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.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.
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.