Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rush, race and 'payback'

Conservative newlywed talk-radio gasbag and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh has built an empire on racial vitriol, stoking the fires of intolerance with the extremist right, which can't get enough of this sort of thing.

In recent days he's returned to form in a big and ugly way, with on-air commentaries that suggest not only the Limbaugh of old, but also his strategy for advancing the extremist conservative agenda in the runup to the election in November.

For Rush, it's all about character assassination -- the wilder and more improbable the accusation, the better. A classic example: On his July 2 program, Limbaugh revisited a persistent extremist theme of Obama's hatred for America, tying it to the economy. To Limbaugh, the current state of the economy is a deliberate case of racial "payback."

"Who is Obama? Why is he doing this? Why? Why is he doing it? Is he stupid? Is it an accident? ... I think we face something we've never faced before in the country, and that is, we're now governed by people who do not like the country, who do not have the same reverence for it that we do. Our greatest threat -- and that is saying something -- is internal."

Signing on philosophically to the comments of someone who proposed the "payback" idea, Limbaugh added his own embellishing perspective of the unidentified commenter: "That word 'payback' is not mine [but] it is exactly how I think Obama looks at the country: It's payback time ... There's no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States, and doing so happily."

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Limbaugh's drumbeat continued on Wednesday, with more condemnation for Obama, claiming that Obama had succeeded in every step of his journey to the presidency solely because of his race.

Obama, he said, "wouldn't have been voted president if he weren't black É There's a lot of guilt out there: [To] show we're not racists, we'll make this person wealthy and big and famous and so forth ... If Obama weren't black, he'd be a tour guide in Honolulu, or he'd be teaching Saul Alinsky constitutional law or lecturing on it in Chicago."

Why is Rush doing it? Is he stupid? Is it an accident? We can debate his mental faculties all day; what's certain is that it's no accident. This pattern of ad hominem attack and racial insinuation has defined Limbaugh through the years, especially in the heat of the 2008 campaign, when Limbaugh's comments formed a racially corrosive counter-narrative to Obama's message of positive change.

Now, Limbaugh's doing his part to turn up the temperature in the long hot summer preceding the midterm election.

Like the tax-filing deadline, hurricane season and the line at the DMV, Rush Limbaugh is an unpredictable familiar. We've dealt with him before, which doesn't make it any easier the next time we have to deal with him. Now, as before, in this campaign like the last one, we know what to expect from Limbaugh: the thoroughly expected unexpected.

Image credit: Limbuagh: Today show (NBC).

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