Saturday, January 24, 2009


First of all, while it may not be precisely worded, I think this is just a plain statement of fact:

President Obama warned Republicans on Capitol Hill today that they need to quit listening to radio king Rush Limbaugh if they want to get along with Democrats and the new administration.

"You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," he told top GOP leaders, whom he had invited to the White House to discuss his nearly $1 trillion stimulus package.

One White House official confirmed the comment....

The comment had to be confirmed, which means we don't have a recording of the exact wording and therefore don't know how accurate this version is. But even as recounted, it's not a demand that Republicans "quit listening" to Limbaugh -- it's an assertion that nothing's going to get done in a bipartisan way if Republicans adopt Limbaugh's stand-athwart-history-yelling-stop posture of resistance. And, of course, the other recent Obama statement that has right-wingers' knickers in a twist is also a plain statement of fact: he did win. Democrats won. The public wants the page turned.

On the other hand, I'm uncomfortable with this, for a couple of reasons:

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement in response to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's outrageous remark saying that he 'hopes' President Obama fails.

"Rush Limbaugh's reprehensible remark that he 'hopes' President Obama fails to meet the extraordinary economic challenges Americas face has no place in the public discourse...."

I really, really don't like "has no place in the public discourse" -- it just gives Limbaugh and the Limbaughnistas, who are the biggest grievance junkies on the planet, the opportunity to declare that Barack Obama's Democrat Party believes the talk radio message needs to be censored out of existence. Why hand them this opportunity? Why use the phrase at all? This is America -- the First Amendment says every remark, however stupid or irresponsible, has a place in the public discourse, even if it's a place of shame or irrelevance. Really, please -- don't use this phrase. It's far too close to Ari Fleischer's remark in late September 2001 that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

Beyond that, the back-to-back Limbaugh swipes give Rush a relevance he might otherwise be losing right now. In Nixonland, Rick Perlstein refers to Richard Nixon's ability in his pre-presidential career to use provocative public pronouncements aimed at the White House to make sitting presidents (Truman in the early fifties, LBJ in the mid-sixties) his "debating partners." Limbaugh, of course, wants Obama to be his debating partner -- but the country is moving on, and Limbaugh's message could have been catnip only to a large but increasingly irrelevant cult, but meaningless to the vast majority of Americans. Now, with the one-two punch of Obama and Van Hollen, Limbaugh may have become relevant again. That didn't have to happen.

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