In a blog post on his site “The Urban Right” titled, “Talent on loan from the devil: Rush Limbaugh embraces old-school bigotry,” Tucker concluded, “I can't defend Limbaugh anymore after seeing that sickening image.” I asked Tucker to explain what changed his mind, and he wrote the following essay about it:
Robbed of Credibility
By D.R. Tucker
What did they see that I didn’t see?
Years ago, I’d get into huge arguments with liberals, particularly black liberals, over Rush Limbaugh’s views on race. Liberals would insist that Limbaugh’s rhetoric was racially inflammatory and that he seemed to look down upon black people. I always responded that nothing Limbaugh said or did fit a traditional definition of racism, and that while Limbaugh said and did things that were certainly politically incorrect, he was not a bigot.
I started listening to Limbaugh on Boston’s WRKO-AM in the mid-1990s. I didn’t think he was as good as the late Boston radio star David Brudnoy, but he was certainly entertaining and quite insightful at times. I was outraged when President Clinton tried to link Limbaugh’s rhetoric to the Oklahoma City bombing; while Limbaugh was a harsh critic of the federal government, he certainly wasn’t encouraging his listeners to go blow up federal buildings.
Liberals in my social circle couldn’t understand why I was so defensive of Limbaugh. To me, it made common sense: Limbaugh was an articulate voice for the conservative agenda I supported, and I had no intention of leaving Limbaugh to bleed on the battlefield of ideas. I liked Rush, and I hated the liberals who found fault with him.
To be fair, there were times when Limbaugh made statements I found distasteful. As a pro-choice Republican in the late-1990s, I found Limbaugh’s scorn for those on the “wrong” side of the abortion question intolerable, and inconsistent with his stated support for the concept of limited government. Limbaugh’s contempt for libertarians struck me as bizarre, as did his October 2000 declaration that George W. Bush would defeat Al Gore as decisively as Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980, despite the fact that no poll indicated such an outcome.
Yet I stood by Limbaugh, especially when the left suggested that he was bigoted because of his controversial remarks about football star Donovan McNabb and his promotion of an anti-Barack Obama parody song. Standing by Limbaugh wasn’t easy: I found his 2008 attacks on the “conservative intelligentsia” (i.e., David Frum, David Brooks, William Kristol and Ross Douthat) to be over-the-top, and his suggestion that race was the main factor behind Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama to be unsupported by facts. However, I felt compelled to defend him whenever liberals would question me about his remarks.
In January 2009, Limbaugh’s attacks on Obama and conservative pundits who were allegedly too deferential to the new president became so repetitive and so negative that I temporarily abandoned the show. I resumed listening in April 2009, but in March 2010, his show moved from WRKO-AM to WXKS-AM, a Clear Channel-controlled station with a weaker signal. WRKO replaced Limbaugh with veteran Massachusetts-based GOP consultant Charley Manning, a lively personality who I found to be much less predictable in his views than Limbaugh; by the summer of 2010 I found myself completely uninterested in listening to “El Rushbo.”
Even after I stopped listening to Limbaugh, I still felt compelled to give him the benefit of the doubt on the question of race.
I was repulsed when I learned that Limbaugh had depicted Obama as a burglar on the cover of the August 2011 issue of his publication, The Limbaugh Letter. Some images are politically incorrect but not bigoted. This image was bigoted.
I became a conservative because I disliked what I saw as the culture of victimology on the left, the tendency to blame all social problems on racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or homophobia. I felt the left promoted a “grievance industry” that encouraged minority groups to hate members of the majority.
Of course, there’s a difference between saying social bigotry is not the cause of the woes of certain groups and saying social bigotry doesn’t exist at all.
I’ve been in restaurants where white women have reached for their purses when I’m walking nearby. I’ve gone into elevators where white women have shifted nervously once the doors close.
It’s an ugly, unpleasant feeling. I thank God it’s not a commonplace occurrence in my life, but when it happens, it hurts.
I try to rationalize it, to understand that these women are not reacting to me personally, but to what they see in the news media. As Boston talk-radio star Dan Rea, who inherited David Brudnoy’s old job, noted in a 2008 interview,“[L]ocal television news is one of the great purveyors of racism of our time…[i]f you are somebody who lives out in one of the…suburbs, and never have a reason to really interact with people of color, the only time you’re going to see young black males is when they’re being arraigned, they’re being arrested, or they’re dying in the street.”
It’s painful when someone reacts to your body based on a media stereotype. I try not to let it bother me. Yet I wish prominent figures in the media would be a little more cautious about peddling stereotypes.
Rush Limbaugh, I now realize, is not one of those figures. By depicting Obama as a burglar, he’s peddling the old-school stereotype of the black man as shady, shifty thief. Even a black man who graduated from Harvard Law School can’t be trusted not to take your stuff when you’re not around.
I didn’t vote for Obama. He was too progressive for my center-right tastes. I wanted judges in the mold of Scalia and Thomas on the Supreme Court, not Ginsburg and Breyer. I admired the fact that he chose to run—he had more courage than Powell in that respect—but my support went to John McCain.
Do I regret that vote? No. What I do regret, however, is my inability to see Limbaugh the way the folks I used to debate saw Limbaugh. Because I was obsessed with defending Limbaugh from any criticism, I couldn’t distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the man.
Does Limbaugh personally dislike blacks? I can’t credibly make that claim. Has Limbaugh exploited racial stereotypes to make money? The evidence for that is obvious.
Obama is not a burglar, in fact or political theory. While I’ve criticized his decisions and his leadership, I’ve never forgotten that he’s a citizen who’s doing what he believes to be best for the country. Previously, Limbaugh has characterized Obama as a “man-child,” a secret hater of the United States, a white-hating fiend whose economic program constitutes de facto reparations for slavery. Now, he depicts Obama as a thief. Having defended and supported Limbaugh for fifteen years, I realize, perhaps too late, that I must have been robbed of my common sense.
D. R. Tucker is the operator of Massachusetts-based blog The Urban Right (theurbanright.blogspot.com). He is also a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the Boston Herald, Human Events Online, FrumForum.com, TheNextRight.com and BookerRising.com. In addition, he hosted The Notes on Blog Talk Radio (blogtalkradio.com/drtucker) from August 2009 to June 2010.
For more about Tucker's essay, see my DailyKos blog entry about it.