Throwing Rush Under the Bus

Today’s most disheartening news story: RNC Chairman Michael Steele attacks Rush Limbaugh:

On the same night he was offering the keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rush Limbaugh drew criticism from an unlikely source: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

In a little-noticed interview Saturday night, Steele dismissed Limbaugh as an “entertainer” whose show is “incendiary” and “ugly.”

I’d hoped that news reports had distorted Steele’s comments in order to sow division among Republicans, but you can watch the video for yourself; I’m afraid that’s what he said:

The cluelessness revealed by Steele’s comments is so manifold that it’s hard to know where to begin. Apparently, like Rush’s liberal critics, Steele has never actually listened to Rush. Otherwise, it would never occur to him to call Rush’s program “ugly.” What most distinguishes Rush, I think, is the sense of joy you get from him: joy at being an American, at being a free man who was able to succeed, entirely through his own efforts, almost beyond imagining, joy at being able to connect with millions of listeners and play a part in history. Nor is Rush a mere entertainer, although he can be hilariously funny. Mostly, I think, he is a teacher.

These qualities were on display in Rush’s CPAC speech, which reminded us again why he is one of the most respected, and loved, figures on the right. (I say this even though I disagree with some of the views Rush expressed, e.g., that “all we need is to nominate the right candidate.”) One wonders: even if Steele himself doesn’t listen to Rush’s show, he must understand that millions of Republicans do. So how could he have thought that insulting Rush could possibly be a good idea? By demonizing Rush, he insulted the party that he purports to lead.

If Steele suffers from a myopic inability to distinguish his friends from his enemies, the Democrats are under no such disability. Hence their attack against Limbaugh, which continued today in White House press secretary Bob Gibbs’ news briefing:

QUESTION: You say you don’t want to quarrel with Warren Buffett. What about Rush Limbaugh? Over the weekend, he had some interesting comments…

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: I think he probably knows a lot less about the economy than maybe Warren does.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: The president has spoken a lot about bringing the country together. And after the stimulus fight, there was a lot of pandering in both parties about bipartisanship. What’s the White House’s reaction to Rush Limbaugh saying, again, that he wants the president to fail, specifically, on his economic plans?

And how does that bode for bipartisanship in the future working with the Republicans?

GIBBS: Well, I think the question is a good one. I think that — I think maybe the best question, though, is for you to ask individual Republicans whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said they weekend.

Do they want to see the president’s economic agenda fail? You know, I bet there are a number of guests on television throughout the day and maybe into tomorrow who could let America know whether — whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said this weekend.

You know, I mean, I think he — I mean, I think it would be charitable to say he doubled down on what he said in January in wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country. I can only imagine what might have been said a few years ago if somebody might have said that on the other side relating to what was going on in this country or our endeavors overseas.

You know, I’d like to think and I think most people would like to think that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people. We’ll say, in watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh’s speech, his notion of presidential failures seemed to be quite popular in the room in which he spoke.

***

QUESTION: Robert, two things. One, why elevate Limbaugh? Is this a political tactic?

GIBBS: You know, I — I think he elevated himself. He’s got, I understand, a fairly popular radio show.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

GIBBS: No, you — you could, but I think people would ask — you know, look, I don’t think it’s a crazy question to ask about the commenting on whether or not somebody that seems to be maybe, for lack of a better word, a national spokesperson for conservative views and many in the Republican Party, what do I think about or what does this White House think about him on at least two separate occasions in front of large and applauding audiences seeking the failure of the president’s economic agenda?

For whatever tactical reasons, the Obama administration wants to make Rush Limbaugh the face of conservatism and the Republican Party. Maybe we should be grateful: Rush is a more effective spokesman than just about anyone else we’ve got.

The White House’s attack on Rush, on the ground that he “wants President Obama’s economic agenda to fail,” is stupid even by White House Press Secretary standards. What we conservatives want is for America’s economy to succeed. That’s why we oppose President Obama’s economic policies; we think they are poorly conceived and will damage the economy. Thus, for the sake of America’s success, we hope that Obama will fail to implement his misguided policies. How tough was that to follow?

If Michael Steele thinks that the way to respond to the White House’s attack on Rush Limbaugh is to throw Rush under the bus, his understanding of the party’s base and of the current political landscape–not to mention his understanding of Limbaugh–is too weak for him to continue as RNC Chairman.

UPDATE: Rush pushed back, hard, on his show today.

FURTHER UPDATE: Steele has now apologized to Rush, sort of:

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he has reached out to Rush Limbaugh to tell him he meant no offense when he referred to the popular conservative radio host as an “entertainer” whose show can be “incendiary.”

“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” …

“It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people … want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he’s not.”

How about “ugly”? I guess that part came out really, really differently from what Steele was thinking.

ONE LAST THING: It’s not as though defending Rush is hard, or anything–not as though he were a hatemonger like Randi Rhodes or Al Franken. But, hey, the Dems didn’t just defend Franken, who was not only mean-spirited but profoundly boring as a radio host, they nominated him to the United States Senate. So now, we can’t stand up for an obviously good guy like Rush Limbaugh?

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