Part 3—At long last, we take our stand: In our view, the liberal world has given Rush Limbaugh a pass for decades now.
Limbaugh has always had a pernicious effect on the public discourse. He and his ilk have always coarsened that discourse—although major liberals have sometimes behaved in the same way, with few complaints from our side.
Beyond that, perhaps more significantly, he and his ilk have relentlessly disinformed the public about every major policy issue. Voters have heard a steady stream of bogus claims about the most significant matters in American life.
Absent serious attempts at pushback, voters have come to believe these claims, in extremely large numbers. This has terrible consequences. Here are a few examples:
Three of El Rushbo’s greatest hits:Rush and Sean keep saying these things; the liberal world peacefully sleeps in the woods. People come to believe these claims, with disastrous effects.
If we lower the tax rate, we get higher revenues!
The Social Security trust fund is just a bunch of worthless IOUs!
European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s been tried!
Then too, there are the endless bogus claims about major Democratic figures. Here too, voters have been disinformed over the course of the past twenty years. We will cite just one example, an example we have working on each afternoon in recent weeks. Here was El Rushbo with Wolf Blitzer in March 1999—thirteen long bad years ago:
BLITZER (3/16/99): How much of an effective campaigner do you think Al Gore will be if he faces any Republican?In fact, Candidate Gore did not “bring us Willie Horton” during the 1988 campaign. For better or worse, he didn’t prove that he would “go dirty is he has to, will go low.” But so what? In this exchange, Blitzer blandly enabled Limbaugh’s characterization. And by the fall of 1999, the discourse was crawling with major pundits repeating this RNC line.
LIMBAUGH: Look, I don't know, I could only guess. We have some experience, though. We have the 1988 presidential campaign where he sought the nomination, and let's not forget, Wolf, it was that man who we just saw on videotape—"Vice Perpetrator" Al Gore—who brought us Willie Horton. It was he and Mario Cuomo who produced Willie Horton, and it was Al Gore who used Willie Horton in a Democratic primary. So we know that he'll go low. We'll know that he, we know that he'll do what it takes. He'll go dirty if he has to.
BLITZER: Didn't help him much in '88, though.
The liberal world just sat there and took it. With respect to this loathsome figure, that’s the way the “liberal” world has behaved for the past twenty years. The liberal world—and the mainstream press corps—have endlessly given El Rushbo a pass for his repellent behavior.
Here at THE HOWLER, we have persistently said that major news orgs should address Limbaugh’s deceptions. But asking liberals to push for such action is like asking the chimp to jump over the moon. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board is still afraid to challenge El Rushbo, as became clear in yesterday’s paper. And let’s be frank:
We liberals have been too lazy, too feckless, too ditto-headed to insist that big news orgs challenge Limbaugh. As it gazes away from Limbaugh, the New York Times drops B- and R-bombs on minor figures’ heads. We liberals seem more than happy to take our pleasure that way.
For the past twenty years, we have been an inept and feckless non-movement, permitting El Rushbo prosper. Suddenly, though, the outrage is general, in response to Limbaugh’s ridiculous comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Question: Why is this the place where we’ve taken our stand? Why all the outrage now?
Those strike us as very good questions. Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke were inane and coarse—although they certainly weren’t any more coarse than the repulsive conduct of Keith Olbermann which our deeply unprincipled tribe embraced for a good many years. In the present instance, Fox viewers are being told about the giant hypocrisy involved in our current outrage—and Fox still has twice as many viewers as MSNBC, although the gap seems to be narrowing.
Many voters are being told about our gigantic hypocrisy. (Here’s the good news—you'll never have to hear such things as long as you keep watching Rachel and Chris!) Beyond that, Fox viewers are hearing things about the larger issue surrounding Fluke which also seem to make sense.
In the past decade, it has been the rare occasion when Fox News viewers heard commentary which may have been more sensible than the commentary offered elsewhere. As MSNBC learns to ape Fox, we may have reached the point, in this particular case, where the accuracy of their tribe’s presentations has eclipsed our own.
This isn’t a criticism of Fluke, although there are several things about her general position we simply don’t understand. This doesn’t mean that she is “wrong” in her desire to see Georgetown students receiving contraception as part of their health insurance.
As a general matter, that seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.
But Limbaugh has been a scourge for decades. Why are we so outraged now—and was this the place to take our stand?
We will return to the liberal world’s grotesque hypocrisy in Friday’s post. A few weeks ago, it was congressional Democrats who thrust Fluke into the spotlight. For decades, these Democrats have failed to mount an effective response to Limbaugh’s endless depredations.
Tomorrow, let’s review the Democratic thinking which cast Fluke into the spotlight. On Friday, let’s return to MSNBC, letting columnist Connie Schultz explain why she’s outraged about Limbaugh’s conduct—why this upper-class player is finally outraged, outraged after all these years.
“Looks like we’ve made it,” Barry Manilow sang. It has always been hard to make less sense than Fox.
After all these feckless years, have we liberals finally made it?
Tomorrow: Welcome to the Balkans! (Things folk are hearing on Fox.)
Mouthing the wisdom of Rush: Actually, no. Candidate Gore didn’t “bring us Willie Horton.” He didn't prove that “he'll do what it takes, he'll go dirty if he has to.”
1988, Gore never mentioned Horton, and he never referred to his crimes. He mentioned the Massachusetts furlough program in one lonely question at one sole debate, a question he posed to Candidate Dukakis.
Gore's question took about thirty seconds. This represented Gore's complete discussion of the furlough issue. There was nothing “dirty” or “low” about it—and Horton wasn’t mentioned. In reality, the Democratic Party would have been much better served if Gore, or one of the other candidates, had challenged Dukakis about this program at more length during the primaries. (For the record, we’re big fans of Dukakis.)
There was nothing “dirty” or “low” about it—and Horton wasn’t mentioned. But so what? As early as 1991, the Republican Party was working hard to create the talking-point Limbaugh voiced to Blitzer eight years later. Initially, this effort was designed to help President Bush in his re-election campaign. It was designed to absolve him from blame for the use of Willie Horton in 1988.
By 1999, this talking-point had been repurposed; it was now being used as a direct attack against Candidate Gore. In March, Limbaugh mouthed it to the compliant Blitzer. By the fall of that year, it had gone viral within the mainstream “press corps.” Here were two of the high-ranking chimps, mouthing the wisdom of El Rushbo on ABC’s This Week:
DONALDSON (11/28/99): Al Gore does use fear. Remember 1988, it was Al Gore when he was running in the primaries for president who found Willie Horton, and he used Willie Horton against Dukakis.By this time, the RNC was working hard to create a theme which would prove very useful: Al Gore is a brutal and ruthless campaigner! Sam and George helped out this day—just as another panelist had done on this same program five weeks before:
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right.
KRISTOL (10/24/99): Gore's a mean, tough political fighter. Gore is the one who introduced Willie Horton to American politics in the 1988 primary against Mike Dukakis.Actually, no—that wasn’t true. But in the fall of 1999, a wide range of pundits recited this point. Voters heard it again and again—and they heard it linked to other claims about Gore’s ruthless conduct. (It showed that Gore was like Bill Clinton, “Kit” Seelye scriptedly wrote.) Seamlessly, this talking-point passed from El Rushbo’s lips to those of the mainstream press. When Bill Bradley baldly lied about this in January 2000, the “press corps” agreed not to tattle.
The Democratic Party said squat. Dittos for our fiery “career liberals,” the ones who are outraged this week.
E. J. Dionne is currently outraged. On Monday night, he explained his vast anger. Back then, he kept his trap tightly shut.
This is the way the press corps' frauds earn their standing and their incomes. Your lizard brain will now seek ways to convince you that this can’t be right.
(If we might quote your lizard brain: “But E.J. Dionne is on my side! He cares about the same things I do!”)