Sand in the Gears

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Otherwise reasonable people

October 2nd, 2009 Posted in Curmudgeonry

On a long drive through red-state country yesterday I decided to listen to talk radio. I heard Rush Limbaugh mock the First Lady, in his extended rant about her lobbying Olympic officials to place the 2016 games in Chicago, because she said sports can give children a sense of what they can accomplish, that they can be the next David Robinson, Barack Obama, or Oprah. His mockery consisted of indignation that Mrs. Obama could be so stupid to forget that neither her husband nor Oprah are sports stars. Of course her point wasn’t that sports open up only sporting-related careers to children, but that sports can build self-confidence which helps them in all avenues of life. His criticism was mean and petty and helped me understand why people on the left absolutely loathe this man.

Worse, he took a statement she made about trying to open the White House to children who in the past might not have had a chance to visit, and used it to justify his claim that she is seething with anger about perceived racism. There’s no barriers to the White House, he said. Anyone can visit. You just call your congressman.

Right. The twelve year-old in Watts can call her congressman, whip out her platinum American Express card, and book a flight to Reagan Airport. Maybe she can even use her frequent-flyer miles to get a seat in first class, next to Rush. His hopeless ignorance about the constraint on possibilities that is poverty aside, it was shocking to hear his hate-filled voice denounce Michelle Obama for being a hater. No reasonable person could listen to Limbaugh’s evidence and conclude that Mrs. Obama is filled with “seething anger.”

That’s where Rush comes in, I suppose, to help otherwise reasonable people come to unreasonable conclusions.

From there he cleverly, maliciously suggested that the Obamas are lobbying Olympic officials to place the 2016 games in Chicago because their friends who own property in Chicago will benefit. “It’s just how I think,” he said, as if that were a disavowal. By the end of his show, people were calling in to express their outrage at this Obama plot to enrich their cronies. Because when you’re President of the United States, the best way you know to sling pork to your friends is fly to Copenhagen in hopes that you can increase parking lot values in your hometown. Sounds far-fetched, I know, but Rush said it, so it must be true.

To be clear, I can’t think of a single policy position on which I agree with Barack Obama. His health-care machinations — insofar as he has the inclination to actually back a literal proposal — are disastrously shortsighted, he has no economic understanding, and he seems to think that chatting with tyrants and thugs will make them reasonable. But he’s not the devil. It’s not that everything he says or does is evil or stupid. I suppose that’s what you have to stoop to when you have three hours a day, as does Limbaugh, to fill with vituperation. But to go after the man’s wife the way he did, twisting her words to make her look ignorant and hate-filled, is stomach-turning.

And please, please, spare me the comments about how the Left is no better. I know. It’s what we’ve sunk to, and I don’t see any changing it. I find Rod Dreher dead on about this sort of thing, as he is about most things:

“Here we have the economy teetering on the brink of disaster, we have a losing war in Afghanistan, we have Iran doing its best to get nuclear weapons, but that jackass [Glenn Beck] wants people to think the greatest threat to the Republic comes from minor officials in the Obama administration. And conservatives who ought to know better than to fall for this penny-ante crap go along with it because it works to make life difficult for the president, because they can. I was pleased to see Van Jones be sent down, but watching the Kevin Jennings thing, and watching Beck go after Valerie Jarrett, I wonder if that’s the new conservative m.o.: to find whatever they can on Obama appointees, and hammer away until they ruin these people’s lives. Do they not understand what they’re doing here, what they’re legitimating? Do they really think that the next Republican president is only going to be able to find saints to staff his administration? Do they really believe that the left is going to be discerning about its targets? What they’re doing is making it impossible for normal people to serve in public office, or in a public appointment.”

One of Limbaugh’s great shticks is to take a statement by a leftist and turn it into a thought experiment — what if someone on the right had said this? It’s powerful. I wish he would do that with his own voice. What if someone on the left hyper-analyzed those same statements by Laura Bush, and spoke about her in the same tone of voice, and drew the same conclusions? Would we call it fair-minded, or would we conclude that the person doing it is a spiteful little troll?