A few years ago, his stint as secretary of state in the Bush administration behind him, Colin Powell’s status in the Republican Party was given a no-holds-barred review by the unfailingly detestable Dick Cheney, after Powell had the chutzpah to criticize one of the zillion trashy and/or repugnant bits of commentary out of the mouth of Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh’s place as a leader of the GOP, Cheney said, was well beyond wherever Powell stood in that regard. So there!
We’ve always found curious Powell’s devotion to a party from which he received such shabby treatment after he exited his military career and poked his head into politics. Being told that he couldn’t hold a candle to a Rush Limbaugh ought to have been the last straw. Limbaugh’s on-air content is predictably the kind of sick stuff that, for most of us outside of that nether universe over which he exercises dominion, any episode would presumably elicit a “What else is new?” reaction. Like clockwork, though, we get, every so often, this outsize creep outdoing himself, as happened when he chose to call that Georgetown University law student “a slut” because of her support for insurance-covered contraceptives. All of the hullabaloo in the aftermath of that nugget – sponsors bailing out on the show, a phony “apology” from Limbaugh, etc – will pass into oblivion in short order, clearing the way for the ongoing diet of crud to be ladled out to the loonies salivating for it.
No matter the extent of mainstream outrage when Limbaugh comes up with one of these hoof-deep-in-mouth performances, you get a sense of Limbaugh’s influence among the yahoos. Worse, some politicians whose calculations cater heavily for support from that element, do all sorts of balancing acts for Limbaugh and his flock to avoid the doghouse. As if Mitt Romney didn’t already look pathetic enough in his full-court press to suddenly be Mr. Ultra Conservative, there was the pasty declaration from him that Limbaugh’s ignoramus rant was “not the language I would have used.” Behavior so obviously demanding strong condemnation but which gets instead this pussyfooting nonsense is indicative of the stranglehold Limbaugh types have on poor saps like Romney.
As is so frequently the case, the real reaction was to be found well beyond the arena where political mind games are the offered fare. David Letterman called applause received from his studio audience, “as sincere as a Rush Limbaugh apology.” Following which he quipped that Limbaugh was opposed to contraceptives, “but Vicodin is okay?”
Which only further dramatizes how secure these far-right screamers are in the feeling that they have a whole mess of actual and would-be political heavy hitters over a barrel. Given his well documented past on the drug abuse front, you would think abuse of any drug — of which he was suggesting the victim, Sandra Fluke, was guilty – was a designated “off limits” area for Limbaugh. Not a chance. Kowtowing politicians make that kind of brazenness possible.
President Obama, meanwhile, displayed admirable statesmanship in reaching out to the young woman whose concept of freedom of expression, one imagines, had suddenly been so crudely attacked, the source notwithstanding. There can be little doubt about this having been a moment to take a stand for decency.
What we cannot allow to become too deflating about these poison darts hurled by Limbaugh and kindred spirits is that instances, such as this latest, of pushing the envelope well past the outer limits of taste and class aren’t about to change the order of things. Provocateurs they are, after a fashion, and the mission guidelines evidently don’t include any hint of hewing, for instance, to a model akin to the PBS commentary of Mark Shields and David Brooks. Shields is supposedly the more progressive of the pair, Brooks the conservative. Yet these guys manage to uniformly have a discourse on matters mainly political, that is marked by a striking civility. So, okay, replication of the Shields and Brooks formula is too pie-in-the-sky. But does the alternative have to be the Limbaugh type screamer?
And what of the Republican Party establishment? Does that assessment of Limbaugh’s strength in GOP circles that Cheney made still hold? In wake of the latest Limbaugh crash-and-burn imitation, David Brooks was suggesting that Limbaugh’s juice isn’t what it used to be. The tepid response to Limbaugh’s crock this time around hardly would suggest influence on the wane…unless Romney perhaps just can’t avoid walking that particular road these days.
Too much of a focus on what kind of influence Limbaugh still has within the corridors of GOP power probably shouldn’t be option one for those of us concerned that these periodic meltdowns of his are apparently destined to be part of the business-as-usual package. Limbaugh is paid oodles of cash to do these performances of his that obviously resonate with a hard core of benighted souls. Attempting to process what renders a Rush Limbaugh appealing to anyone might well be the ultimate brain teaser for many on this side of the sanity line. Better to just thank our lucky stars that Limbaugh (and others like him) junkies aren’t representative of the American whole. And do our utmost to keep the equation from any further tilt in the direction of wacky.