to think “they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government”—a reference to the ObamaCare mandate that effectively treats free contraception as a constitutional right.

“I am not going to roll over and apologize,” Huckabee said in an interview on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio show. “Without a doubt this was a way to knock me out early by the left.”

Many conservatives came to his defense, claiming his critics are manufacturing a controversy over his words that distorts his meaning. They point out Democrats are trying to change the subject from a discussion of ObamaCare and a paternalistic liberal philosophy that reduces citizens to dependency to one about a nonexistent Republican war on women. They’re right about that. But it doesn’t matter.

Huckabee’s comments on ObamaCare are accurate, but by using words that obscure his principled and constitutional objections to the mandate he made it appear that he and other conservatives want to control women’s sexual behavior. In doing so he handed liberals the same kind of gift that Rush Limbaugh gave them in 2012 when he called Sandra Fluke—the law student who testified before Congress about her belief that she was entitled to free contraception—a slut. That single word—trumpeted throughout the mainstream liberal media as an unconscionable attack on a courageous young woman for speaking her mind—altered the national discussion from one about the administration’s outrageous onslaught on religious freedom through ObamaCare to a debate about Republicans who were portrayed by the mainstream liberal media as seeking to deny women the rights only Democrats would “protect.”

Rather than simply defending Huckabee, what conservatives should be doing instead is asking themselves why some of their most prominent speakers are so slow to understand how gaffes such as these undermine the very cause they seek to promote. The defeat of an oppressive government regulation and giveaway will not be achieved by language that seems to attack the women who wish to avail themselves of such an entitlement.

Let’s be clear that the distortions of Huckabee’s words, just like the similar treatment afforded Limbaugh, are unfair. Neither Huckabee nor Limbaugh was seeking to oppress women or deny them any rights. Limbaugh erred by attacking Fluke personally; his correct opposition to Fluke’s disingenuous advocacy of free contraception could easily have been made in a way that didn’t insult the student. But while Huckabee avoided singling out any specific woman, his statement that without ObamaCare’s help women may be unable to control their sexual urges, he made the same mistake as Limbaugh.

That’s a shame, because the content of his speech was otherwise a laudable description of the inherent dangers of an administration policy that sees all women as the mythical “Julia” of the 2012 Obama campaign commercial whose life story could be told through the government programs, including ObamaCare, that funneled benefits to her. Rather than waging a war on women, conservatives are, as Huckabee rightly pointed out, fighting for their empowerment and against a paternalistic Democratic mindset that sees them only as victims or grateful recipients of big-government largesse.

But politics is, as Huckabee ought to know by now, a contact sport. Conservatives who have no compunction about exploiting gaffes by liberals cannot cry foul when liberals play the same game.

Conservatives have an excellent case against the ObamaCare mandate that forces all employers—including religious institutions and businesses owned by people of faith—to pay for services that offend their consciences and are directly contrary to their religion. To claim that opposition to the mandate is merely an attempt to deny women the right to seek any contraception is a lie. One needn’t share the beliefs of such individuals to understand that a government mandate of this kind is an attempt to roll back First Amendment rights of religious freedom. But when leading conservative figures use language that is open to interpretation as demonizing women who use contraception, that makes the Democrats’ case for them.

The same thing happens when conservatives who rightly oppose late-term abortions and support sensible restrictions on the procedure, which are supported by the vast majority of Americans, discuss abortion and rape in ways that are clearly offensive and allow liberals to blast them as Neanderthals who hate women.

There is no Republican war on women. Conservatives speak for the majority of Americans when they oppose ObamaCare. There is no constitutional right to free contraception and it is no offense to women to state this just as it is not an insult to women to oppose the butchery of viable infants that takes place in the name of abortion rights, as we saw in last year’s Kermit Gosnell murder trial.

But it’s no use whining about unfair liberal pundits distorting their words when conservatives themselves employ arguments that place the focus on sexuality rather than the Constitution and individual rights. That’s not evidence of a Republican war on women. It is, however, indicative of an outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease among Republicans. Far greater discipline is necessary when anyone on the right discusses this explosive issue. Off-the-cuff comments such as these can spell disaster in November, in a year when Democrats have an uphill fight against the backlash of the millions hurt by ObamaCare. Conservatives must learn from Huckabee’s self-inflicted wound and ensure that such discourse doesn’t become another epidemic of the kind that helped Democrats win in 2012.

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What Rush Hath Wrought

Let’s now pause to take a moment to render praise to someone who rarely fails to do the same for himself. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the syndication of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. While the date passed largely without notice in much of the media, it is nonetheless a significant milestone that, regardless of whether you love Rush or hate him, deserves to be noted. Though he will never draw the sort of accolades and awards that mainstream media liberals routinely bestow on each other in pompous ceremonies, Limbaugh is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in the history of broadcasting. Though he was hardly the first or the only conservative talker on the air, Limbaugh’s unique mix of biting conservative commentary, humor, and braggadocio helped transform the political landscape of America.

I think there are three main points to be made about Rush on his silver anniversary.

The first is that Rush’s radio revolution was made possible because it filled a void in the world of broadcasting. The 1987 repeal of the so-called fairness doctrine, which hindered the ability of radio stations to run talk shows that operated from a specific point of view, cleared the way for both conservatives and liberals to take to the airwaves. The reason why conservative talk shows succeeded (in Rush’s case on a scale no one could have imagined before he did it) and left-wing hosts have generally flopped is that in a media world where liberals dominated most daily newspapers and all the broadcast television networks there was a huge audience that was dying to hear someone they agreed with. As with the subsequent development of Fox News, Rush’s success was the product of the fact that there was an underserved niche in the market that made up approximately half of the American people who thought of themselves as conservatives.

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Let’s now pause to take a moment to render praise to someone who rarely fails to do the same for himself. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the syndication of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. While the date passed largely without notice in much of the media, it is nonetheless a significant milestone that, regardless of whether you love Rush or hate him, deserves to be noted. Though he will never draw the sort of accolades and awards that mainstream media liberals routinely bestow on each other in pompous ceremonies, Limbaugh is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in the history of broadcasting. Though he was hardly the first or the only conservative talker on the air, Limbaugh’s unique mix of biting conservative commentary, humor, and braggadocio helped transform the political landscape of America.

I think there are three main points to be made about Rush on his silver anniversary.

The first is that Rush’s radio revolution was made possible because it filled a void in the world of broadcasting. The 1987 repeal of the so-called fairness doctrine, which hindered the ability of radio stations to run talk shows that operated from a specific point of view, cleared the way for both conservatives and liberals to take to the airwaves. The reason why conservative talk shows succeeded (in Rush’s case on a scale no one could have imagined before he did it) and left-wing hosts have generally flopped is that in a media world where liberals dominated most daily newspapers and all the broadcast television networks there was a huge audience that was dying to hear someone they agreed with. As with the subsequent development of Fox News, Rush’s success was the product of the fact that there was an underserved niche in the market that made up approximately half of the American people who thought of themselves as conservatives.

That factor along with the fact that Rush’s show was both entertaining and always spoke to the news of the day contributed to making it an instant hit. Thinking back on this period of American political history, what is most remarkable is that it wasn’t long after it became nationally syndicated that Limbaugh assumed his current perch as perhaps the most influential radio talker in the country. By the time of the Republican landslide in the 1994 congressional elections, Rush was already an icon of the right and public enemy No. 1 to the left.

What was most disconcerting about Rush’s ascendance to his liberal antagonists was not so much the clever way he parodied objects of his derision like Bill Clinton but the fact that it was quickly apparent that there was no going back to the pre-Limbaugh status quo. Prior to his rise, impudent conservatives had no place on the national spectrum. Talk radio—as well as Fox News on TV, which came along a few years later—changed forever the American public square in which a few liberal talking heads had been the arbiters of what could and could not be said on the air.

The second point to be made about Rush is that notwithstanding his importance in changing the way we think about media and politics, he is not the pope of the Republican Party or the conservative movement.

The left prefers its conservative villains to be as sinister as possible so it was always necessary to account for Rush’s huge audience by portraying him as either being the front man for a dark right-wing conspiracy or as the evil Svengali hypnotizing a docile audience of hayseeds and fools into supporting policies that are against their interests.

But the key to understanding Limbaugh’s perennial appeal is that he has always been a sounding board for conservative sentiment in this country, not its manufacturer. Limbaugh has thrived not by dictating to his audience but because he has followed it and appealed to the issues and stories they care about. To note this fact is not to discount or deny that he is one of the country’s opinion leaders, but it is a mistake to think that what he has done is anything other than provide a platform for the views of his listeners and to appeal to what they think is simple common sense.

Lastly, it is equally a myth to claim that Limbaugh has coarsened the tenor of America’s political debate. Though he has sometimes erred by using misleading terms like “feminazis” and memorably called free contraception advocate Sandra Fluke a “slut” in an awkward effort to skewer her position, most of what Limbaugh says is merely blunt conservatism, often presented with a satirical tone. Most liberals who denounce Limbaugh have probably never actually listened to his show and have little idea of how central humor has always been to his popularity.

What Limbaugh has done is to shoot a great many liberal sacred cows on a regular basis, and that isn’t something the left and its media gatekeepers were ever willing to accept. The notion that he is uniquely disrespectful or nasty is not only a distortion of his own record. It also reflects a stark double standard by which the mainstream media’s dismissal or even slanders of the right are treated as unexceptional while conservative denunciations of liberals are seen as beyond the pale.

Talk radio, like any medium, is a mixed bag. Some of its practitioners bring a lot to the table while some are mere windbags or even dangerous demagogues. Limbaugh is neither of those. His national popularity is a continuing testament both to his talent and to the enduring appeal of his brand. His breakthrough still disconcerts his opponents who long to tell conservatives to shut up. Thanks to Rush that will never happen. Even those Americans who don’t always agree with him should be happy about that. 

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Has the GOP Surrendered to Obama?

It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

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It’s not exactly a secret that Senator Ted Cruz and his staff have gotten under the skin of many of his fellow Republicans. In the course of trying to rally more GOP senators to join his effort to stop ObamaCare by going to the brink with Democrats over funding the government, Cruz said most of his caucus was “scared” to challenge the president. He was probably right about that, since they think his proposal is a suicide mission. But the Texas senator’s aides have gone even further. As Politico reported, “Cruz’s chief of staff is lambasting fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the ‘surrender caucus.’ His top political strategist has compared Mitch McConnell to Barack Obama.” But Cruz’s merry crew isn’t alone. Rush Limbaugh told Fox News yesterday that he thought the leadership of the Republican Party had “capitulated” to the Democrats and spent more time fighting the Tea Party than the president.

If this strikes objective observers as strange, it should. While Cruz and Limbaugh are speaking of the GOP leadership as a pack of quislings, the White House’s chief talking point for the past three years has been the accusation that the same group is a bunch of relentless partisans who have spared no effort in order to sabotage the president’s liberal agenda. Even if we concede that there is a fair amount of hyperbole in both points of view, there’s no question that the rebellion on the right represents a genuine threat to the party. With the GOP already split on immigration and national security issues such as the NSA metadata collection, the willingness of figures like Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and even more significantly, Marco Rubio, to embrace a far more confrontational position than either House Speaker Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell creates the impression that this is growing into a serious problem for the party that could potentially impact its future ability to govern.

Those concerns are not without foundation, but those seeking to bury the GOP as hopelessly split are making a mistake. What’s going on this week may be troubling for Republicans, but it is as much a function of divided government as it is an ideological chasm between the so-called establishment and the firebrands. What the party of Lincoln is experiencing is nothing more than the usual headaches of the party whose opponents are in possession of the White House.

As much as the media is rightly covering Ted Cruz’s taunting campaign, it would be inaccurate to describe Republicans as being any more divided than are Democrats. On almost all of these issues, Democrats have their own splits, including some that are every bit as bitter as those that afflict the GOP. But the lack of interest in those arguments is not just a function of liberal media bias. It’s primarily due to the fact that, for better or worse, the Democratic Party has a single, preeminent leader while Republicans don’t. That’s what happens when you lose presidential elections.

The Republican problem is not a lack of courage. McConnell has done his best to harass the Democratic majority and the president. While Speaker Boehner can’t simply wage guerrilla warfare, he, too, has sought to thwart the White House’s agenda. But without a unified leadership (something that is only possible when you have a president and even then it is not a given) and single agenda, there will always be room for dissidents to accuse those in charge of not being tough enough.

As for the government shutdown, I agree with all of those, like our Pete Wehner, who say the strategy is a loser. Going to the brink won’t stop ObamaCare and claiming that those who understand this are chickens is juvenile. But what Cruz and Rush are tapping into is the frustration of the party faithful who wonder why the party’s leaders can’t just say no to Obama and shut the monster they hate down. In the absence of a sign that Republicans share this frustration, they look to create artificial and generally meaningless distinctions between a largely imaginary establishment and a cadre of true believers.

It would be far easier for Republicans to do as Cruz wishes if they didn’t control the House. Minorities can afford to be irresponsible and to vote their consciences without caring about its impact on the nation. While some in the grass roots really wouldn’t mind a government shutdown (neither would President Obama, who rightly thinks it would be a public-relations disaster for the GOP), what they really need is a sign their congressional leaders have an alternative and are willing to fall on their swords for the sake of principle. They want inspiration as much as they crave Democratic destruction.

Talk of Republicans surrendering to Obama is absurd. But instead of just getting mad at Cruz and fuming over Limbaugh’s statements, the Republican leaders need to be crafting a message to their own supporters that takes this frustration into account. Simply harrumphing at Cruz’s bumptiousness won’t address a problem that can, at best, be managed rather than solved until they win back the White House.

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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?

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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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Obama is the Ultimate Ad Hominem President

At a fundraising event earlier this week in New York City, President Obama said this:

What’s blocking us right now is a sort of hyper-partisanship in Washington that I was, frankly, hoping to overcome in 2008. My thinking was when we beat them in 2012 that might break the fever, and it’s not quite broken yet. But I am persistent. And I am staying at it. And I genuinely believe there are Republicans out there who would like to work with us but they’re fearful of their base and they’re concerned about what Rush Limbaugh might say about them…

As a consequence we get the kind of gridlock that makes people cynical about government. My intentions over the next 3 ½ years are to govern. … If there are folks who are more interested in winning elections than they are thinking about the next generation then I want to make sure there are consequences to that.

Mr. Obama’s statement, a variation of what he’s said countless times in the past, is worth examining for what it reveals about him.

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At a fundraising event earlier this week in New York City, President Obama said this:

What’s blocking us right now is a sort of hyper-partisanship in Washington that I was, frankly, hoping to overcome in 2008. My thinking was when we beat them in 2012 that might break the fever, and it’s not quite broken yet. But I am persistent. And I am staying at it. And I genuinely believe there are Republicans out there who would like to work with us but they’re fearful of their base and they’re concerned about what Rush Limbaugh might say about them…

As a consequence we get the kind of gridlock that makes people cynical about government. My intentions over the next 3 ½ years are to govern. … If there are folks who are more interested in winning elections than they are thinking about the next generation then I want to make sure there are consequences to that.

Mr. Obama’s statement, a variation of what he’s said countless times in the past, is worth examining for what it reveals about him.

1. President Obama is once again engaging in what psychiatrists refer to as projection, in which people lay their worst attributes on others.

In this instance, the most hyper-partisan president in modern times is ascribing that trait to Congressional Republicans. What we’ve learned about Mr. Obama over the years is that he that while he is unusually inept at governing, he’s quite good at campaigning. He certainly enjoys it, having taken the concept of the Permanent Campaign beyond anything we’ve ever seen. It turns out it’s the only thing he does well—no human being in history has raised campaign cash quite like he has—and it’s all he seems interested in doing.

On some deep, subconscious level, though, Mr. Obama seems ashamed of the path he’s chosen. And so the president projects those traits he loathes in himself on to others. To give you a sense of how deep the malady runs, the president does more than merely project; he actually preaches against the very character flaws he himself cannot overcome.

2. The president can hardly go a day without impugning the motivations of his opponents. They never have honest differences with the president. Instead they are suffering from an illness (“fever”), cowardice (afraid of what Rush Limbaugh might say about them), and lack of patriotism (caring about elections rather than future generations). Mr. Obama is the ultimate ad hominem president.

3. The president spoke about cynicism toward government. But if the president is really concerned about this phenomenon, he might look at his own administration, which is dealing with multiplying scandals. I would submit that misleading the country in the aftermath of the deadly siege on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents, and seizing the phone records of journalists might well deepen the public’s cynicism toward government. And for the record, trust in the federal government has reached new lows during the Obama years. Might he have some responsibility for that?

4. Mr. Obama professes deep concern “about the next generation.” Those words would be a bit more believable if he were not handing off to the next generation a crushing debt burden that will take generations to undo, if  it is ever undone. No president holds a candle to Mr. Obama when it comes to engaging in generational theft.

5. As for gridlock: This is actually inherent in our system of government. It’s called “checks and balances” and “separation of powers.” The president might want to consult this document for more. 

I understand Mr. Obama has complained many times that there are checks on his power, but I prefer the wisdom of James Madison to the ambitions of Barack Obama. And, oh, by the way: greater gridlock in Mr. Obama’s first two years in office would have prevented passage of the Affordable Care Act, which the presidential historian George Edwards has called “perhaps the least popular major domestic policy passed in the last century” and which Democratic Senator Max Baucus has warned is a “huge train wreck coming down.” It turns out that gridlock, if not always ideal, beats passing really bad legislation.

Just over a hundred days into his second term, the president finds himself weak, wounded, and on the defensive. Which means Mr. Obama will need to find new enemies to blame, new people to target, and new divisions to exploit.

This is what Hope and Change looks like five years in. 

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The Irresponsible Search for Bomb Scapegoats

It was probably too much to hope that the chattering classes would keep their desire to spin the tragedy in Boston in check for long. Filling the air and the Web with copy in the absence of any real information about who is responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon places a real burden on those who comment about such things to avoid sending the discussion off the deep end. Though there are some exceptions, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (who couldn’t wait to speculate about the bombs being planted by radical right-wingers), it is a test that many are still managing to pass. With alerts about letters with toxins arriving at the Senate and the White House and worries growing about any possible connections to the terror attack, the need for the media to behave responsibly is greater than ever.

As I wrote yesterday, the eagerness to put Boston in the service of some political agenda is palpable. Those who are going off the tracks by engaging in pointless and inflammatory speculation unconnected with the facts don’t merit the attention that a refutation would give them. But in the absence of any way to start blaming the event on some group, some are beginning the process of spinning the possible scenarios already. An example of that came in an article published last night in Salon by David Sirota, in which he expresses the hope that “the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” The conceit of this inflammatory piece is that a white American terrorist would be treated as a “lone wolf” whose actions would have no implications on policy or society while a Muslim bomber would be thought of as an existential threat to the country.

The point of this seems to be to claim that an Islamist bomber would set off another backlash against Muslim-Americans such as the one that is alleged to have occurred after 9/11. But Sirota is wrong both about that mythical backlash and about the way white bombers such as Timothy McVeigh are interpreted.

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It was probably too much to hope that the chattering classes would keep their desire to spin the tragedy in Boston in check for long. Filling the air and the Web with copy in the absence of any real information about who is responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon places a real burden on those who comment about such things to avoid sending the discussion off the deep end. Though there are some exceptions, such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (who couldn’t wait to speculate about the bombs being planted by radical right-wingers), it is a test that many are still managing to pass. With alerts about letters with toxins arriving at the Senate and the White House and worries growing about any possible connections to the terror attack, the need for the media to behave responsibly is greater than ever.

As I wrote yesterday, the eagerness to put Boston in the service of some political agenda is palpable. Those who are going off the tracks by engaging in pointless and inflammatory speculation unconnected with the facts don’t merit the attention that a refutation would give them. But in the absence of any way to start blaming the event on some group, some are beginning the process of spinning the possible scenarios already. An example of that came in an article published last night in Salon by David Sirota, in which he expresses the hope that “the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” The conceit of this inflammatory piece is that a white American terrorist would be treated as a “lone wolf” whose actions would have no implications on policy or society while a Muslim bomber would be thought of as an existential threat to the country.

The point of this seems to be to claim that an Islamist bomber would set off another backlash against Muslim-Americans such as the one that is alleged to have occurred after 9/11. But Sirota is wrong both about that mythical backlash and about the way white bombers such as Timothy McVeigh are interpreted.

The reason why 9/11 was treated as an existential threat to America is that it was. The al-Qaeda campaign against the West, which included previous deadly attacks on the World Trade Center, U.S. embassies and naval ships, was part of a war that most Americans didn’t notice until 3,000 of their fellow citizens were slaughtered on U.S. soil.

But contrary to Sirota, this didn’t lead to a backlash of persecution against Muslims. From President Bush on down, the U.S. government went out of its way to combat prejudice and, unlike what has been the case in virtually every other war that was forced on America, negative images of Arabs and Muslims in popular culture were virtually unknown in the years that followed. Far from jumping on Muslims, the universal impulse after every homegrown Islamist act of terror, such as the mass shooting at Fort Hood, was to downplay the source of the crime and to pretend that it was unconnected to a particular interpretation of Islam.

Sirota is also wrong about his “lone wolf” thesis. The Oklahoma City bombing was not treated as the act of an individual but was widely imputed to conservatives in general, with Rush Limbaugh being unfairly smeared as somehow inspiring violent extremists in a transparent attempt by liberals to exploit that tragedy to undermine their opponents.

The point here is that we can expect, as Limbaugh noted yesterday, most Americans to be extremely reluctant to draw any conclusions about Muslims even if the Boston bombing or the letters are traced to Islamists. But it is far from clear that the same scrupulous reluctance to cast blame will be applied if the bomber is a right-winger. If Boston is traced to some militia crackpot, expect the liberal media to explode with accusations about the Tea Party.

The lesson here is that this is a time when pundits need to keep their powder dry and cease imputing blame for events when we still know nothing about the identity of the culprits. The desire to use Boston to pile on political enemies is almost irresistible for some people. But it should be resisted.

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Rush Limbaugh and Me

In researching a topic, I inadvertently came across a recent criticism of me by Rush Limbaugh that I think is worth responding to.

Maybe the place to begin is to point out that I met Rush in the early 1990s, while working for William Bennett, and while we don’t see each other often, we’ve maintained a friendship over the years. We’re both conservative and so we agree often, though not always. Nor does Rush believe personal relationships should prevent political disagreements from being aired publicly, which is an entirely defensible position. And he knows that goes both ways.

With that said, let me set the stage for what triggered Rush’s comments. I had written a piece in COMMENTARY saying that (a) I found many of President Obama’s gun proposals unobjectionable and (b) those who insist that it qualifies as an attack on the Second Amendment need to keep in mind that the right to bear arms is not an unlimited one.

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In researching a topic, I inadvertently came across a recent criticism of me by Rush Limbaugh that I think is worth responding to.

Maybe the place to begin is to point out that I met Rush in the early 1990s, while working for William Bennett, and while we don’t see each other often, we’ve maintained a friendship over the years. We’re both conservative and so we agree often, though not always. Nor does Rush believe personal relationships should prevent political disagreements from being aired publicly, which is an entirely defensible position. And he knows that goes both ways.

With that said, let me set the stage for what triggered Rush’s comments. I had written a piece in COMMENTARY saying that (a) I found many of President Obama’s gun proposals unobjectionable and (b) those who insist that it qualifies as an attack on the Second Amendment need to keep in mind that the right to bear arms is not an unlimited one.

This led to Rush arguing that many conservatives can’t stand the heat that comes with opposing President Obama daily. His argument goes something like this: It’s true that commentators like me will criticize the president, sometimes sharply. But we’ll then find ground to praise Mr. Obama “so as to maintain some credibility.” My views are tailored in a way to “look reasonable” to the Inside-the-Beltway world in which I live. In explaining my position on guns, Rush didn’t say he and I have an interesting and honest difference of opinion. He said, “I guarantee you it’s wrapped up in not wanting to be seen as opposing Obama just for the sake of it.”

This sort of critique is fairly typical in American politics. There must be some base, ulterior motive to explain differences in opinion. In this case, my views on gun restrictions–precisely where to draw a line we all acknowledge must be drawn–aren’t made in good faith. They’re animated by a desire to be seen as “reasonable” among The Liberal Establishment.

As you might imagine, this criticism strikes me as wide of the mark. I’m a commentator on daily, unfolding events, dealing with literally hundreds of them over the course of a single year. The vast majority of my critiques of the president are critical, since he and I hold very different political philosophies. (I took a leave of absence from my job to work to defeat him.) But on those rare occasions when I agree with Mr. Obama, I have no qualms saying so and explaining why I do. Common ground is not always cursed ground.

I do think that as a general matter it’s best to stay away from trying to divine the motives of others. For example, critics of Rush might say he’s a relentless critic of the president because he’s playing to his radio audience, fearing that if he ever expressed solidarity with the president his audience might tune him out. Now I don’t think that criticism would be fair, since I believe Rush’s criticisms are sincere. We’d probably all do better to live by the (paraphrased) words of the philosopher Sidney Hook, who said that before impugning an opponent’s motives, answer his arguments.

As for Rush’s broader point, I’m reminded of a wonderful 1965 essay the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote on the British businessman, essayist, and journalist Walter Bagehot. As Himmelfarb put it:

The current intellectual fashions put a premium on simplicity and activism. The subtleties, complications, and ambiguities that until recently have been the mark of serious thought are now taken to signify a failure of nerve, a compromise with evil, an evasion of judgment and “commitment.”

Bagehot possessed what Himmelfarb called a “compelling vision that inevitably brought with it a complexity, subtlety, and depth that he found lacking in much of the discourse of the time.”

In those relatively rare moments of self-reflection, I’d say my mistakes arise more often from failing the Bagehot standard than the Limbaugh one. By that I mean succumbing to the temptation to ascribe all virtue and intellectual merit to one’s own side while denying it to the other—as if on every issue all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other, freeing us of the need to carefully weigh competing goods.

That of course doesn’t mean that all views and policies are equally meritorious or that one cannot take a principled stand or that one cannot be highly critical (or highly supportive) of an American president. It merely means most of us need to avoid the Manichean Temptation more often than we do. That applies to me. And I imagine it applies to others as well. 

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Why Rush Loves Rubio

The political world is still buzzing over the way Rush Limbaugh seemed to swoon over Marco Rubio yesterday in spite of the fact that he entered the conversation with the Florida senator disagreeing strongly with his position on immigration reform. Rubio has been on a tour of conservative talk radio shows in the last week as he attempts to sell the conservative base, with the stop at Limbaugh’s show the most important. While it’s clear that Rubio didn’t exactly persuade Limbaugh to change sides on the issue, his arguments in favor of the principles put forward by the bipartisan Senate group he joined on immigration clearly impressed the influential host.

Rubio’s ability to cause Limbaugh to moderate his position somewhat illustrates that the battle on the right over immigration isn’t as one-sided as some would have it. But while there’s little doubt that supporters of the bipartisan compromise are going to have their hands full in gaining the backing of the Republican caucuses in both the Senate and the House, the debate is also turning into an important showcase for Rubio’s natural political talent. It may be a little early to start handicapping the 2016 presidential race, but the senator, whose career was launched as a Tea Party insurgent, is strengthening his national stature with his advocacy on immigration in a way that impresses conservatives and makes it harder for the liberal media to demonize him.

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The political world is still buzzing over the way Rush Limbaugh seemed to swoon over Marco Rubio yesterday in spite of the fact that he entered the conversation with the Florida senator disagreeing strongly with his position on immigration reform. Rubio has been on a tour of conservative talk radio shows in the last week as he attempts to sell the conservative base, with the stop at Limbaugh’s show the most important. While it’s clear that Rubio didn’t exactly persuade Limbaugh to change sides on the issue, his arguments in favor of the principles put forward by the bipartisan Senate group he joined on immigration clearly impressed the influential host.

Rubio’s ability to cause Limbaugh to moderate his position somewhat illustrates that the battle on the right over immigration isn’t as one-sided as some would have it. But while there’s little doubt that supporters of the bipartisan compromise are going to have their hands full in gaining the backing of the Republican caucuses in both the Senate and the House, the debate is also turning into an important showcase for Rubio’s natural political talent. It may be a little early to start handicapping the 2016 presidential race, but the senator, whose career was launched as a Tea Party insurgent, is strengthening his national stature with his advocacy on immigration in a way that impresses conservatives and makes it harder for the liberal media to demonize him.

The case Rubio is making for the immigration compromise package is persuasive. He is working hard to convince conservatives that the measures in it to secure the border are real and not, as some would claim, merely a fig leaf on an amnesty bill that will repeat the problems of the 1986 legislation that did nothing to solve the problem. Though Limbaugh pointed out that Ronald Reagan ultimately decided that he made a mistake in backing that bill, he could not argue with Rubio’s insistence that the linkage between border security and the path to citizenship for illegals in the statement of principles he signed on to was credible. So, too, was Rubio’s threat to abandon the bill if Democrats or President Obama succeeded in slipping in a poison pill that would essentially neuter the provisions about halting the flow of illegals into the country.

Rubio was especially eloquent when he pointed out to Limbaugh that the talk on the right about illegals coming here for welfare benefits was not the case for most immigrants, who come here for work. When this child of immigrants spoke of knowing about this issue personally rather than reading about it in a book, he was not merely undermining conservative critiques of immigration reform but also dishing liberal stereotypes about the right.

That the senator can speak out for immigrants while simultaneously making traditional free-market opportunity and anti-tax arguments shows that this is a unique political figure that can synthesize the best of Tea Party principles with a frame of reference that is outside the box for the right. That’s why Limbaugh seemed to be telling his listeners than even if they didn’t like the bill, they ought to be cheering for one of its authors.

Any other senator who tried to sell the right on a rational immigration proposal that doesn’t pretend 11 million illegals can be deported might be branded as a weak sister or a RINO–and one should expect that some will try to do that. But Rubio’s Tea Party credentials and his solid record opposing concessions to the administration on spending and taxes makes such attacks fall flat.

If Rush can rhapsodize about Rubio’s advocacy on an issue where his instincts tell him that he should be rallying the right against compromise, that makes obvious his potential to be a major player on the national stage. Some may believe his embrace of immigration reform is a gamble since it exposes him to a backlash from his party’s base. But it is also an opportunity to launch him as a national political star in a way that he has not been before.

It’s too soon to say whether supporters of the bipartisan compromise will succeed in enacting immigration reform this year. But win or lose, Rubio will emerge from it a stronger political figure whose 2016 presidential stock will be on the rise. 

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Does Maher Have the Guts to Call Out Media Matters on Anti-Rush Campaign?

The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

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The progressive movement is really squeezing every last drop out mock outrage out of this increasingly-stale controversy:

Rush Limbaugh’s opponents are starting a radio campaign against him Thursday, seizing upon the radio star’s attack of a Georgetown law student as a “slut” to make a long-term effort aimed at weakening his business. …

Media Matters is spending at least $100,000 for two advertisements that will run in eight cities.

The ads use Limbaugh’s own words about student Sandra Fluke, who told congressional Democrats that contraception should be paid for in health plans. Limbaugh, on his radio programs, suggested Fluke wanted to be paid to have sex, which made her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” In return for the money, he said Fluke should post videos of herself having sex. Under sharp criticism, Limbaugh later apologized.

In one of the anti-Limbaugh ads, listeners are urged to call the local station that carries Limbaugh to say “we don’t talk to women like that” in our city.

Media Matters is placing the radio ads in cities with strong progressive activist networks and place where it believes Rush Limbaugh is particularly vulnerable. The group says it’s modeling this after its “Stop Beck” campaign, but that’s a little misleading. While Media Matters did target Glenn Beck’s advertisers, the main reason he was dropped from Fox News was because of his plummeting ratings. That had more to do with conservatives tuning out than anything Media Matters orchestrated.

And Media Matters also risks overreaching with the anti-Rush campaign. Not all liberals are comfortable with the idea of trying to push Limbaugh off the air. In the New York Times today, Bill Maher writes:

The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.

I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada.

Maher makes good points, though he also places far more emphasis on the fake outrage from conservatives than he does on the fake outrage coming from liberals. Sure, conservatives overreact to comments and demand apologies from their political opponents all the time, welcome to politics. But the major campaign to shut down a talk show host for disagreeable language is being orchestrated and funded by the left. Maher should at least have the guts to call out Media Matters by name.

As an aside, would it even matter anymore if Media Matters somehow managed to get Rush kicked off the air (an extremely unlikely possibility at this point)? Sure, it would be a symbolic victory for the left and set a disastrous precedent for entertainers. But Rush has a massive, devoted audience and could probably maintain similar ratings on an online-only platform. The biggest loser in that scenario would be radio, which needs hosts like Rush far more than he needs the medium.

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The Liberal War on Rush Limbaugh

About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

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About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

I would think that even some of those who don’t cotton to Limbaugh might be a bit uneasy about the tactics the left is using. They’re not illegal, but they reveal a somewhat troubling cast of mind.

Limbaugh’s critics have every right to go after him on the merits and to their heart’s content; that’s what a robust, free, self-governing nation does. David Brooks of the New York Times argues that Limbaugh has hurt conservatism, and he’s articulated his case on several occasions. That’s all fine and good. But the impulse on the left is more authoritarian than that. Many liberals have long been disposed to use whatever means they can — including the power of government, if necessary (see the so-called Fairness Doctrine for more) — to silence the voices and views of those with whom they disagree.

My own sense is that the left scored some damaging blows against Limbaugh early on but has since overplayed its hand; and that the blinding hypocrisy of Limbaugh’s critics has undermined their cause. Their attacks aren’t really about morality or civil public discourse; they are about power and the will to power. That is what separates Brooks from, say, Media Matters.

I’ll even make a prediction: Rush Limbaugh will be sitting behind the Golden EIB microphone years from now, still with a large and loyal audience in place, still arguing with David Brooks about this and that issue. And that is, as it ought to be.

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Will the Left Fight the Real War on Women?

There is a war on women taking place. The Democratic machine is working at high-speed disseminating the phrase, and in the meantime, distorting the truth on the real nature of the war. What the left has portrayed as a “War on Women” is viewed by many, including this blog, as a “War for Religious Freedom.” Being a free-thinking feminist myself, these are some timely battles in the “War on Women” that I’d love to see these self-proclaimed feminists on the American left express at least a modicum of concern over:

  • Widespread rapes taking place in camps occupied by women who lost their homes in the Haitian earthquake.
  • A teenage Moroccan girl was recently forced to marry her rapist by a judge, leading to the girl’s suicide.
  • Disfiguring and sometimes fatal acid attacks on women around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Bangladesh and Cambodia
  • Sex-selective abortion (also known as gendercide) that has erased the possibility of life for over 163 million women worldwide
  • A wide gender disparity in primary and secondary education worldwide

Instead of tackling any one of these important issues that set back the clock on women’s rights centuries, the feminist left has decided that the possible denial of free contraception is what constitutes a war on the fairer sex. By focusing on this to the exclusion of all else, by being the cheering section for an administration that does nothing for human rights, these “feminists” are helping to set back women’s rights back to the Stone Age.

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There is a war on women taking place. The Democratic machine is working at high-speed disseminating the phrase, and in the meantime, distorting the truth on the real nature of the war. What the left has portrayed as a “War on Women” is viewed by many, including this blog, as a “War for Religious Freedom.” Being a free-thinking feminist myself, these are some timely battles in the “War on Women” that I’d love to see these self-proclaimed feminists on the American left express at least a modicum of concern over:

  • Widespread rapes taking place in camps occupied by women who lost their homes in the Haitian earthquake.
  • A teenage Moroccan girl was recently forced to marry her rapist by a judge, leading to the girl’s suicide.
  • Disfiguring and sometimes fatal acid attacks on women around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Bangladesh and Cambodia
  • Sex-selective abortion (also known as gendercide) that has erased the possibility of life for over 163 million women worldwide
  • A wide gender disparity in primary and secondary education worldwide

Instead of tackling any one of these important issues that set back the clock on women’s rights centuries, the feminist left has decided that the possible denial of free contraception is what constitutes a war on the fairer sex. By focusing on this to the exclusion of all else, by being the cheering section for an administration that does nothing for human rights, these “feminists” are helping to set back women’s rights back to the Stone Age.

The left’s hypocrisy is on full display when the media and Democratic machine’s treatment of Bill Maher versus Rush Limbaugh is contrasted. Earlier this week Alana highlighted a stinging new ad made by ShePAC that made clear while the President was paying lip service to feminism and Sandra Fluke, he was happily accepting a million dollar donation to his super PAC (which he once called a threat to democracy, but I digress) by a well-known misogynist. Obama’s senior campaign strategist David Axelrod has claimed that Limbaugh’s comments were worse than Maher’s, thus making the donation acceptable. I’ve heard other myopic liberals claim that Limbaugh is worse because he has higher listenership, because he isn’t a “comedian” (as Maher claims to be), because he is attacking women’s “rights” and because he is taking aim at a private citizen verses a public figure. Therefore, in these liberal minds, misogyny is acceptable when you are an unpopular liberal comedian, when you view rights in the correct manner (i.e. as they see them), when you critique a woman with sexually derogatory language when she is a politician, not an activist. Are you having a hard time keeping all of those conditions straight? A more simple explanation is this: You can be a misogynist and disparage women (preferably conservative), as long as you vote a straight Democratic ticket each and every election.

When the feminist lobby decides to expand their definition on the War on Women to women worldwide, when it calls out offenders of every political persuasion for violating a set standard of decency, I’ll be on board. Until then, I would like my female compatriots to stop pretending that they are fighting a battle for women’s rights instead of what they’re really doing: Playing into the hands of the Democratic party and all of its liberal arms.

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Anti-Rush Campaign Was in the Works

Wonder how the left was able to mobilize so quickly on the Rush Limbaugh boycott? According to the architect behind it, Media Matters online strategy director Angelo Carusone, the project was actually created in 2009, but stayed inactive until the Sandra Fluke controversy boiled over (via Legal Insurrection):

I started Stop Rush in 2009, 2010, and when I went to register the domain, I saw that Rush owned StopRush.com….

The Beck work was working, and I kind of froze the Rush work, and experimented with it a little, to get a sense of who Rush’s advertisers were and what their comfort level with him was. It was definitely valuable, and I am glad I spent some time doing it. It has informed the work I am doing now.

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Wonder how the left was able to mobilize so quickly on the Rush Limbaugh boycott? According to the architect behind it, Media Matters online strategy director Angelo Carusone, the project was actually created in 2009, but stayed inactive until the Sandra Fluke controversy boiled over (via Legal Insurrection):

I started Stop Rush in 2009, 2010, and when I went to register the domain, I saw that Rush owned StopRush.com….

The Beck work was working, and I kind of froze the Rush work, and experimented with it a little, to get a sense of who Rush’s advertisers were and what their comfort level with him was. It was definitely valuable, and I am glad I spent some time doing it. It has informed the work I am doing now.

Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson connects the dots on the story most of the media missed: that the entire Limbaugh boycott was pure, undistilled Astroturf.

The secondary boycott of Rush Limbaugh advertisers is portrayed in the media as a reaction to a groundswell of public outrage.  In fact, the secondary boycott was initiated by and driven by Media Matters, which had a “Stop Limbaugh” campaign on the shelf waiting to be used, and was executed by Angelo Carusone, Director of Online Strategy for Media Matters.

But while Carusone depicts his campaign as a response to the Fluke controversy, it seems obvious from the timeline that Media Matters played a large role in creating the controversy. According to the New York Times, the dormant “Stop Rush” twitter account run by Carusone snapped to life on Wednesday, Feb. 29, the day Limbaugh made his now-infamous comments. Media Matters also appears to be the first media outlet that reported on Limbaugh’s remarks, with Think Progress picking up on the story a few hours later, and the Huffington Post following up that evening.

This is a really useful case study of how the left coordinates to create a full-blown media uproar. Democrats in Congress don’t typically rush out to respond to every insult from conservative radio hosts. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi managed to round up six other female congressional Democrats to release a joint statement condemning Limbaugh’s comments within hours of the broadcast:

“When Sandra Fluke testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee after Republicans attempted to silence her, she courageously spoke truth to power. As a result, today, she has been subject to attacks that are outside the circle of civilized discussion and that unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country. We call upon the Republican leaders in the House to condemn these vicious attacks on Ms. Fluke, which are in response to her testimony to the Congress. Democrats will always stand up for women’s health and women’s voices.”

According to Carusone, he began reaching out to Rush’s advertisers the next day to put the boycott campaign into action. Two days after Limbaugh’s comments, a Friday, President Obama put in a call to Sandra Fluke, which fanned the flames of the controversy and kept it going through the weekend.

Something else worth noting: Tucker Carlson recently reported that Media Matters representatives have weekly meetings with the White House, and the activist group is in close contact with the administration. Was anti-Rush media strategy ever discussed? Was the White House aware that Media Matters had a “Stop Rush” boycott campaign teed up and ready to go? After all, top White House officials have spoken openly about their 2009 campaign to use Rush Limbaugh to attack the Republican Party.

The anti-Limbaugh boycott may not have been the wild success Media Matters wanted it to be, since at this point it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any long-term fallout for Rush. But they were able to dominate the news cycle with their message for weeks and during a contentious primary race – a pretty impressive feat. Ruthless conservative political strategists out there would do well to take notes.

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Team Obama’s Negative Ads Against Palin

The Obama campaign wishes so badly it could run against a divisive national figure like Sarah Palin that it’s decided to just pretend it actually is. Here’s Obama’s latest ad, which attacks Palin for calling him a radical (via HotAir):

The strategy of attacking Palin – who is still influential with the conservative base but increasingly marginal in the Republican Party – could be chalked up to Obama’s nostalgia for the 2008 campaign. But it also seems remarkably similar to a communications strategy the White House orchestrated back in 2009, when it tried to elevate another polarizing figure, Rush Limbaugh, to the position of “de facto” Republican leader, thus forcing congressional Republicans to respond to his inflammatory comments. Politico reported on the White House’s internal plan at the time:

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The Obama campaign wishes so badly it could run against a divisive national figure like Sarah Palin that it’s decided to just pretend it actually is. Here’s Obama’s latest ad, which attacks Palin for calling him a radical (via HotAir):

The strategy of attacking Palin – who is still influential with the conservative base but increasingly marginal in the Republican Party – could be chalked up to Obama’s nostalgia for the 2008 campaign. But it also seems remarkably similar to a communications strategy the White House orchestrated back in 2009, when it tried to elevate another polarizing figure, Rush Limbaugh, to the position of “de facto” Republican leader, thus forcing congressional Republicans to respond to his inflammatory comments. Politico reported on the White House’s internal plan at the time:

Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.

Soon it clicked: Democrats realized they could roll out a new GOP bogeyman for the post-Bush era by turning to an old one in Limbaugh, a polarizing figure since he rose to prominence in the 1990s. …

The seeds were planted in October after Democracy Corps, the Democratic polling company run by Carville and Greenberg, included Limbaugh’s name in a survey and found that many Americans just don’t like him.

“His positives for voters under 40 was 11 percent,” Carville recalled with a degree of amazement, alluding to a question about whether voters had a positive or negative view of the talk show host.

Then came what Begala called “the tripwire.”

“I hope he fails,” Limbaugh said of Obama on his show four days before the president was sworn in. It was a time when Obama’s approval ratings were soaring, but more than that, polls showed even people who didn’t vote for him badly wanted him to succeed, coming to office at a time of economic meltdown.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first to jump on the statement, sending the video to its membership to raise cash and stir a petition drive.

Come to think of it, this seems to bear a close resemblance to how the White House and Democrats manufactured the whole Susan Fluke/Rush Limbaugh controversy duringthe past few weeks. The strategy goes something like this:

1.)   Obama personally responds to inflammatory comments from a loose-cannon conservative figure, in an attempt to raise this person’s standing to the level of a serious Republican leader.

2.)   The media reports on the “controversy.”

3.)   Right-wing bloggers and Fox News pundits defend the loose-cannon conservative.

4.)  Democrats call on Republican candidates to repudiate the comments.

5.)   The media asks Republican candidates whether they agree with the polarizing conservative’s comments, which sets up a lose-lose scenario. If the candidate criticizes the comments too forcefully, he risks alienating the Fox News demographic. If the GOP candidate criticizes the comments too gently, Democrats slam him for pandering.

Maybe the anti-Sarah Palin campaign video really is just a sign the Obama team is in completely desperate straits and simply has nothing else to run on or against. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats start trying to emphasize Palin’s influence in the Republican Party, and call on Romney, Santorum, et al, to condemn her comments in the coming weeks.

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The Real War on Women

Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

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Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

Yet, instead of getting back to discussing the birth control policy debate, Democrats and liberals in the media have continued to rage against Limbaugh. Maybe because it’s easier to argue against an indefensible comment by a radio host than to try to convince the public that your right to pay less for birth control should override the religious rights of Catholic employers. But for the most part, the news stories on the birth control mandate have been substance-less variations on the “Limbaugh Still Under Fire for ‘Slut’ Comments” theme. And Democrats continue to use the controversy to claim the Republican Party is waging a “war on women.”

A little perspective would be useful here. A radio host with a history of saying offensive things called a birth control activist some really nasty names. He later apologized. By what standard does that amount to a Republican “war on women,” or something that should be dominating the news after two weeks?

But Democrats aren’t the only ones keeping this in the news. On the other side, conservatives have been pointing out that liberal pundits and comedians have made plenty of comments about women that are just as vulgar and offensive as Limbaugh’s. Greta Van Susteren even called for journalists to skip the White House Correspondent’s Dinner because she thinks the host, comedian Louis C.K., has made sexist remarks about female politicians.

It’s important to highlight the hypocrisy of the White House and Democratic Party when it comes to civil discourse, but this is turning into a futile competition about which side can act more offended. Getting so worked up over the words of comedians and radio shock jocks – people whose job descriptions practically require them to be offensive – is a little ridiculous.

On a partially related note, Wednesday was International Women’s Day. In Egypt, women spent it wondering whether the Islamist-majority parliament will take away their right to work when the new constitution is drafted. Female activists took to the streets in protest, all at great personal risk. That’s a real war on women, and it’s something to think about if you’re an American who’s still hyperventilating over Limbaugh’s grievous insult today, 15 days after he said it and nearly a week after he apologized. Maybe you should ask yourself whether your unappeasable outrage is based on rational concerns, or whether it’s driven by something a bit more partisan.

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Liberal Double Standards

Kirsten Powers is a woman of liberal leanings but impressively independent judgments. That was demonstrated again with her recent column in The Daily Beast, in which she takes to task what she calls “the army of swine on the left” who are engaging in a “war on women.”

In the words of Powers, “Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz have been waging it for years with their misogynist outbursts.” She provides chapter and verse on all five men, but declares that the “grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher.” That would be the same Bill Maher who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. So I wonder: Do you think Obama, who has placed himself in the middle of the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, will be hounded by the press about Maher’s comments in light of his contributions? And why, by the way, are Limbaugh’s comments getting so much media attention while Maher’s comments have been overlooked, accepted, or even bring a knowing smile to the faces of some journalists, many of whom seem eager to appear on his program?

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Kirsten Powers is a woman of liberal leanings but impressively independent judgments. That was demonstrated again with her recent column in The Daily Beast, in which she takes to task what she calls “the army of swine on the left” who are engaging in a “war on women.”

In the words of Powers, “Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher, Matt Taibbi, and Ed Schultz have been waging it for years with their misogynist outbursts.” She provides chapter and verse on all five men, but declares that the “grand pooh-bah of media misogyny is without a doubt Bill Maher.” That would be the same Bill Maher who has given $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. So I wonder: Do you think Obama, who has placed himself in the middle of the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy, will be hounded by the press about Maher’s comments in light of his contributions? And why, by the way, are Limbaugh’s comments getting so much media attention while Maher’s comments have been overlooked, accepted, or even bring a knowing smile to the faces of some journalists, many of whom seem eager to appear on his program?

It’s not sufficient to say that Limbaugh is far more prominent than Maher, especially as Maher is now one of the larger financial supporters of President Obama.

We all know what’s going on here. The left, by and large, can say things about their political opponents that are cruel and defamatory and mostly get away with it, while those on the right are called on the carpet. That’s not true in every case, but it’s certainly true often enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.

What we have a right to expect is even-handedness rather than glaring double standards. My guess is that for many journalists and commentators, what’s happening is less a conscious bias than a sub-conscious one. When conservative women are savaged by liberal men, it’s boys will be boys/politics ain’t beanbag/sticks and stones may break my bones. But when liberal women are savaged by conservative men, it’s an assault on reason, decency and civilized standards. This is what Powers seems to be arguing, and for a woman who leans left to make that case in such an ironclad way is a tribute to her even as it’s an indictment of many in her profession.

 

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Despite Gaffe, Limbaugh Won’t Be Silenced

As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

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As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

Most Americans, even those who agreed with Limbaugh about the issue, thought his over-the-top remarks about Fluke being a “slut” because she thought her Jesuit-run law school ought to pay for her birth control costs were way out of line. He’s been publicly spanked for this and rightly so. But the moment the effort to punish him becomes a campaign to destroy him, the nature of the narrative of this issue can change just as quickly as it did last week.

The fact that the outrage over Limbaugh was hypocritical didn’t buy him much slack as he was forced to face the music about his comments. But as soon as this outrage morphed into a crusade to force him off the air, that hypocrisy becomes relevant again. Those who think Limbaugh’s insensitivity to women is such that he ought not to be allowed to broadcast need to be asked why they haven’t signed on to similar efforts to force someone like HBO’s Bill Maher off his well-paid cable perch? He has said far worse about conservative women than Limbaugh’s faux pas.

Of course, the difference here is not that what Limbaugh said was worse, because it wasn’t. It is that he is a conservative who trashes liberals rather than a liberal who trashes conservatives.

In the New York Times Media Decoder feature about Limbaugh’s woes, columnist Brian Stelter points out one of those advertisers who have left his show, Tax Resolution Services, was “put on the map” by their sponsorship of “The Howard Stern Show.” The company’s chief executive Michael Rozbruch says the reason why he bowed to pressure to leave Limbaugh after loyally sticking with a vulgar creature like Stern is due to the increased pressure from “social media.”

It’s true that Facebook and Twitter have given such campaigns a boost, but anyone who thinks political hypocrisy is not at work here is not paying attention. The effort to destroy Limbaugh will fail because the shift from righteous indignation at him to an effort to suppress his voice only serves to remind his huge fan base the reason why Limbaugh and the whole genre of conservative radio had to be created was the liberal monopoly on traditional broadcast outlets. Shutting him down has been a liberal dream for two decades, but his Fluke gaffe won’t serve as an excuse for silencing the movement he has come to exemplify. As Limbaugh promised his listeners today, any advertiser who bolts from his show will be replaced.

Liberals are overplaying their hand on Limbaugh and, as Taranto rightly points out, sooner or later the debate will switch back to the ObamaCare mandate and the way it threatens to dangerously expand government power.

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Obama, Limbaugh and the Law Student

The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

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The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

Let’s specify that what Limbaugh said did nothing to advance the cause of civil debate on the issue. But those who decry the lack of civility in politics generally tend to limit their complaints to hyperbole uttered by people whose views they do not share. The same people who are voicing outrage at the hurt feelings of Ms. Fluke do not scruple at mocking or name calling when it comes to Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum or others whose beliefs on this or any other subject they believe to be antediluvian. The church and its adherents have been subjected to withering ridicule.

Moreover, though it has been lost amid the outcry against Limbaugh, he’s right to point out that, those who believe institutions ought to be compelled to fund free birth control are, in effect, demanding a subsidy for having sex. Of course, that is not the same thing as being a prostitute. Nor does it make anyone who wishes to take advantage of such a subsidy a “slut.” Such terms are abusive. But that is exactly why an entertainer like Limbaugh uses them much as Stewart and liberal comics employ similarly nasty terms to people they wish to deride. Need we really point out that comments made in the context of this sort of show is not the same thing as remarks recorded in the Congressional Record and should thus be judged by a slightly different standard?

Rush Limbaugh will survive this latest attempt to destroy him and may, in fact, benefit from being the subject of a White House barb. But conservatives and those who care about religious liberty should be dismayed by the way the left has been allowed to shield an ominous attempt to expand government power and subvert religious freedom behind a faux defense of women’s rights.

No one is trying to prevent Sandra Fluke or any other woman — or man — from doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own bedrooms. But what Fluke and President Obama are trying to do is to force religious institutions to pay for conduct their faith opposes. That, and not Rush Limbaugh’s scorn for Fluke’s birth control bill, remains the real issue at stake in this debate.

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Who is Obama Rooting for Tonight?

On Saturday night following the Republican presidential debate on ABC, a panel discussion broadcast on the network included the startling claim by Democratic talking head Donna Brazile that Mitt Romney’s dominance of the GOP field was “good news” for the Democrats because the frontrunner is “the weakest candidate.” Even ABC host and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopolous openly scoffed at her assertion, but some on the right are echoing her taunt.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh agreed with Brazile and went so far as to allege, perhaps humorously, that Stephanopolous’s retort was an attempt to get his fellow Democrat to keep quiet about their party’s secret desire for Romney to be the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has, of course, been quite vocal about Romney’s alleged weakness. He believes the GOP’s nomination of a man identified with Wall Street will help fire up the “occupy” base of the Democratic Party while also causing the conservative grass roots to sit out the general election, allowing Obama to cruise to victory. But while Limbaugh’s views are entitled to the respect due to the pre-eminent voice of the conservative insurgency, I very much doubt the president is delighted with the prospect of a big victory for Romney in New Hampshire tonight.

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On Saturday night following the Republican presidential debate on ABC, a panel discussion broadcast on the network included the startling claim by Democratic talking head Donna Brazile that Mitt Romney’s dominance of the GOP field was “good news” for the Democrats because the frontrunner is “the weakest candidate.” Even ABC host and former Clinton administration official George Stephanopolous openly scoffed at her assertion, but some on the right are echoing her taunt.

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh agreed with Brazile and went so far as to allege, perhaps humorously, that Stephanopolous’s retort was an attempt to get his fellow Democrat to keep quiet about their party’s secret desire for Romney to be the GOP nominee. Limbaugh has, of course, been quite vocal about Romney’s alleged weakness. He believes the GOP’s nomination of a man identified with Wall Street will help fire up the “occupy” base of the Democratic Party while also causing the conservative grass roots to sit out the general election, allowing Obama to cruise to victory. But while Limbaugh’s views are entitled to the respect due to the pre-eminent voice of the conservative insurgency, I very much doubt the president is delighted with the prospect of a big victory for Romney in New Hampshire tonight.

Limbaugh’s thesis that the Democrats “are not hammering Mitt Romney at all” doesn’t hold water. The Democrat strategy has been to do exactly that the entire campaign. Polls have consistently shown that Romney does the best of the entire Republican candidates against Obama–a result confirmed by the latest CBS survey. Only Romney has the ability to gain the votes of independents and wavering centrist Democrats, groups that will never go for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

Moreover, the idea that Romney is weak because he is the embodiment of the Occupy Wall Street worldview makes no sense. The occupiers and the left-wing hatred of the free enterprise system they represent are a snare for the Democrats, not the GOP. If Obama sticks with his decision to run to the left in 2012 that may fire up a portion of his disillusioned base, but it will not play well with mainstream America. That will give Romney, whose business expertise is exactly the right resume line for a candidate in the midst of an economic downturn, an opportunity to occupy the center next fall. That is exactly the opposite of what Obama wants.

The president, who will spend much of the coming year ranting about Congress, desperately needs the Republicans to nominate a candidate closely identified with the hard right, not a moderate conservative like Romney whom most Americans think of as a reasonable and pragmatic leader. That this formulation fails to excite conservative activists is understandable but common sense must tell them the objective is, to use the late William F. Buckley’s formula, to nominate the most conservative candidate who can win, not the most conservative candidate.

That means the president and his staff will be watching the New Hampshire results and those in South Carolina next weekend hoping Romney will stumble. Though the talk of the weak GOP field has bred overconfidence in some Democrats (among whose number Brazile might be counted), the prospect of a well-funded Republican who can appeal to the center is not something they should be happy about. Mitt Romney has his flaws, but neither the president nor his fan base is rooting for him to be the Republican standard-bearer.

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