Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rush: The New Bush

It didn't take long for the White House to begin distancing itself from the Democrats' effort to smear the GOP by attacking Rush Limbaugh. Yesterday, Politico.Com -- indisputably an Obama-friendly zone -- published a very persuasive article that links the recent flurry of discourse surrounding Limbaugh to a strategy orchestrated by Democratic Party operatives, including Paul Begala, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg.

White House: Part of the Limbaugh Strategy
The Politico article also concludes that the White House embraced the Limbaugh strategy. Specifically, White House senior adviser David Axelrod, Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs agreed to utilize it.

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel described Limbaugh as "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party." Tuesday, Gibbs snidely commented on Michael Steele's "apology" to Limbaugh (which Steele only offered after taking the Democrats' bait and condemning Limbaugh during a CNN interview). And yesterday, the Washington Post published a 2-page op-ed by David Plouffe, Obama's presidential campaign manager, which describes Limbaugh as the "Minority Leader."

By the end of the day, however, the White House attempted to distance itself from the flap it helped to create. Gibbs for example, stated at a press conference that his criticism of Limbaugh and other media personalities was "counterproductive."

Why Beat Up Limbaugh?
Limbaugh is not a politician, but he is an influential voice among the rightwing. The GOP needs conservative voters, but it also needs to make its image more moderate in order to win national and state elections. The Democrats want to complicate this task by portraying the party as extremely conservative and "out of touch" with Americans.

During the last eight years, Bush -- and Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rove/Rice -- served as the poster child for Democratic anger. Disappointment with Bush helped Obama and other Democrats win their respective elections. The Democrats realize that creating a political "enemy" can allow them to energize and organize voters to support the party and its candidates.

Why I Do Not Like This Strategy
There's a greater likelihood that Obama will invite me to the White House to "live-blog" his daily activities than there is a chance that Limbaugh and I will agree on any important social issue. I find Limbaugh and his views distasteful, hypocritical, and [insert many other negative adjectives]. But I vehemently disagree with this strategy, despite its potential effectiveness in helping Democrats. Here's why.

First, this strategy fuels sensationalism and detracts from very important social issues. Rather than discussing deep social problems, the Democrats are creating a new poster child of evil to bash and demonize. Meanwhile, unemployment is soaring (especially in communities of color), people still lack health care, the stock market is plunging, the country is fighting two costly and deadly wars, and Osama bin Laden is somewhere tiptoeing through the tulips.

Despite this terrible reality, Rush Limbaugh, rather than complex social issues, captivates the Democrats and media. That is absolutely indefensible, and it betrays voters who thought they were getting change, rather than "more of the same."

Party versus Policy
Second, this strategy elevates the Democratic Party, not liberal policy. One could argue (as some readers have) that beating up Limbaugh empowers Democrats, which will lead to the passage of liberal reform. I disagree with this idea. Instead, I believe that beating up Limbaugh empowers Democrats, which will lead to the reelection of Democratic politicians, which will allow them to increase their own political and economic power.

Electing Democrats does not guarantee that liberal reform will take place. This is particularly true when party officials convince voters to treat politics as a battle of personalities rather than a battle over policies and principles. Both sides are guilty of this (think, "slimy neocon rightwinger" versus "looney tree-hugging liberal"). With many liberal voters and social movements fixated upon beating up Republicans and cheering for Democrats, Democratic politicians can avoid implementing true liberal reform and can even get away with continuing practices that progressives condemned during the Bush administration (such as rendition).

Democrats will only "support" enough liberal issues to secure their reelection. If they can improve their party's "brand" and their own election prospects by bashing Limbaugh and other Republicans, then this is an easier and less-expensive route to political success. It is certainly easier than planning and implementing strategies that address entrenched social problems.

Makes the Other Party Look Good
Finally, the Democrats' demonization of Limbaugh risks making the GOP look better in the eyes of voters. At a minimum, it allows Republicans to claim a higher moral ground and, perhaps, to mend their image.

Today, the Washington Post contains an op-ed written by Representative John Boehner, the House Minority Leader. Although I highly doubt that Boehner and I agree on many social issues, I prefer his analysis much more than the anti-Limbaugh lunacy emerging from my own party. The Democrats' foray into dirt allows Boehner to take the moral high ground, which he does when he offers the following sober analysis:
In the first two months of 2009, the Democratic Congress and the White House have spent more money than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the response to Hurricane Katrina. After they doled out taxpayer dollars at such a blistering pace, the instinct of many inside the Beltway is to do what's most convenient: desperately try to change the subject by creating straw men -- called "the party of no" -- to rally against.

And in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over. This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today's economic crisis. And that is where our focus should be.
Boehner, a politician, contends that Republicans offer better solutions for today's problems. I disagree with this assertion, but I certainly prefer his analysis over Limbaughmania.


Stray Yellar Dawg? said...

Thank you for that excellent synopsis of why this strategy is ill advised.

I am linking your essay to my bog.... now!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Thanks - I noticed the link and added you to the blog roll. Thanks again.

Infidel753 said...

Professor, you're a very smart guy and a gentleman, but I think there's a danger in being too gentlemanly with these SOBs. They're not going to return the favor.

Limbaugh as flagship blimp of the GOP is not a concept the left made up out of whole cloth. I'm seeing plenty of conservatives praising the man to the skies, and denouncing and smearing those few smarter conservatives who have dared point out the harm he's doing to conservatism's image. Whatever the left is doing to draw attention to the issue is of only marginal importance by comparison.

Of their own free will they've chained themselves to this anvil and marched out on the diving board. Let them get on with it.

The distinction between liberals and Democrats is an important one, but I would argue that the self-destruction of conservatism empowers liberalism by giving liberal Democrats more room to maneuver, and by driving middle-of-the-road people closer to our side.

Anonymous said...

I truly think that this will result in the GOP looking better.

Oh this may provide a short boost for the Democrats, but like every other time they've taken on Rush this will be forgotten by the vast majority of voters come election time.

The fact of the matter is that the only ones likely to remember are the political junkies who generally know how the game is played. They will realize what's going on here and just dismiss the rhetoric; but they will remember the Democrats' manipulation of the situation, they will remember seeing Drudge and Politico blaring the headlines of "Obama's Enemies List" or something to that effect.

dualdiagnosis said...


Your write up here is good, however your use of the word Democrats should be changed to Obama, starting in the first sentence.

You are letting him off the hook here, we know this strategy was started last fall and included polling numbers. Who was the first person to kick off this demonization strategy? Obama.
Obama in January- "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders...

Immediately following this shot across the bow, the campaign continued to roll out.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly responded with an online petition.(in January)

Americans United for Change, a coalition of liberal and labor groups backing Obama and his economic recovery package launched a radio ad campaign targeting Republican Senators John Ensign of Nevada, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, calling on them to reject Limbaugh.(in January)

The 60-second spots, entitled “Rush to Failure,” are "designed to put Republican Senators on notice: the public expects them to represent their interests not the interests of Rush Limbaugh.

So, with Emmanuel on the phone daily with CNN mouthpieces Begala and Carville, along with lead ABC anchor Stephanopolous, Rahm and Obama started down this path. The fact that Gibbs was finally pinned down on the blatant hypocrisy doesn't change the fact that this is the White House's own strategy. Now that it is starting to get away from them, they are of course trying some damage control.

No doubt about it, Obama owns this.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DD -- I did not let Obama off the hook. I clearly stated -- even in boldface letters -- that the strategy was connected to the White House. Anything that happens with so many different White House voices is clearly connected to the president.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Infidel - there's a saying about books and covers. Anyway, I understand "dirty politics," but I see this as an unnecessary diversion.

Also, it really pains me because it confirms that Democrats AND liberals stand more for party politics than disadvantaged people. They stand for personality more than leadership. This is the same mudslinging that the House Democrats used to smear Bill Clinton. It is the same personal politics that so-called liberals used to smear Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primaries.

One thing I know about Clinton - she would be focused on policy. I suspect she wouldn't have time for going after Rush. Instead, she would be getting things done.

Compare this situation with Bill Clinton. The Rightwing beat him down daily -- many conservatives accused him of murder, rape, drug-dealing and a lot of other atrocities. Republicans funded and even engaged in the smears themselves. Even liberals and other Democrats joined the games. But did Clinton enlist his White House to make public statements bashing nonpoliticians? The only time he really let loose was during impeachment. That's the first time we heard any Clinton talk about a "vast rightwing conspiracy."

dualdiagnosis said...

Hillary focused on policy? Have you forgotten the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy"?

Anonymous said...

A nice post.

I think Democrats are looking at some trouble. The Obama administration's budget is huge. It has created doubts on both sides of the aisle. If the budget goes trough, taxes go up, and the economy does not start to turn-around within 18 months or so, I see a big backlash coming. The Limbaugh thing plays into that as it shows a lack of seriousness.

I hope things work and our economy turns around, but I have no confidence that will happen.

Off topic.

Another recent event that upset me was the letter the President sent to Russian Premier (President?) Medvedev. Apparently the letter made some offer to the effect that the missile shield the Bush administration negotiated with the Poles and other nearby states could be bargained away if the Russians helped with Iran. Well the letter was leaked, the Russians put a pie in the president's face, and we looked like amateur fools willing to sell out our partners for a quick deal. I thought this episode really showed lack of experience on our part and a certain naivete with respect to international relations.

Doug Santo
Pasadena, CA

dualdiagnosis said...


Is this the letter you're referring to?-
Obama To Drop Shield If Russia Helps With Limbaugh.

h/t insty

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DD - do you engage in selective reading? :) First, I explicitly said the vast rightwing conspiracy language did not come until the impeachment issue -- even though it existed long before that. Also, I was focusing on the Clinton-era presidency, not Hillary Clinton. During the Democratic Primaries, the Democrats and media criticized her for focusing on "policy" when people wanted "hope."

Anonymous said...

Dualdiagnosis -

No, but I enjoyed that letter a lot more!

Doug Santo
Pasadena, CA

dualdiagnosis said...

You're right, I read that sentence that said Hillary would be focused on policy and stopped. But I seem to remember that Hillary was in charge of smearing non-politicians going back to the Arkansas days with the "nuts and sluts" strategy.

Brad said...

I was hoping this story was going away:)

Nice analysis and I find it hard to disagree with much of what Rep John Boehner said. I hesitate to give the Republicans too much credit due to their lack of fiscal restraint for at least 6 of the last 8 years though.

I hope you have something more interesting to write about tomorrow but I don't think the story is going away.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Funny Brad. I agree with you - Boehner was correct in dismissing the Limbaugh story, but he was wrong on the GOP having answers to the current problem (which I stated in the main essay).

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DD - "nuts and sluts" strategy? Ok, you have to elaborate!

Critical Thinker said...

"Professor, you're a very smart guy and a gentleman, but I think there's a danger in being too gentlemanly with these SOBs. They're not going to return the favor."


As one of the "SOB's" you are referring to, I am a regular of the Professor's blog because of his fairness and the lack of party hackery he displays. That attitude on both sides, is why we are in this situation.Conservative leadership was power hungry when they had the reigns and now the roles are reversed.

I am all for returning the favor when it is presented and the Professor has done that time and time again.

Auburn Engineer said...

What I would have wrote four years ago if I was smart:

"This strategy elevates the Republican Party, not conservitive policy. Instead, I believe that following this big spending path empowers Republicans, which will lead to the reelection of Republican politicians, which will allow them to increase their own political and economic power."
I'm a right wingnut, and this has become my favorite blog. More drinking and Star Trek is called for.
I love this site

dualdiagnosis said...

Speaking of education money-

According to the official study of the DC voucher program, the average voucher amount is less than $6,000. That is less than ONE QUARTER what DC is spending per pupil on education. And yet, academic achievement in the voucher program is at least as good as in the District schools, and voucher parents are much happier with the program than are public school parents.

In fact, since the average income of participating voucher families is about $23,000, DC is currently spending about as much per pupil on education as the vouchers plus the family income of the voucher recipients COMBINED.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hey Auburn Engineer. Is that Auburn as in the Tigers? Although I'm a Gator, I love Auburn (and LSU).

It's time we all realized that politicians are typically for themselves first. We can get them to do things for us too - but our interests are not always the same.

Wine and vodka are great. I'm more of a Twilight Zone/X-Files person.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DD- I was going to blog on the voucher situation, but I didn't have time. I recall that Obama said he was open to vouchers. Also, the mayor of DC and the head of the public schools favors them. But they have been silent (at least the mayor) in response to the budget item.

I certainly believe that we need to fix the public school system. Public schools can work. I went to public school, and I did not live in a wealthy district. But I learned that having a lot of resources actually matters -- once I got to college and law school.

The only other problem I have with vouchers is the religious school issue. I think we should be flexible. There's a private program called "A Better Chance," which basically does the same thing. But many people of color really believe in this program -- just as they accept vouchers.

Evan said...

Interesting Addition!
Career Coaching

Real Time Analytics