Monday, October 12, 2009

Rush's hour

Not content with his work on the radio providing conservative extremists with validation of certain misshapen ideas about this country, its people and its leaders — or giving those extremists new ideas they hadn’t yet thought of — airwaves windbag and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh is apparently making a play to broaden his profile and his portfolio.

The sports channels and message boards were on fire last week over talk of a possible sale of the St. Louis Rams football organization to St. Louis Blues hockey franchise owner Dave Checketts and … Rush Limbaugh. The talk-radio action figure announced the possible deal on Oct. 6. A half-dozen other bidders are also said to be in the mix.

Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, the children of former Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, inherited 60 percent of the Rams when Frontiere died in January 2008. The team’s value is estimated by Forbes magazine at $929 million.

It isn’t clear yet if Checketts and Limbaugh plan to pursue total ownership, or just the majority stake held by the family.

The National Football League Players Union isn’t waiting around to find out. The union has formally objected to Limbaugh as part of any ownership deal, alluding to how past commentaries from the incendiary Rushmeister have had inflammatory, and even racist, overtones. (Especially that time when he was a football commentator for ESPN. That brief foray into sports reporting ended in 2003, after Limbaugh said that black Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the “media wants black quarterbacks to do well.”)

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ESPN reported that DeMaurice Smith, the players’ association director, sent an e-mail to the association's executive committee: "I've spoken to the [NFL] Commissioner [Roger Goodell] and I understand that this ownership consideration is in the early stages. But sport in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."

Smith is a master of verbal diplomacy. In light of Limbaugh’s previous statements, the union is no doubt dismayed at the prospect of working for any organization that could even remotely be construed as Mr. Limbaugh’s plantation.

It’s all part of what seems to be a reinvention of Rush Limbaugh. Recent sightings of the talk-radio Doberman have revealed a slimmer Rush, the once-portly commentator on a diet that’s made him almost runway svelte.

And Nutrisystem Rush has apparently decided that speaking with the mainstream media can help him disprove a commonly held belief: that he’s the spiritual leader of the Republican Party.

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In an interview with NBC’s Jamie Gangel, to be broadcast Tuesday and Wednesday on the “Today” show, Limbaugh disowned any status as the Richelieu of the GOP, even as he offered his own prescription for what the Party of No needs to win.

“These people think that they can discredit the Republican Party by making me the head of it,” he said. ““I am not the leader of the Republican Party; don't wanna be the leader of the Republican Party,” “It’s silly for them to keep talking about how I’m the leader of anything.”

In a shot at Arizona Sen. John McCain’s failed presidential bid, Limbaugh disavowed any responsibility for the GOP being “shellacked” in November. “I couldn’t hurt him any more than he hurt himself,” Limbaugh said. “He’s right now trying to remake the Republican Party …”

“The Republican Party is not the party of liberal, independent moderates,” Limbaugh said, all but foaming at the mouth. “The Republican Party wins when it is unabashedly conservative. And it’s going to continue to lose until it realizes that.”

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For all its air of challenge, Limbaugh’s assessment is essentially a call for the Republicans to keep doing what they’ve been doing: doubling down on their regional, isolationist identity at the expense of raising the favorables for the party among the broad cross-section of people in an America growing more ethnically and attitudinally diverse every day.

Rush’s hissy fit with McCain is a barometer of the GOP’s bigger problem: it’s not the usual battles with the Democrats, it’s the emerging and potentially ruinous intra-party skirmishes that signal a party at war with itself. From its arm’s-length toleration of the gay Log Cabin Republicans to the defection of Sen. Arlen Specter from its ranks earlier this year, to the statement by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham that conservative champion and loose cannon Glenn Beck is “aligned with cynicism,” the Republican Party is in an unprecedented existential wilderness.

Unabashed conservatism is all the Republicans have to sell right now, and it ain’t nearly enough. Before championing any successful campaign or candidate, the Republicans are challenged by the need for an identity as something more than being the minders of the cultural-values tripwire used to separate the GOP from everyone else — an identity that accepts the very people it’s bent on locking out. Winning in 2012, or any other year, should be the last of its objectives.

If the Checketts/Limbaugh deal for the Rams goes down, it’ll call to mind a rule that resonates as much in politics as in pro football.

It’s as true for a losing NFL team (5-31 since 2007) as it is for a hapless political party in self-inflicted turmoil: You can’t win the Super Bowl without a playbook.
Image credits: Limbaugh: Still from "Today" show, NBC. Rams logo: © 2009 St. Louis Rams.

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