“I hope he fails”: with these four words uttered by Rush Limbaugh about Barack Obama on January 16, 2009, a political revolution began. Limbaugh's words about Barack Obama were powerful. Hoping for failure eventually became the policy of the Republican Party, which voted in lockstep against virtually every proposal by President Obama and the Democrats to help ease the recession inherited from the previous administration. Two years later, what Limbaugh said about Barack Obama has been established as the dominant Republican position.
Limbaugh got the failure he hoped for: the recovery from the Bush Recession was slow and inadequate to stem the inevitable rise in unemployment. Voters who expected an economic miracle punished the Democrats in the polling booths on November 2, 2010. Jeffrey Lord in the American Spectator declared that because of Limbaugh's “I hope he fails” line, “it is Rush Limbaugh who is the undisputed winner of the 2010 election.” Lord called Limbaugh's comment “exactly the point where the path to the conservative victory of 2010 began.”
Two years ago, Limbaugh's declaration was controversial. Even televangelist Pat Robertson (the man who blamed 9/11 on God's punishment of America for gays and feminists and said the Haiti earthquake was caused by a pact with the devil two centuries ago) denounced Limbaugh as irrational: “That was a terrible thing to say. I mean, he's the president of all the country. If he succeeds, the country succeeds. And if he doesn't, it hurts us all. Anybody who would pull against our president is not exactly thinking rationally.”
Limbaugh later recounted how South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford privately told him “it was crazy for me to say I hope Obama fails.” When a politician who flies to Argentina to meet his mistress thinks you're crazy, it shows how far out of the mainstream Limbaugh's “hope he fails” comment was.
By October 2009, Limbaugh was desperately trying to rewrite history. He told the Today Show, “Every one of these ‘critics’ knew and knows exactly what I meant. They are taking this as yet another opportunity to say, ‘Whoa! Limbaugh wants America to fail!’ and that's such BS.”
But Limbaugh was explicit in declaring that he not only wanted Obama’s agenda defeated, he also wanted the country to suffer when Obama’s proposals were enacted. On February 13, 2009, Limbaugh told his listeners about the stimulus plan: “I hope it prolongs the failure. I hope it prolongs the recession. Because people are going to have to figure out here that this is not how economies recover. Government is not the central planner.” Yet Limbaugh's declaration, “I hope it prolongs the recession” as the definition of failure was ignored by a pile-up of apologists trying to defend Limbaugh comments. Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), once a nemesis of Limbaugh’s, said: "I'm sure when he's saying he wants the president to fail that he's talking about his policies; he made that clear.”
In fact, Limbaugh had made it clear that he meant much more. Limbaugh said: "Of course I want Obama to fail. And after this stimulus bill package passes, I want it to fail."
Back in 1993, Limbaugh had a very different approach to Democratic failure when writing his second book, See, I Told You So: “I sincerely don’t want Bill Clinton to fail, unless failure is defined as the defeat of his current economic policies.” But by 2009, a media star making more than $50 million a year could wish for his fellow Americans to suffer in poverty and become the hero of the conservative movement.
For Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans, hoping for the failure of America was one of their most successful career moves.
Crossposted at LimbaughBook.
John K. Wilson is the author of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (Thomas Dunne Books, March 2011)