By Karl Frisch
This column also appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.
In 1994 when Republicans regained power in the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control, the freshly minted majority knew just who to thank: radio host Rush Limbaugh. With great fanfare they bestowed upon their spokesman the unique title of honorary member of Congress.
Fifteen years later, with Republicans on the ropes following major losses in back-to-back elections, Congressman Limbaugh remains the conservative movement’s de facto leader, and he’s wasted little time embarking on a mission to take President Obama down and bring the right back to life.
The day before closing the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend in Washington, D.C., with a barn-burning call for obstinance and obstruction, Limbaugh told his radio audience — “ditto heads” as they refer to themselves — “the dirty little secret … is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail, but none of them have the guts to say so; I am willing to say it.”
It wasn’t the first time Limbaugh had declared his hope that the president would fail. Just days before Obama’s inauguration, the conservative talker ignited controversy when he matter-of-factly said of the soon-to-be-president, “I hope he fails.”
The “ditto heads” in Congress were listening.
Marching in lockstep with Limbaugh, not a single House Republican voted in favor of the president’s economic recovery and reinvestment plan despite numerous overtures from a White House avowedly committed to the search for common ground. Congressional Republicans went all in, betting on Obama’s failure.
To be fair, not all conservatives have been happy with Limbaugh’s line of attack. Some have even spoken out noting their displeasure. Congressman Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican, reportedly said, “I mean, it’s easy if you’re … Rush Limbaugh … to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party.”
Hold your applause. It took less than one day for Gingrey to reverse course.
Appearing the next day with his tail between his legs on Limbaugh’s radio program, Gingrey apologized, saying, “I want to express to you and all your listeners my very sincere regret for those comments I made yesterday. … I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments.”
Not to be outdone, the other night on CNN’s D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, Michael Steele, the new Republican National Committee chairman, offered his own unpleasant assessment of Limbaugh, telling Hughley, “Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly.”
Perhaps the ugliness to which Steele referred was Limbaugh saying of Obama, “We are being told … that we have to bend over, grab the ankles … because his father was black.” Or maybe it was after Obama’s historic Democratic Party presidential nomination when Limbaugh said it “goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy.” It could have been back in the 1990s, when Limbaugh reportedly played “Movin’ On Up” — the theme song from TV’s The Jeffersons — while discussing Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the only African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
It shouldn’t have been surprising that Steele, the first African-American chairman of the Republican Party, would seemingly harbor such ill will toward Limbaugh.
True to form, however, the very next day Steele appeared on bended knee ready to kiss Limbaugh’s ring, telling Politico, “I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. … I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
Several recent polls have showed Obama substantially more popular than congressional Republicans. Who on Earth would want to “diminish” Limbaugh’s influence when it’s paying such tremendous dividends for the right?
I kid, but seriously, it’s beginning to look like conservatives are hopelessly addicted to Limbaugh.
At a briefing this week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs advised those in attendance to “ask individual Republicans whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said. Do they want the president’s economic agenda to fail?”
Should the press choose to take Gibbs’ advice, it would behoove them to take note not only of what conservatives say, but what they do as well. After all, if they stand up against Limbaugh it will only be a matter of time before they end up groveling for forgiveness.
Limbaugh often proclaims that he’s broadcasting “with talent on loan from God.” It seems more and more that conservatives are attempting to find their way out of the political wilderness with talent on loan from Rush.
Karl Frisch is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, research, and information center in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign-up to receive his columns by email.