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Sunday, November 7, 2010

This Week in Limbaugh Idiocy

It was a busy week for Rush Limbaugh to display just how stupid he is.

But it was more than just idiocy involved in comments like, "Barack Obama does not like the way this country was founded, he does not like the way it is, he does not like the fact that there is prosperity here, he does not like the fact this country exists."

To say that Barack Obama opposes the existence of the United States of America is both psychotic and vile, but it's typical of how Limbaugh thinks about his enemies.

This week, Limbaugh's idiocy centered on the election.

On Wednesday, Limbaugh denounced the fact that Republican female candidates were being called "the B-word, the W-word, the slur" just a few minutes after saying about Nancy Pelosi, "Ding, dong, the witch is dead." Not satisfied with his hypocrisy, he returned to the subject on Friday: "now the feminazis are clearly supporting witches, as in the case of Pelosi."

Noting several pundits who failed to predict two years ago that Republicans would take the House, Limbaugh proclaimed: "These are perfect examples of how noted elite political pundits put their ideology into their reasoning and therefore become unable to see reality."

According to Limbaugh, "They rely on the fact that nobody's gonna go back and recall what they said. They rely on the fact that nobody's gonna go back and look at what they said and remind anybody of just how off-base they were. And it all is rooted in the bias and arrogance, conceit of liberalism." While Limbaugh denounced liberals for "bias" and "arrogance" because their predictions more than a year ago were wrong, Limbaugh somehow overlooks his own off-base predictions made on election day itself, when he claimed that "Delaware is a close race, Delaware is a race in play, the Senate race, how can that be? How can Delaware be in play? I have been saying from the get-go that that race was competitive, that it never has been a 15-point race. We'll see tonight if I'm right."

Of course, Limbaugh was wrong: O'Donnell lost by 16.6 points, not the 15 points that Limbaugh considered impossible to believe. Limbaugh concluded about these bad predictions by liberals, "The point is they're wrong. Liberalism is a lie." By his logic, this proves that all of conservatism is a lie.

But the election provided an opportunity for Limbaugh to dip into his deep reservoir of conspiracy theories, as when he claimed that "Any Democrat win last night was either the result of fraud or deceit." He blamed "fraud" in Nevada and called it "suspicious" that Harry Reid won.

Everything Limbaugh looked at was part of Democratic conspiracy: "the Democrats have a slush fund of over half a billion dollars. What do you think the stimulus bill really was? Didn't create jobs, did it? It was out there to fund Democrat campaigns."

Limbaugh, of course, had no evidence for his bizarre claim that stimulus money was funnelled into Democratic campaign coffers. Considering that all of the money spent on the stimulus is publicly revealed, as is the source of all the funding for Democratic campaigns, Limbaugh's assertion cannot possibly be true. Only a lunatic would believe it.

Of course, Limbaugh has proven himself to be a lunatic over and over again. On Monday, he declared: "The people who are now in power are willing to destroy the economy, your savings, just to win their elections in 2006 and 2008."

Yes, Rush Limbaugh actually believes that Democrats conspired to destroy the US economy in order to win the elections in 2006 and 2008. He doesn't have any evidence for it. And it makes no sense since the housing and stock market bubbles didn't burst before the 2006 election.

Another conspiracy theory touted by Limbaugh was his belief in a Democratic plot that "would take your 401(k) away from you." Limbaugh claimed, "The unions and their Democrat friends in Congress are still pushing to do away with your 401(k)s. They essentially are doing for a bailout of their pension plans with your money." He cited the idea of guaranteed retirement accounts: "this Ghilarducci babe is a professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research. She's the one that went bat nuts. She's the one when they asked her about this said, 'Oh, Limbaugh, he's nuts! He doesn't understand what I'm talking about. He doesn't have brain power to understand what I'm talk about,' and yet here today, earlier this month, it has now become official with a proposal by Tom Harkin (Democrat-Iowa) and Bernie Sanders ("Democrat"-Vermont) to create the GRA to take your 401(k), take it away from you, replace it with 600 bucks a year at 3%, and give the money to the unions to make their pensions whole. That's what they're proposing."

I emailed Ghilarducci about Limbaugh's comments, and she responded, "Everything about what he said about me is a lie; except the 'babe' part. I am a babe, that's true."

As Media Matters for America noted, Harkins and Sanders didn't propose or mention GRAs. As for Limbaugh's claim that "They want to take the money away from you," the website Factcheck in 2008 examined this claim from the fringe of right-wing nuts like Limbaugh and found that it was completely false.

Basic factual errors are the hallmark of Limbaugh's show. Some, like his claim on Wednesday that Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) lost his re-election, are occasionally corrected because they are so obvious (Limbaugh always blames someone else for his mistakes). But many of Limbaugh's misstatements are never scrutinzed.

On Friday, Limbaugh proclaimed: "When Ronaldus Magnus came into office, the American economic growth rate was 1.7%. That was the GDP: 1.7%. Two years later, by 1983 -- and, remember, we had a very bad, steep recession in 1982. Listen to these numbers. Gross domestic product when Ronaldus Magnus came into office was 1.7%. By 1983 it was 10.9%. That is real economic growth."

That would be real economic growth, except that everything Limbaugh says was a fabrication. When Ronald Reagan came into office, the GDP growth rate wasn't 1.7%. Real annualized GDP growth was 7.6% in the fourth quarter of 1980 and 8.6% in the first quarter of 1981, when Reagan's policies couldn't have had any impact yet. In 1983, the highest GDP growth rate was 9.3% (not 10.9%) in the 2nd quarter. Except for that one quarter, the GDP growth rate during the entire Reagan Administration never reached the growth rate of 8.6% that Reagan inherited.

It's unclear exactly where Limbaugh got his invented numbers. It appears that Limbaugh simply made up the numbers without caring at all what the truth was.

Limbaugh said about the media on Thursday, "They simply lie. And they lie without fear because no one has ever called them on it and if anybody ever does call 'em on it they don't care, 'cause that was yesterday, and they accomplished what they wanted with the lie as far as they're concerned, and they move on."

That summarizes the Rush Limbaugh show very well. He lies without fear, even declaring, "So once again, documented to be almost always right 99.6% of the time."

But my favorite Limbaugh idiocy of the week was his column in the November 2010 issue of the Limbaugh Letter, where he wrote: "Any Republican who puts working with Democrats ahead of working for the American people will suffer the same fate as the Blue Dog Democrats: become an instinct species."(page 3)

Rush is man who doesn't think—he just uses his instincts. Perhaps we could even call him an "instinct species," but not one going extinct anytime soon so long as millions of conservatives delight in being instructed in Limbaugh's peculiar mix of juvenile insult humor, insane conspiracy theories, and a delight in ignoring reality.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Compromise: It's the Economy, Stupid

Compromise is not a terrible political strategy under most circumstances. But the current situation in the American economy and American politics makes compromise the worst possible alternative for Obama and the Democrats. The Republican Party has been taken over by the Rush Limbaugh wing, and none of its policies are good for America. And the economy is about to get substantially better, which would give Obama credit for economic success if he doesn't compromise.

The explanation for why the Democrats suffered severe losses in the 2010 midterm election can be summarized in four words: It's the economy, stupid.

Of course, other reasons will be offered in the battleground of punditry seeking to analyze the voting. Left-wingers will argue that Obama refused to pursue sufficiently progressive policies and therefore his centrist approach failed to activate his base of voters. Right-wingers will argue that Obama pushed far left-wing policies and therefore alienated independents while motivating conservative voters. Political experts will point out that the incumbent president often suffers heavy losses in the off-year election, especially when defending a large number of districts in hostile territory where Democratic numbers were inflated from 2006 and 2008. There's a small amount of truth in all of these statements.

But it was fundamentally the lousy economy that proved to be the downfall of Democrats in 2010, just as it was for Republicans in 2008. When the economy is in terrible shape and lots of people are unemployed, the public tends to blame the party in power. Of course, this is unfair. Obama and the Democrats didn't cause the Bush recession, and they accomplished much to offset its terrible impact. The much-maligned Obama stimulus plan was a tremendous boost to the economy, albeit too small to fix the badly weakened economy from the Bush recession. Fairness has nothing to do with politics, however.

Even a popular president can suffer badly when the economy sours. George Herbert Walker Bush had approval ratings near 90% at the start of 1991 after war with Iraq, but by 1992 when the unemployment rate hit 7.8%, his approval plummeted down below 40% and he lost re-election. And an unpopular president can see his fortunes turn thanks to the economy. Ronald Reagan's party suffered a thrashing in the 1982 mid-terms elections, and his approval rating dropped steadily below 40% in 1983 thanks to the recession his policies brought on. But the economy recovered, and so did Reagan's approval ratings, which jumped substantially and allowed him to win re-election in a landslide.

Obama has several advantages going into 2012. His approval ratings have never sunk to Reagan's lows, and unlike with Reagan, it is irrational for voters to blame Obama for a recession that began more than a year before he took office as president. Most polls indicate that Americans tend to blame Bush more than Obama for the recession, although Wall Street and Congress also take the blame.

Much like Reagan, Obama remains personally popular despite the economic mess he inherited. And even the high unemployment rate under Obama never reached the levels it did under Reagan, although the Bush recession was much more severe and long-lasting than Reagan's recession.

It is almost certain that the economy will improve by 2012, and it probably will improve a lot. Although some economists fear that we are in a period of long-term stagnation, the reality is that unemployment has already peaked, the GNP has been growing, albeit too slowly, for a year, and the economy is almost certain to get better. This is a natural consequence of what happens after a recession, but someone will get the credit for it. A compromise with the Republicans will mean that Republicans will be able to claim credit for economic growth. Keeping the course will mean Obama and the Democrats get the credit.

In 1996, Bill Clinton followed the guidance of his Machiavellian advisor Dick Morris and used a strategy of triangulation, shifting hard to the right on many policies and effectively abandoning many Democrats in Congress. But what ultimately succeeded for Clinton was not triangulation, but hardball politics. When Newt Gingrich and the Republicans sought to shut down the federal government, Clinton stood up against them rather than compromising. And what proved to be the most successful thing for Clinton (and is the main reason for Clinton's enduring popularity today despite various scandals) was the incredible growth of the economy in the 1990s.

The 2010 elections were far worse than I had expected a year ago, but that's solely because the Bush recession was worse than almost anyone had imagined. It's all about the economy.

Refusing to compromise on policy doesn't mean Obama should speak out publicly against the concept. Getting rid of earmarks, as Obama suggested in his press conference, is a great example of where Obama can push for progressive reform while appearing to compromise with the Republicans who pretend to oppose earmarks.

The reality is that nothing important will get done in the next two years under a Republican House and a Democratic Senate. Obama needs to get whatever important legislation he wants passed in December, including an extension of the tax cuts for the middle class. And then he needs to focus the next two years on using the power of the executive branch to get progressive reform put in place.

The big winner in the 2010 election was populism, and Obama's greatest failure as president has been his inability to adopt populist rhetoric against the faux-populism of the Tea Party movement. If Republicans want to run in 2012 on expanding the deficit with tax cuts for the very rich, Obama should welcome that as a huge winning issue. Policies like this will enable Obama to take a populist stand on an issue that polls well, establishing the fact that he's the champion of the middle class. Combined with an improving economy, a new populism and a refusal to compromise with the terrible policies of the Republican Party will enable Obama to win a Reagan-style landslide re-election and take back the House in 2012.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Limbaugh supports "boot on the neck" of liberal women

Rush Limbaugh is a misogynist. His hatred of women should surprise no one who regularly listens to his show, and I devote a chapter in my forthcoming book, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason" (Thomas Dunne Books, March 2011) to Limbaugh's sexism. Yet even I was a little shocked today when Rush, facing criticism for his defense of the Rand Paul head-stomper, actually had the audacity to celebrate violence against a female protester.

In response to the physical assault of Lauren Valle by a Rand Paul supporter, Limbaugh immediate rose up to denounce the victim yesterday:

the man put his foot down on her shoulders in what looked to me like an effort to help restrain her, and then the guy was immediately shooed away. Now, nobody's condoning the manhandling of even a radical liberal woman or the rough handling or whatever. But why exaggerate what happened unless you're trying to score a propaganda point?

Limbaugh even repeated his bizarre claim:

Her head was not stepped on, her shoulders were. What would you do? What would you do if a person in disguise carrying a sign for a radical organization tries to push through the crowd to hand a political opponent an unknown object?

Only in the delusional universe of Rush Limbaugh can someone watch a video where a woman's head is stomped on (not stepped on, but stomped on twice) and claim that her head was not stepped on. To make matters worse, Limbaugh tries to attack the character of the victim, falsely claiming that her attackers somehow imagined that she was a threat while lying on the ground.

As Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC last night noted, "Rush inserts the mandatory phrase in there, 'no one is condoning the manhandling,' then every other word he says condones the manhandling, doesn't it?" Yes it does.

Limbaugh played O'Donnell's comment on his show today, but interestingly, Limbaugh never repudiated O'Donnell's critique. Instead, Limbaugh embraced the violence:

I thought it was good to put your "boot on the neck" of your opponent. We had our "boot" on BP's neck, said Obama, and many minions in his administration. But, you see be with there's outrage over the fact that I support this woman being stopped. There's total outrage, and yet when Maude Behar calls Angle a b-i-itch and tells her to go to hell, the media analyzes it and asks, "Will it help Harry Reid?"

Obama never said that. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did use this metaphor about keeping the pressure on a corporation, but obviously he never suggested physical violence against anyone. But Limbaugh did. He advocated violence against a woman even after being called out on the carpet for failing to criticize the violence.

And then he did it again, promising that the Tea Party would bring more violence:

the Tea Party people are just not going to play ball as always. They're not gonna sit around and try, "Hey, we're nice guys. Go ahead. We won't hurt you."

And then Limbaugh had the audacity to compare physical violence, which he supports, to a comment by Joy Behar about Sharron Angle: "I'd like to see her do this ad in the South Bronx. Come here, bitch! Come to New York and do it." I'm not a fan at all of the B-word, but it takes a lot of chutzpah for a man who himself uses the word to attack Behar for using it in a joke.

Limbaugh's opposition to the use of the term "bitch," equating it with a physical attack on a woman, may seem strange considering Limbaugh's public fondness for the word. In 2008 when a caller said about Nancy Pelosi, "she's a bitch!" Rush's response was, "All right." Not one word of criticism from Limbaugh. He concluded by praising the man and saying, "Bob, I appreciate the call."

Perhaps that's because Limbaugh himself likes to use the word. Limbaugh has referred to Hillary Clinton as "the B-i-itch."(March 31, 2008) When National Action Against Obesity president MeMe Roth said on CNN, "you're supposed to be working out every day," Limbaugh called her a bitch specifically for urging exercise: "Did you catch what this Roth b-i-itch said." And no, Rush, adding an extra "i" to the word "bitch" does not make you less of a sexist.

But Limbaugh's hypocritical attack on the B-word pales in comparison to his hypocritical defense of violence in Kentucky. Limbaugh hyped the hysteria about a few scuffles involving conservative activists, bizarrely claiming that "Obama is dispatching his own community organizer thugs -- AFL-CIO, SEIU people -- to intimidate citizens at these town hall meetings."

But when a left-wing activist was brutally attacked, Limbaugh cheered the violence as an example of how the Tea Party folks won't back down. It's a sickening reminder of what the conservative movement today stands for—and stomps on.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soros and Limbaugh, the “Foreign” Puppetmaster and the Conspiracy Nut

On his show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh denounced one of his favorite punching bags, financier George Soros: "So you want to talk a little foreign money in American politics? George Soros has admitted to donating $1 million to Media Matters for America, which is -- they call it a left-wing media watchdog. It's not that. It's just a bunch of propagandists, and Soros, a foreigner, has admitted he donated a million dollars to Media Matters."

Of course, since Media Matters for America regularly exposes Limbaugh's mistakes and bizarre comments, it's no wonder that he hates Soros for funding them and other liberal causes. But why would Limbaugh talk so much about "foreign money" when Soros has been an American citizen since 1961?

As Glenn Greenwald notes,
What is it about Soros exactly that leads right-wing commentators -- including their long-time leader, Rush Limbaugh -- to falsely brand this American citizen a "foreigner"?

It's notable that Rush never complains about the foreign money in American politics of Rupert Murdoch, an Australian who became a US citizen in 1985 only in order to buy American television stations and move the media to the right.

As I note in my forthcoming book, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason" (Thomas Dunne Books, March 2011), Soros is at the center of a vast array of Limbaugh conspiracy theories that range from Obama to football to the intentional destruction of the US economy.

Limbaugh saw a conspiracy in Obama's rise to the presidency, claiming that he "had to have a sponsor, had to have somebody orchestrating, directing it, so forth and so on." And Limbaugh had an easy answer for who was the puppetmaster, "You know what? It's George Soros. George Soros was in charge of electing Obama! George Soros and his people."

Just a few days after Obama's election in 2008, Limbaugh claimed: "Somebody chose Obama to run and was a secret sponsor....I think Soros is involved."

Such was Limbaugh's paranoia that he imagined a massive conspiracy linking Obama and Soros to the financial collapse that caused the Bush Recession: "Somebody had to tell him what was coming in 2007, meaning the crash in 2008. He didn't have any experience to know. Somebody had to know, somebody had to tell him, for that somebody to know they had to have a hand in it. Can anybody say George Soros? Pulling the marionette strings here of our leader of the regime."

According to Limbaugh, Soros is the puppeteer secretly controlling Obama, who ordered him to run for president and then staged the collapse of the housing bubble in order to help Obama win. Limbaugh said, "George Soros has said that one of his goals in life is to bring about the world financial crisis and profit from it" and added, "Soros may be running Obama." Everything about this conspiracy theory is absolutely untrue. Soros had nothing to do with Obama's decision to run for president. Soros never said what Limbaugh claimed. And Soros could not have possibly caused the housing bubble and the Bush Recession. Yet Limbaugh's website featured an illustration of Soros standing above Obama, holding a manipulator to control the president's actions.

Discussing Senate hearings on Goldman Sachs, Limbaugh declared, "Obama is one of George Soros' boys, and that could be one of the reasons why we're not seeing a whole lot of televised activity on the popular cable channels about this." According to Limbaugh's conspiracy theories, "George Soros continues to destroy the economy and profit from it."

Limbaugh said, "If you look at everything that Obama is doing, it's George Soros" and added about Soros, "his hatred of America is well known." In Limbaugh's mind, everything Republican is American, and anyone critical of conservatives is anti-American.

Soros is featured in a number of other Limbaugh conspiracy theories. When former George W. Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan published a book critical of some members of the Bush Administration, Limbaugh immediately saw a Soros conspiracy with McClellan's publisher, PublicAffairs: "so far six books have been bankrolled by George Soros. So there is a George Soros connection to the Scott McClellan book." Of course, Soros didn't "bankroll" McClellan's book or any other; he had written six books published by PublicAffairs.

Limbaugh even imagined that Soros was secretly made the primary owner in his failed bid to buy the St. Louis Rams: "I was told who it was, but now I'm wondering if it was Soros and I wasn't told."

Limbaugh's hypocritical attack on "foreign" money reflects the bigotry toward immigrants that has come to dominate the conservative movement. But his smear campaign against George Soros is just another insane conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is secretly trying to destroy Amerca.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rush Limbaugh, Peasant

On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh declared, "I am as far removed from the ruling class as any peasant." Limbaugh added that he deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and ought to be anchor of the CBS Evening News.

If he were truly part of the ruling class, Limbaugh claimed, "I would be invited to the White House."

As I note in my forthcoming book, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason," Limbaugh has been invited to the White House, many times.

In 1992, after Limbaugh endorsed Pat Buchanan over President George Herbert Walker Bush as the Republican nominee, Bush fawned over Limbaugh. On June 3, 1992, Limbaugh was the guest of the president at the Kennedy Center and spent the night at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom, with the president carrying Limbaugh's bag up to the room. As a result, Limbaugh biographer Paul Colford noticed, "Everything suddenly turned warm and rosy between the president and the commentator." Limbaugh actively campaigned for the man he had previously denounced.

Limbaugh, the peasant, was obsessed with having power in the White House. In January 1993, he arranged to have a note left for producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason in the Lincoln Bedroom after Clinton was inaugurated: "I was here first, and I will be back."

After the 2004 elections, he reported attending a holiday party at the White House: "Got a big hug from the president when I went through the line last night. It was just really cool." In 2009, a few days before Obama's inauguration, George W. Bush celebrated Rush's birthday in the White House: "He brought out a chocolate birthday cake, a microphone, and stood beside me with Ed Gillespie and sang happy birthday." When the president of the United States brings you a cake and personally sings happy birthday to you, it proves you're not a peasant.

Rush Limbaugh is not only part of the ruling class, he's one of its leaders. Limbaugh's agenda is simple: help big corporations, wealthy special interests, and millionaires like himself to get lower taxes and greater control over the government.

Rush often presents himself as a populist representing the regular people. According to Limbaugh, "there are two sets of rules in America: One for elected Democrats. The other, for we the plebes, the peasants, the Great Unwashed, the Victims." This "peasant" "victim" is among the richest people in the world, making $57 million a year and the owner of a vast mansion and a $54 million Gulfstream G550 jet (today, he discussed in great detail his favorite corporate jets with a caller).

Of course, Limbaugh doesn't actually like the "peasants." Just yesterday, Limbaugh was blaming America's "peasant" culture for an FDA decision on a drug to treat breast cancer: "in our peasant society, it has now been assumed that if one person can't have it, nobody should have it."

Limbaugh claimed, falsely, that "the FDA is now threatening to ban this drug Avastin that can help women with breast cancer and shrink the tumor and extend life. And the reason they are doing this is because the drug's too expensive. Pure and simple. The results of this drug have been excellent. Any ban is due to the high cost of the regimen of the treatment."

In reality, the FDA advisory panel noted that the company's own studies found that Avastin did not help patients live any longer, and there was a high rate of side effects such as internal bleeding. The FDA is prohibited from considering cost in making medical decisions, and there is absolutely no evidence to support Limbaugh's lies.

Today, Limbaugh continued lying about this story, again blaming "peasant culture," by declaring that "the FDA is going to ban this because it's too expensive" (there is no ban on the drug or treatment for breast cancer, and money had no role in the decision on whether to recommend it).

Why is Limbaugh claiming to be a "peasant" today just one day after he blamed the "peasant society" for his delusional interpretation of an FDA decision? It's simple: Limbaugh can't keep his story straight because it's all a lie. Limbaugh's "peasant" pose is just another example of faux populism on the right in America that has grown with the rise of the Tea Party Movement.

The "ruling class" is a stock phrase of the left, but it was seized upon by the right-wing and invoked by Limbaugh because of his deep-seated conspiracy theories. Limbaugh thinks that a secret cabal of left-wingers controls science, education, media, and government, and the "ruling class" phrase is meant to convey that psychotic vision of America.

The latest issue of the Limbaugh Letter features a cover image of Limbaugh holding a noose around Barack Obama's upper torso under the trees of the White House with the phrase, "The Ruling Class vs. the Country Class."

(To see the cover image, click here)

It's possible that Limbaugh did not intend to make this disturbing lynching metaphor, and instead wanted to draw a link to the famous media-manipulated image of American soldiers bringing down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq shortly after the invasion. If so, it might be even more disturbing. Limbaugh often calls Obama a dictator, and the analogy seems to indicate that Obama should be overthrown by force and then hanged, as Saddam was.

Limbaugh fantasizes that he's the "peasant" leader of a patriotic mob, lynching our black president to stop him from raping America.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Exchange with a Heritage Economist

I've been trying to figure out how conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh imagine that the stimulus actually caused the unemployment rate to increase and the economy to collapse. My book on Limbaugh will be coming out March 1, and so I wanted to look more in-depth into the craziness that is Limbaugh's belief that "the $787 billion 'stimulus' led to the loss of three million jobs."

So I decided to go to one of Limbaugh's advertisers, the Heritage Foundation, and found a macroeconomist on their staff, Karen Campbell, to ask her my questions:

Dr. Campbell: I'm a writer doing an analysis of the Obama Stimulus Plan, and I read your analysis online about the stimulus plan, and I wanted to get a quick response from you about your argument. Is your claim that the stimulus plan was misguided and largely a waste of money, or do you think it alone had a direct negative effect on the economy? Would you say that due to Obama-Pelosi-Reid's stimulus bill, we are losing millions of jobs?
This was her reply, in full:

Hi Mr. Wilson: My argument would be both; the government borrowed money from other places in the economy (and global economy) to spend it where it thought it might be useful. Borrowed money must be paid back with interest and therefore borrowed money should be invested in assets (or projects to build assets) where the rate of return is greater than the interest. This way the borrowed funds and interest can be paid back from the income created by the investment rather than having to take from existing assets (dis-saving and depleting the capital stock) or in the government’s case charging the taxpayers more. If either of the latter has to happen then the economy is worse off. Further we can use a baseline created by forecasting company (whose business is too make accurate likely forecasts for the economy so businesses can make good decisions going forward) of the likely rate of rate return those borrowed funds would have gotten if lent to the millions of investors throughout the country who saw profitable investment opportunities in their area.

The baseline shows the jobs and goods and services produced by the labor and capital created and employed by these investments. Then we can say "what if" the government borrows the savings instead? How many jobs and goods and services would we have in the economy. This can tell us whether it is likely that the policy will be a net improvement. This is how we can get an estimate of jobs that were foregone (lost).

Not all stimulus spending is created equal again it depends on how the borrowed money is used and some might argue that investors in the private sector were not borrowing money and therefore the government had to borrow and invest for them. Unfortunately what we heard instead of invest was "spend for consumers who weren’t spending." Not only did we not invest, government now took on the role of the credit card happy consumer. This makes businesses and other investors (which is basically everyone who earns income and has savings and mutual funds in pensions, etc.) very nervous because they know that this borrowed money isn’t earning income and therefore they will be required at some point to ante up more of their income to pay off the debt. This causes them to hoard more cash and not take on long term risks (the very risks that are needed to recover and grow the economy.) These expectations triggered by the stimulus spending is a way in which the stimulus is also indirectly impeding jobs by imposing this large opportunity cost of foregone productive investments.

Interestingly we now have current proposals for more spending specifically for long term investments. Unfortunately I fear this is too late and, although theoretically the investments could earn a high rate of return; historical evidence has shown the political incentives for special kick-backs, overly lucrative government contracts, etc. tend to wipe out the efficacy of government "investment." It is better to allow individuals throughout the country to borrow and invest in projects they are willing to take a risk on (and therefore expect to gain a positive rate of return). This diversification of investment helps not only keep the economy overall more stable (we saw what happened when investment got concentrated in one area) and it helps spread the gains throughout the country so growth and development can occur in more even patterns (rather than patterned by, for example, politically important states. This is not cynicism but a reality of the incentives faced by the private and public sector and why it is so important for the public sector to maintain it’s governing role (referee and rule-making) and not create a conflict of interest by playing on a private sector team.)

I hope this helps clarify my argument. I’m sorry if it is a bit long winded. Thank you for taking an interest in my work and taking the time to email me. Please let me know if you any other questions.

Best,
Karen Campbell
I answered back to her:

Thanks for your detailed reply.

I am confused about one issue. There is a long-term critique of whether the stimulus was a good thing, and whether it will have a long-run beneficial effect on jobs and the whole issue of long-term benefits and costs.

But I was interested in the short-term effect, the fundamental question of whether the stimulus could have caused unemployment to rise and millions of jobs to be lost in the short term.

The only explanation you seem to offer is an expectations game. But it doesn't seem very plausible that nervous businesses are laying off millions of people because they expect taxes to be raised years down the road to pay for $800 billion in stimulus spending (which is a small part of the overall government debt). I just don't see how it's rational for a business to hoard money and avoid a profitable investment now because the government spent some money on the stimulus plan that eventually will have to be paid back by the American people.

Karen Campbell responded to me:

Actually the effect is not so much on existing businesses or existing business activity as it is on the potential. In normal times hundreds of thousands of jobs are created and destroyed each month. What we’re seeing now is that job losses are about the same as a normal recovery but jobs are not being created. New businesses are not starting up and existing businesses are not investing and expanding their businesses. My colleague, James Sherk, looked at the numbers here http://www.heritage.org/Research/Rep...

When people are investing in safe government bonds to pay for spending that congress thinks will create jobs, they are not investing in riskier new businesses or financing new business expansions. Expectations play a large role but there is also the direct mechanics of moving financial resources from one sector of the economy to another (banks, as financial intermediaries for savers, lending to government versus lending to private sector individuals and businesses).

Also, just a note, I would not argue that the stimulus spending in and of itself caused millions of jobs to be lost. I think the stimulus spending would have depressed job creation but not to the extent that we are seeing. The continued rise in unemployment that we saw last year was a combination of many factors that increased the level of uncertainty. The government’s decisions to increase that uncertainty by implementing and trying to implement a number of unprecedented changes (which means businesses and individuals have no good method for calculating the likely costs of the policies and therefore are not able to make decisions about investments because of the extreme uncertainty of potential returns, is what is hindering the recovery and private sectors ability to employ underutilized resources in new and profitable ways.

Hope this is a little more clear?
The fundamental mistake Campbell is making, I think, is this assumption that government spending diverts money away from private investment. This is the "crowding out" effect. In the 1990s, it was argued that the Clinton Era's budget surpluses helped the economy by reducing the debt held by the government and allowing the private sector to borrow more. But that idea simply has zero relevance to our current situation. The government is borrowing lots of money, but it's able to print plenty of money and hand it out to banks without serious inflation. Private companies and banks are holding onto tons of cash right now, and it's not the case that government borrowing is depriving any businesses of loans they need. Instead, the problem is the reluctance of banks to loan money due to tighten lending rules and the reluctance of businesses to expand due to the global recession. As for "uncertainty," it's hard to identify any Obama action that increased economic uncertainty in any way that would actually reduce business activity.

But it is notable that Campbell refutes the Limbaugh theory that Obama's stimulus could have caused millions of jobs to be lost. So even the Heritage Foundation, the group that Limbaugh embraces as the experts on the economy, rejects Limbaugh's crazy economic theories.

Crossposted at Daily Kos.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One

Zev Chafets' new biography, Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One, is a shallow portrait of the nation's conservative-in-chief. Chafets gets only one thing fundamentally right about Rush: Limbaugh is an immensely powerful figure within the Republican Party and American politics. Would Republicans have become “the Party of 'No'” without Limbaugh's daily diatribes against compromise and desire for America to fail? Perhaps to some degree. But without two decades of Limbaugh's relentless militance against liberalism, it is unthinkable that the Republican Party would stand where it does today.

Chafets wrote a glowing profile of Limbaugh in 2008 for the New York Times Magazine. Rush would never allow a New York Times reporter such wide access without being completely assured that the article would be written from a sympathetic, conservative approach. Chafets provided exactly that, since he is a prominent critic of Palestinians (and former director of Israel’s government press office), and had written a column on the right-wing website Townhall.com. Limbaugh even referred to Chafets as a “friend” on his show. Chafets shared that friendship, declaring about Limbaugh, “I'm a little bit defensive because I think that the liberal media takes such an unfair view of him.”

Chafets' 2008 profile lavishly praised Limbaugh, comparing him to “the great black singers of his generation” and calling him “the first white, Goldwater Republican soul shouter.” His new book compares Limbaugh to Muhammad Ali and Oprah Winfrey.

Bob Garfield of “On the Media” observed to Chafets in 2008, “Your piece on Limbaugh was very generous, I would say even flattering. You seem to give him a pass for his excesses.” When Garfield confronted him with the infamous Limbaugh quote, “The NAACP should have a riot rehearsal, they should get a liquor store and practice robberies,” Chafets responded, “Not my sense of humor, but it's not a lie.” Really? It's not a lie to link the NAACP to riots and liquor store robberies?

Chafets is a relentless defender of Rush. According to Chafets, “A lot of Limbaugh's critics dismiss him as a buffoon or a fanatic. These are people who don't listen to his show. Limbaugh is not only a brilliant communicator, he is a smart political strategist.” A Columbia Journalism Review blog noted, “it seems Chafets was distracted by all the bling in Rush’s World, so that the piece reads more like an episode of MTV Cribs...”

Janet Maslin's devastating review of Chafets' book in the New York Times reveals some of the flaws in it. Maslin notes that even the mild criticism of Limbaugh found in Chafets' original New York Times Magazine piece was largely purged from the book.

Limbaugh knew from the beginning that Chafets was a fan and a friend, and even told him, “if you think the editors of the New York Times Magazine are going to do a story on me that isn't a hit job, you are na├»ve.”(115) Chafets pretends to be shocked when Limbaugh refers to him on the air as a “friend,” but it certainly wouldn't shock anyone who reads this book. Chafets is a relentless defender of Limbaugh, even to the point of insulting his ex-wife Marta Fitzgerald as a golddigger. He writes that Rush's first two wives didn't marry him for his money, but “The third Mrs. Limbaugh is a different matter.”(130)

Chafets dutifully reports what Limbaugh said years ago on his show about his drug use: “Limbaugh concluded by saying that he would like to go into more detail but couldn't, because he was under criminal investigation.”(95) One would imagine that Chafets could have gone into more detail years after the criminal matter was resolved and the statute of limitations applies. But for some reason, Chafets reveals nothing more about Limbaugh's drug addiction. He reports that Limbaugh now thinks drug use should not usually be a crime, although he omits Limbaugh's earlier hypocrisy on the issue or the fact that Limbaugh never expresses this view on the air.(98)

On race, Chafets dares to be slightly critical of Limbaugh. Chafets recounts that he suggests to Limbaugh that he has a “blind spot” on race, that he doesn't understand “why American blacks didn't share his narrative of America as a uniquely virtuous nation.”(173) Chafets admits, “It was cringe inducing to hear Limbaugh defend his lack of bias by mentioning his housekeeper.”(176) But he lets Limbaugh claim, “the Constitution set up a process to gradually end slavery,” even though that's not true.

Chafets mentions the two fake quotes spread about Limbaugh on slavery and James Earl Ray (although he gets their origin wrong, falsely blaming writer Jack Huberman for creating them), but he never discusses the real racist quotes from Limbaugh's mouth, such as calling Obama “Halfrican-American” or “the little black man-child.”(183) Chafets even defends Limbaugh's bizarre claim that the media want black quarterbacks to succeed as “perfectly true,” apparently not caring if there's any evidence to support Limbaugh's claim (there's not).(184) Chafets depicts Limbaugh, a man who regularly occupies luxury boxes and even the sidelines at NFL games, as a victim who “found himself excommunicated”(185) merely because he was dropped from one ownership group's attempts to buy a team.

Chafets projects his own moderate conservative views onto Limbaugh: “Rush and I were both raised at a time of racial optimism and naivete, when the goal of decent white people was an integrated society. We were taught that skin color shouldn't matter, that we were all basically the same, that we should judge others not by their color but the content of their character.”(172) However, Chafets revealed that when Limbaugh was growing up, his public school responded to Brown v. Board of Education with de facto segregation of black students in low-level classes. Did Chafets ever ask Limbaugh about his segregated school, or growing up in a former slave state during the midst of the Civil Rights Movement? Did he ever ask Limbaugh if his notoriously foul-mouthed father or other friends and family used the N-word? Chafets had a tremendous opportunity, as the only journalist who has ever had the opportunity for in-depth conversation with Limbaugh.

When giving his own opinion, Chafets has many disturbing racial views. Chafets writes that GOP head Michael Steele was “intimidated” by comedian D.L. Hughley, a “former gang banger,” into criticizing Limbaugh.(147) Chafets claims that after 9/11, “total war was justified until the Arabs cried uncle.”(101) It's not clear if Chafets or Limbaugh or both believe this, but it's certainly a disturbing viewpoint to call for “total war” against a group of people that includes some of America's strongest allies.

Chafets got attention for his book by trying to arrange a golf outing between Obama and Limbaugh: “I spoke to a very senior Democratic activist with whom I'm very friendly, and he said he would convey the message. A day or two later he got back to me with the answer: 'Limbaugh can play with himself.'”(192) It's a funny line. The problem is that we don't know who said it, if anyone. Was this Obama's personal response to Limbaugh, as some in the media reported (and Chafets did not seek to correct)? Was it the response of some aide? Or was it Chafets' source simply commenting on the failure to get any response from the White House? We don't know, and Chafets seems more interested in using it to generate publicity for his book rather than clarifying what was actually said. It's noteworthy that when Chafets wrote a pointless op-ed for the Los Angeles Times about his dream Limbaugh-Obama golf outing, the “play with himself” quote was nowhere to be found. Perhaps that's because Chafets' lightly-sourced claim didn't meet a newspaper's standards for facts. Fortunately, Sentinel Books has no such standards.

In fact, Chafets' book has no endnotes or sources. After all, his primary audience is Dittoheads, and they certainly don't expect evidence after years of listening to Limbaugh. There's very little new information uncovered by Chafets, and much of the biographical parts of the books closely follow Paul Colford's 1995 book, The Rush Limbaugh Story.

From a literary point of view, Chafets' book is a mess. The final chapter is followed by an epilogue summarizing some events in 2010. The final line, a product placement urging people turn in weekdays at noon, is almost embarrassingly bad. That's followed by the acknowledgments where Chafets whines about the difficulty of finding a “New York publisher” for a pro-Limbaugh book and praises Limbaugh for being “cooperative and candid,” which if true means that Chafets simply failed to ask any important questions in what Limbaugh claims were 16 hours of interviews. That's followed by an appendix where Chafets denounces “the liberal consensus” in the media and academia, and claims that Limbaugh listeners are smart because they know basic information such as the majority party in Congress.

The book is also piled high with filler. He reprints Limbaugh's list of “35 Undeniable Truths of Life” with his own “unofficial and personal commentary” that reveals Chafets' agreement with nearly everything Rush says (“except for maybe the one about the Steelers”).(74) Whole pages of his book are devoted to the lyrics of the lame parody songs by Paul Shanklin that Limbaugh plays on his show.

There's not one word in the book about Limbaugh's inept misunderstandings about the Constitution (such as quoting, with the wrong words, the Declaration of Independence and and claiming it was in the Constitution). Instead, Chafets writes: “Big Rush would have been proud to hear his son expounding with such passion on issues of constitutional law.”(168) This is the kind of fluff that Chafets uses, words that would humiliate a real journalist to write.

Chafets' book has shoddy editing, too. There are several typos, including “the a great” (130) and “Limbaugh had set his sites on Congress....”(77) As Janey Maslin noted in her New York Times review, “Even the name of one of Mr. Limbaugh’s wives is misspelled here, as are Hugh Hefner’s and Phyllis Schlafly’s.” I found even more misspellings, including Senator “Clair” McCaskill (103) and even John Forbes “Kennedy” rather than Kerry.(159)

The book is poorly researched, and misses many important facts. According to Chafets, “There was never a doubt that Limbaugh would support the reelection of George H.W. Bush in 1992...”(81) Chafets somehow never realized that Limbaugh supported Pat Buchanan's primary campaign against Bush in 1992. Rush wrote that Buchanan accomplished “great things” by moving Bush to the right.

According to Chafets, “After Obama accidentally read the speech of his guest, the Irish prime minister, instead of his own, Limbaugh developed the conceit that the teleprompter, not Obama, was in charge.”(163) Obama never accidentally read the speech of the Irish prime minister; it was the opposite.

Chafets refers to the Sullivan Group as a “fictitious entity.”(44) In reality, the Sullivan Group was founded in 1980, long before Tom Sullivan became a talk show host and met Rush Limbaugh, and it continues to exist. What's fictitious is the idea that the Sullivan Group “audits” the accuracy of Limbaugh's opinions, which Rush often cites as proof of his truth-telling, and many of his listeners actually believe it.

Media Matters for America points out several errors in Chafets' book
, including his propensity to give Fox News Channel credit for breaking stories that other mainstream media outlets actually reported first. Media Matters, which has become Limbaugh's chief nemesis by writing daily about his errors and distortions, merits only a couple of mentions in Chafets' book, although Limbaugh often refers to them on his show in a clearly irritated manner. Chafets notes that Media Matters “reported that Rush had referred to military personnel who objected to the war as 'phony soldiers,”(108) which is exactly what Limbaugh had declared. Chafets denies this reality, and then compounds his mistake in defending Limbaugh by falsely claiming that “Media Matters tried to correct its initial mistake” on the phony soldiers issue.(108) As Media Matters noted, Limbaugh referred to John Murtha as a “phony soldier,” providing all the evidence anyone could have needed to prove that Limbaugh's use of term “phony soldiers” applied to real soldiers who criticized the war in Iraq, not fake stories. If a man who served for 38 years in the Marines and the Marine Corps Reserves, winning the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, is a “phony soldier,” then Limbaugh's use of the term has nothing to do with fake soldiers.

I should note that Chafets quotes me at length, accurately, writing about the impact of Limbaugh's Operation Chaos in Mississippi, where Limbaugh fans helped Hillary Clinton pick up some delegates. According to Chafets, “the media reacted with alarm,” and then he quotes my words.(117) It's a strange world we live in, where my little blog makes me a member of the “media,” but the vast media empires of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the New York Freaking Times Magazine don't count as part of the “media” in Chafets' estimation.

The book is full of odd claims about the press, such as saying that “the media” “reflexively squawk at any politically incorrect use of racial language.”(157) That's a favorite term of Chafets', who claims that in 1988 when Limbaugh began nationally, Time and Newsweek were “politically correct” and PBS was “unmistakably liberal,” which may surprise those of us who were watching Firing Line, the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, Wall Street Week, and the McLaughlin Group.(138)

Chafets complains that Limbaugh didn't get the same approval in New York City received by other “outsiders” like Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings. According to Chafets, “the price of admission is accepting and, in some small way propagating, the group ethos.”(50) It's nothing short of bizarre for Chafets to join in with Limbaugh's pathetic crying about how he wasn't embraced as one of the leading journalists in the country because he had a syndicated talk show.

Is Rush Limbaugh a serious political force, or just a hammy jokester? Chafets denounces media critic Todd Gitlin: “He also doesn't listen to Limbaugh. Rush, like any satirist, engages in hyperbole, sarcasm, and ridicule, none of which is meant to be taken literally.”(139) Whenever Chafets wants to excuse or ignore some offensive, ignorant, or downright stupid remark by Limbaugh, Rush transforms from the leader of the conservative movement into a silly DJ having a laugh to tweak the liberals.
And while he refuses to take Limbaugh's own words seriously, Chafets condemns others for things they've never believed: "Some, like Professor Todd Gitlin of the Columbia School of Journalism, think the government should take Rush off the air."(139) I emailed Gitlin and he wrote back to me, “I do not think the government should take RL off the air. I never have thought that.”

On occasion, almost by accident, Chafets offers us an insight about Limbaugh: “This lack of partisan engagement is a recurring theme in the recollections of Limbaugh's old friends and colleagues in his early radio career. He was in his midthirties before he began giving strong, consistent voice to his conservative beliefs.”(17) The day after the White House Correspondents Dinner, where Wanda Sykes insulted him, Limbaugh was silent on the air but sent an email to Chafets: “I know I am a target and I know I will be destroyed eventually.”(166) Limbaugh normally has enough sense to keep his self-indulgent paranoid ravings off the air. But Chafets treats this absurd statement as if it were a justified response to unfair attacks, rather than evidence of Limbaugh's unbalanced mind. (Notably, Townhall.com is offering free copies of Chafets' book in exchange for a subscription to their magazine, under the headline, “Obama's master plan: Take out Rush Limbaugh.”)

On his show, Limbaugh admitted that he hadn't read Chafets' book: “If they get it right, I already know it, if they get it wrong, it's par for the course.”(May 26, 2010) Nevertheless, Limbaugh gave it his endorsement and prominently promoted it: “everybody who's read it has said it was pretty good.”

Chafets' book, and its admiring attention to Limbaugh's massive estate full of tacky decor, his $54 million jet, his fleet of $450,000 black Maybachs, shows that the author learned one essential lesson from studying Limbaugh: you can make a big pile of money by giving a conservative audience exactly what it wants to hear, as long as you're willing to sell out your integrity in the process.



John K. Wilson is the author of seven books, including the forthcoming “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason” (January 2011, Thomas Dunne Books), www.limbaughbook.com. Crossposted at Daily Kos.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Limbaugh Lies on Goldman Sachs

When the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, Rush Limbaugh saw a conspiracy: "this whole thing was organized, with Goldman probably involved in it." He claimed it was all agreed to "in exchange for being in bed with the Obama administration." According to Limbaugh, "There aren't any coincidences in politics."

Limbaugh has spewed a lot of insane conspiracy theories, but this one is over the top even for him. Limbaugh actually believes that Goldman Sachs wanted to be sued by the SEC to help make Obama look good. There's no evidence that Obama had any influence on the SEC decision, and there's certainly no evidence that Goldman Sachs persuaded the SEC to go after them.

Today, Limbaugh declared about Goldman Sachs that "Republicans don't get any donations from these guys." Oh really? According to OpenSecrets.org, in the 2010 cycle so far, Democrats received $332,375 in donations from Goldman Sachs employees, while Republicans received $190,200.

That means Democrats received 63.6% of the Goldman Sachs donations. Democrats hold 303 out of 521 positions in the House and the Senate, or 58.2%. This is a marginal difference. In fact, based on geography (most Goldman Sachs workers are in the overwhelmingly Democratic area of New York City), the Goldman Sachs donations are probably unusually pro-Republican compared to fellow New Yorkers.

One example of this is Republican Congressman (and candidate for the US Senate) Mark Kirk of Illinois, who ranked 3rd in the House (behind two New York Democrats) in Goldman Sachs donations. Kirk announced that he would return his donations. And the top Senate recipient of Goldman Sachs money? Alabama Republican Richard Shelby.

Yes, the majority of money from Goldman Sachs workers has gone to Democrats. And the influence of the financial elite on American politics is a bipartisan problem to worry about. But at this moment, the differences between the two parties are clear: the Democratic Administration is going after these financial crooks, and proposing substantial financial reforms. And the Republican opposition is resisting all regulation of Wall Street. All of the faux-populism in the world can't change these basic facts.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Limbaugh Lies, Smears DailyKos

On today’s show, Rush Limbaugh was in top form, declaring that he had never compared Barack Obama to Hitler. In fact, Limbaugh said that DailyKos “or whatever it’s called” was guilty of this. According to Limbaugh, “They call everybody on the right Nazis over there.”

That’s absolutely untrue. In fact, I'd bet that Rush Limbaugh has compared liberals to Nazis more often than any individual on DailyKos has compared conservatives to Nazis. After all, Limbaugh is the man who invented the term "feminazi."

Take a look at the diaries tagged Nazi or Nazis and you’ll find it’s not used very often on DailyKos, and typically refers to the conservatives who bizarrely accuse Obama and Democrats of being Nazis. In the rare cases where someone compares a conservative to a Nazi (such as “MICHELLE MALKIN IS A NAZI” the diary is mostly ignored apart from some comments objecting to the term.

Of course, DailyKos is a very open site where anybody can call anybody else almost anything. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh’s own words compare Obama to Hitler on a regular basis even while he denies the fact.

Let’s look at the record.

Limbaugh claimed, “the Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo” and “Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook.” Limbaugh proclaimed, “It is liberalism that's the closest you can get to Nazism.” Limbaugh claimed that Obama is “sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens” and said that "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."

Limbaugh called one of his callers “crazy” for objecting to the comparisons of Obama to Hitler. Limbaugh said, “Why can we not use Hitler, who was the architect of National Socialism in Germany?” Limbaugh said, “when you're dealing with a guy like Obama and the Democrat party, who are going to impose Nazi-like socialism policies on this country, you've got to say it!” He claimed, “Look who is acting Nazi-like anyway? Who is it that's sending out thugs to beat people up at these meetings?...It's the Obama White House.”

But you don’t need to trust me. Listen to all of the conservatives who have said that Limbaugh compared Obama to Hitler and Nazis. The Anti-Defamation League, certainly not part of the liberal establishment, issued a statement about Limbaugh from national director Abraham Foxman: “Regardless of the political differences and the substantive differences in the debate over health care, the use of Nazi symbolism is outrageous, offensive and inappropriate. Americans should be able to disagree on the issues without coloring it with Nazi imagery and comparisons to Hitler. This is not where the debate should be at all....It’s off-center, off-issue and completely inappropriate.”

The National Review's Cliff May noted, “It is wrong, outrageous and damaging for Rush Limbaugh to compare Obama to Hitler.” Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called Limbaugh's comments "shameful," "beyond the pale," and "unworthy of Americans."

It takes some chutzpah for the man who compares Obama to Nazis to falsely accuse DailyKos of constantly comparing all conservatives to Nazis.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Harvard Law: Limbaugh’s Lying about Obama

Yesterday, in an interview taped on Jan. 29, 2010 with Gretchen Carlson for Fox and Friends,
Rush Limbaugh made up another smear about Barack Obama:

I think this is the first time in his life that there's not a professor around to turn his C into an A, or to write the law review article for him he can't write. He is totally exposed. There is nobody to make it better. I think he's been covered for, all his life.

I asked some Harvard law professors about this charge. Laurence Tribe responded to me, "The allegation is absurd. Obama earned every one of his enormously high grades. ‘Affirmative action’ had nothing to do with his success there. He was the most impressive student and research assistant I have taught in my 40 years at Harvard."

Charles Fried, a Harvard Law Professor who served as Solicitor General during the Reagan Administration, wrote to me, "It’s paranoid nonsense. Grading is anonymous by a randomly generated exam number and it takes a vote of the faculty to change a grade."

This isn’t the first time Limbaugh has made the false allegation that Obama gained from favorable grading. In 2008, Limbaugh declared that Obama "probably didn’t get out of Harvard without affirmative action."

In reality, Obama graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law, which meant that there would have needed to be a vast conspiracy to raise the grades of this unknown student. Limbaugh’s attack on Obama is particularly ironic coming from a man who flunked out of college and had his two books (and an earlier newspaper column) ghostwritten for him.

Limbaugh did not respond to my request for any evidence to support his accusation. Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the mainstream media will follow up. The Politico quoted Limbaugh’s claims without bothering to point out that they’re completely false, or asking him for any basis to support his allegation. Nor did Fox News Channel bother to ask Limbaugh about how he knows such things. It’s time for the media to follow up on Limbaugh’s lies, and also ask Republican officials if they embrace these ridiculous claims.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Limbaugh Interviews Dick Cheney

In the February issue of the Limbaugh Letter (not available online; I subscribe because I'm writing a book about Limbaugh), Limbaugh interviews Dick Cheney. It's hard to say which right-winger is more delusional.

Cheney declared,

...in my travels around the country, as I get out there and speak to groups, support for our counterterrorism policy is overwhelming. They may not have agreed with other things, but they certainly supported that.

That's a stunning statement, and it reflects the kind of groupthink bubble on the right occupied by Cheney.

A CBS News/New York Times Poll on Jan. 11-15, 2009 asked Americans, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush has handled the campaign against terrorism during the last eight years?" Only 47% approved, while 48% disapproved. That's what Cheney regards as "overwhelming" support. And it's a number inflated by the media's lack of coverage of Bush and Cheney's disastrous approach to counterterrorism from start to finish.

Cheney opposes any trial for terrorism suspects:

If Obama is worried that Guantanamo was some kind of a recruiting tool for al Qaeda, you can imagine what's going to happen when you put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is a very articulate, clearly very bright individual, on the platform they're going to give him in New York City in the federal courthouse. He's had years to prepare his remarks, so to speak, and he's going to just have a field day.

This is a very odd bit of reasoning. Guantanamo served as a recruiting tool because it besmirched the American system of justice. There won't be terrorism recruiting speeches in a court of law, and this notion that Mohammed's words would magically recruit terrorists completely misunderstands what promotes terrorism.

Cheney was also very defensive:

We did not torture anybody, Rush.

Considering that there are numerous cases where people died from torture, it's hard to believe how anybody could possibly make such a claim.

Yet Cheney dismissed the possibility that there was any torture:

There isn't a thing we did to al Qaeda that had not previously been done to our own people in training them in the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] program. So the whole notion that somehow this is torture is just wrong. It's a lie.

Of course, we train our soldiers to experience torture by using some torture techniques on them voluntarily. The fact that we use limited torture techniques on our soldiers to help them deal with torture does not make them cease to be torture. There's no doubt that it's torture if an enemy did it to American soldier.

Cheney also made his usual claims about the effectiveness of waterboarding:

our enhanced interrogation techniques, and especially working with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, people like that, provided us with vast amounts of first-rate intelligence. It worked.

This isn't true. The intelligence came before the torture was used, according to a New York Times investigation.

On domestic issues, Cheney declared:

...we've got an awful lot of people in the country who are hurting. But this Administration doesn't appear to have a clue as to how to turn that around and get the private sector up and running again.

It takes some kind of chutzpah for the Bush Administration officials who caused this recession to make lectures about being clueless.

Cheney, who revealed that his book will be out in spring 2011, said about Liz Cheney: "I'd love to see her run for office someday."

Cheney also had this to say about his former VP opponent, John Edwards:
I have always been surprised that a number of responsible people out there held him in high regard. And he obviously didn't deserve it.

Damn right. Of course, exactly the same thing needs to be said about Cheney. When will Republicans realize what an embarrassing, incompetent disaster Dick Cheney and the Bush Administration were?


Crossposted at Daily Kos.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rush Limbaugh: The Musical

On January 30, 2010, Rush Limbaugh was vigorously dancing to the music of Lady Gaga during the Miss America pageant. The next day, Mark Sutton was dancing in the role of Limbaugh during the final preview of Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, which opens February 3 at Second City's Etc. stage in Chicago. There's always that difficulty of making good satire when reality is more bizarre than any fiction.

But this musical comes from the creators of Rod Blagojevich Superstar!, so they're accustomed to making musicals about celebrities with a penchant for oddity.

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical is a sometimes entertaining show, but ultimately the performance is flawed by its inability to grapple with who Limbaugh is and why he is so popular. (The show is in still in previews, so some of what I criticize be fixed in last-minute adjustments.)

The musical begins with gentle mockery of Limbaugh as a man “with a friendly voice, if by friendly you mean crazy.” And although the attacks get nastier, and sometimes unfair, they never really pierce Limbaugh’s essence. Ed Furman and TJ Shanoff, the writers of Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, go to great lengths in pursuit of crude humor, and one can’t help but admire a show that makes a 30-year-old reference to George Brett’s hemorrhoids which inspire Limbaugh’s decision to pursue a career as an “unbearable pain in the ass.”

As the author of a forthcoming book about Limbaugh, I may have too much attachment to the basic facts of Limbaugh’s life, and a comic musical obviously is not a biography. Still, some of the fact-fudging choices are odd. A sock hop number depicts Limbaugh as someone stuck in the 1950s; in reality, Limbaugh liked rock and roll, and got fired from one job for playing the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” too many times. The musical claims that the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1984 and led to Limbaugh’s big break in Sacramento. In reality, the never-enforced Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987, and it had nothing to do with Limbaugh’s success. Limbaugh’s national syndication in 1988 is mysteriously moved to 1993 here as a response to Bill Clinton.

The show makes up a lead preacher character, Reverend Rightwing, who advises and guides Limbaugh in his life, and it depicts Limbaugh as a rabid fundamentalist in songs such as, “They Can’t Argue With Jesus.” In reality, Limbaugh almost never talks about faith on his show, doesn’t attend church, and didn’t have any contact with the religious right. Money explains why Limbaugh became who he is where he is, but God makes for better satire than capitalism.

The show could have built entire songs out of Limbaugh’s own words, which are often more shocking than what the creators could ever make up. But aside from a short reading of Limbaugh quotes in the middle of one song, it’s remarkable how little of Limbaugh’s actual words and verbal tics make it into the show. Even the minor details—like Limbaugh on the air declaring that the ninth caller will be a winner—reveal a lack of authenticity.

It’s clear that the show’s creators struggle to understand Limbaugh’s appeal. At one point, a frustrated Hillary Clinton character cries out, “you don’t make any sense, I don’t why people listen to you.”

There’s a certain kind of bipartisanship in the show, with Barney Frank and Hillary Clinton singing their anthem of the Democratic Party, “We’re fucked and we’re losers.” Still, no one can miss the point of view here.

There are funny lines about Limbaugh’s addiction to Oxycontin (“it’s only when you’re super-high that my show makes sense”), and his hearing loss (“When you never listen to anything anybody else says, you can be deaf for years and not know it”). And there’s a kind of pleasure to be had when the hostile narrator compares Limbaugh with John McCain: “he’s a hero, not a draft-dodging pussy like you.”
But too often the show strays from a focus on Limbaugh to standard conservative-bashing or song-and-dance routines that aren’t clever enough to justify the distraction.

One of the worst aspects of the show is the running joke of having Barney Frank deliver a double entendre about being gay. The problem with all these gay jokes is that they’re juvenile and delivered without any sense of irony about the fact that Limbaugh regularly makes similarly hateful Uranus jokes about Barney Frank. It would have been easy for the show to have Limbaugh deliver the anti-gay jokes and still get the cheap laughs, albeit with more discomfort from the audience. Instead, we’re left wondering why a musical that obviously despises Limbaugh shares a similar taste in mocking gay men.

At the end, Rush Limbaugh! The Musical hits its stride again. It’s 2014, and after President Obama defeated Ted Nugent in the 2012 election, Limbaugh has gone crazy. He accidentally reads the Bible one night, and decides “Jesus has shifted too far to the left.” Declaring himself divine, he calls upon his Dittoheads to lead a revolution to overthrow Obama, something that’s actually believable considering Limbaugh’s own statements.

The last scene provides a clever ending to help explain exactly why a black woman named Shasta is the narrator throughout the show (beyond Karla Beard’s obvious singing talents), since it doesn’t fit with anything in Limbaugh’s life.
There are so many ways, though, that Second City could have made this a great comic musical. Imagine putting Al Gore in the show (full of droning and powerpoints) to debate Limbaugh in song on Global Warming (as they did on Nightline in 1992). Instead, they resort to the lowest common denominator for their humor. Admittedly, musical comedy isn’t easy, and political comedy that plays to an audience that doesn’t listen to Rush is even harder.

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical is an entertaining spectacle for Limbaugh haters, but it’s also a missed opportunity to make a tough—and hilarious—critique of his ideas.



Rush Limbaugh! The Musical
plays Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 2pm at Second City's Etc. Stage, 1616 N. Wells in Chicago, from February 3 to March 24, 2010. Tickets are $25.


John K. Wilson is the author of a forthcoming book about Rush Limbaugh. Crossposted at DailyKos.