THE PHONY "ENTERTAINER" ARGUMENT
Time blogger Michael Scherer is accusing Barack Obama of hypocrisy because Democratic figures are trying to keep attention focused on Rush Limbaugh. Scherer cites a remark by Obama from the campaign trail, in September:
The McCain campaign would much rather have the story about phony and foolish diversions than about the future.... We have real problems in this country right now and the American people are looking to us for answers, not distractions, not diversions, not manipulations.
Here's the difference: that remark was in response to an utterly phony piece of outrage: the McCain campaign's claim that an Obama reference to "lipstick on a pig" was a slur on Sarah Palin. It wasn't, and the McCain team knew it wasn't. This had nothing whatsoever to do with issues.
The Obama team, by contrast, is drumming up opposition to a political figure engaging in widely disseminated political speech, some of it addressed in highly influential political gatherings. There's a hell of a difference between that and drumming up opposition to a slang expression deliberately misinterpreted.
Ah, but Limbaugh isn't a political figure, Scherer tells us -- he's an "entertainer"!
Rush Limbaugh, a self described "entertainer," is probably the most famous and popular spokesman for the conservative cause that has long undergirded the GOP. But he no more runs the Republican Party than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie run Hollywood. To put it another way, he is a talented pitchman, a powerful communicator, the Clark Gable of his day. But the producers and directors of the Republican cause still reside in Congress, in fundraising networks and in state executive mansions. And while all of these people are terrified of crossing Rush, their biggest brand name, and will apologize profusely to any perceived slight, they are about as beholden to Limbaugh as MGM's Louis Mayer was beholden to Gable.
So why are we talking about Rush?
Well, Clark Gable was only the #1 box office star of the 1930s. Imagine if that had been true and Gable was a free agent. That's Limbaugh now. You'd better believe Louis B. Mayer would have been nice to him.
But just comparing Limbaugh to Gable is a distraction, because -- no matter what word he uses to describe himself -- Limbaugh is not just an "entertainer." He never has been. Says who? Well, Republicans -- and for a long time.
I take you back to December 1994 (emphasis mine):
To all the advice for the new Republicans coming to Congress, add this from Rush Limbaugh: A hostile press corps lurks inside the Beltway.
"You will never ever be their friends," the talk-show host warned most of the 73 Republican freshmen at a dinner here tonight....
The freshman class, which included not a single "femi-Nazi," one of Mr. Limbaugh's favorite epithets for supporters of women's rights, whooped and applauded, proving itself one big fan club of the man it believes was primarily responsible for the Republican avalanche in November.
Mr. Limbaugh was made an honorary member of the class as its members tonight finished a three-day orientation here sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and Empower America, two conservative Washington research organizations.
Barbara Cubin, an incoming freshman from Wyoming, told Mr. Limbaugh that because 74 percent of the nation's newspapers had endorsed Democrats, "talk radio, with you in the lead, is what turned the tide." On behalf of the women in the class, she gave him a plaque that said, "Rush Was Right." He also received a pin like the ones the freshmen wore, saying, "Majority Maker."
"Rush is as responsible for what happened here as much as anyone," said Vin Weber, a former Representative from Minnesota, now of Empower America. Citing a poll taken after the election by Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, Mr. Weber said that people who listened to 10 hours or more a week of talk radio voted Republican by a 3-to-1 margin. "Those are the people who elected the new Congress," he said....
Even then, Limbaugh had his aw-shucks-I'm-just-an-entertainer act down ("I'm just a media guy.") But his admirers knew it was just an act -- and so, surely, did Limbaugh.
Entertainer? How many entertainers got to interview Dick Cheney seven times while he was vice president? (Links: 3/22/04, 2/1/06, 5/16/06, 10/17/06, 4/5/07, 1/30/08, 12/15/08.) How many have been defended in a presidential speech?
...there's an effort afoot that would jeopardize your right to express your views on public airways. Some members of Congress want to reinstate a regulation that was repealed 20 years ago. It has the Orwellian name called the Fairness Doctrine. Supporters of this regulation say we need to mandate that any discussion of so-called controversial issues on the public airwaves includes equal time for all sides. This means that many programs wanting to stay on the air would have to meet Washington's definition of balance. Of course, for some in Washington, the only opinions that require balancing are the ones they don't like. (Laughter and applause.)
We know who these advocates of so-called balance really have in their sights: shows hosted by people like Rush Limbaugh or James Dobson, or many of you here today....
The gathering where Limbaugh spoke a few days ago wasn't the Entertainers' Action Committee -- it was the Conservative Political Action Committee. Why is it a distraction to make a political enemy of a political figure?