WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 04: Radio personality Rush Limbaugh reacts as First Lady Melania Trump gives him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump delivers his third State of the Union to the nation the night before the U.S. Senate is set to vote in his impeachment trial. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A guy once wrote that, for sheer perverse entertainment, “nothing beats the current spectacle of Republican supplicants quaking at the feet of their master. Nothing better illustrates the sorry state of the party than this abject ritual.”
Oh wait – I’m the guy who wrote that. In 2009. About the GOP’s genuflections to Rush Limbaugh.
Lest we forget, the Republican party’s descent into mindless demagoguery did not begin with Donald Trump. Trump is merely the cherry on top of the GOP’s toxic sundae. The best way to mark Limbaugh’s passing is to remind ourselves that the serial-lying hate merchant was working the turf – and terrorizing Republicans who dared challenge him – long before Trump conned a fatal minority of the 2016 electorate.
There’s no point in sharing a laundry list of Rush’s most detestable remarks – they’re too numerous anyway. Suffice it to say that he marketed MAGA before there was MAGA, tapping into the rabid right’s angry id so successfully that Republican leaders morphed into wimps, living in fear of his aggrieved manly white fans.
See if this sounds vaguely familiar:
In 2009, when Rush was particularly unhinged by the ascent of a black man to the presidency, some Republicans dared suggest that he tone himself down for the common good of all. Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey lamented that it was “easy” for Limbaugh “to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party…You stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of thing.” The same week, GOP national chairman Michael Steele called Limbaugh’s rhetoric was “ugly” and “incendiary.”
But after Rush lashed back at both guys on the air, their spines magically turned to mush. Gingrey felt compelled to say: “I see eye-to-eye with Rush Limbaugh. I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended…I realize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments.” And Steele entered a Rush reeducation camp and emerged fully cured: “I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh…There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”
And see if this sounds familiar:
In 2012 (you may remember this), a Georgetown Law student named Sandra Fluke Fluke spoke favorably about birth control at a congressional hearing. Rush didn’t like that. On his show, he called her “a slut” and “a prostitute” and said she was apparently “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.” But when Republican leaders were asked whether they agreed with their de facto party chairman, they hunkered in their bunker while Rush treated Fluke the way a junkyard dog gnaws meat.
Days later, their responses were a mix of defiance and weak tea. Newt Gingrich (whose 1995 ascent to House Speaker was greased by Rush) naturally chose defiance. When asked for comment, he said: “I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media.” But more often, the respondents tut-tutted as if tiptoeing on eggshells.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when asked about Rush’s attack on Fluke, did the furrowed-brow thing: “It’s not the language I would have used.” The House Speaker, John Boehner, said through a spokesman that Rush’s words were “inappropriate.” And another presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, gave us a word salad: “(Rush) is being absurd. But that’s, you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And – and he’s taking the absurd, you know, the absurd – absurd, you know, sort of, you know, point of view here as to how – how far do you go? And, look, he’s in a very different business than I am.”
So what we’re seeing today – as quaking Republicans like Kevin McCarthy rush to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the loser’s ring, as state and county Republicans censure the few senators who stood up to fascism – is merely the harvesting of the hate ethos that Limbaugh seeded so successfully. No wonder Trump debased the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honoring Rush for his pioneering contributions to cult-think.
I know that when someone dies, it’s best to say nice things. But to borrow the Shakespearean words of Marc Antony, I have come to bury Rush, not to praise him.
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