Before MoveOn's "General Betray Us," there was Limbaugh's "Senator Betrayus"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY & ANDREW WALZER

Rush Limbaugh has called the MoveOn.org "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" advertisement "contemptible" and "indecent," but months earlier, on his radio show, he told his audience that he had a new name for Senator Chuck Hagel: "Senator Betrayus." Though Limbaugh has taken exception to accusations that he has attacked the patriotism of his political opponents, the "Senator Betrayus" remark is one of several instances in which Limbaugh has done so.

On September 10, MoveOn.org's much-discussed advertisement headlined "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" critical of Gen. David Petraeus, appeared in The New York Times. On the September 11 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called the advertisement "contemptible" and "indecent." However, months earlier, on his radio show, he told his audience that he had a new name for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE): "Senator Betrayus." On the January 25 broadcast (subscription required) of his radio show, Limbaugh broke from his commentary on an interview of Vice President Dick Cheney on the January 24 edition of CNN's The Situation Room to say: "By the way, we had a caller call, couldn't stay on the air, got a new name for Senator Hagel in Nebraska, we got General Petraeus and we got Senator Betrayus, new name for Senator Hagel." A day earlier, Hagel had sided with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in voting to approve a nonbinding resolution declaring that Bush's escalation in Iraq was against "the national interest."

In a September 10 blog post, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith reported that the General Betray Us ad "appears to have been borrowed indirectly from Rush Limbaugh and noted that "[a]ccording to a Free Republican [sic: Free Republic] diary, Rush took a call in January from a listener who suggested he contrast General Petraeus with Senator Chuck Betrayus -- i.e., Hagel." In the January 26 post Smith cited, Free Republic commenter "Recovering_Democrat" wrote that "Rush said on his show yesterday that a caller suggested the new name for Senator Hagel."

Indeed, on the February 4 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos told Hagel that Limbaugh "calls you 'Senator Betrayus.' " On the February 5 broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh played an audio clip of Stephanopoulos telling Hagel that Limbaugh calls him "Senator Betrayus." Limbaugh didn't disavow the characterization; in fact, Limbaugh said in response to Hagel's comments: "But note he doesn't comment specifically on what I say. 'Well, you know, Rush has to be somewhere, he can say whatever he wants,' but didn't dispute the substance of my point."

On the September 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis responded to questions about the MoveOn.org ad by suggesting that the ad was no less outrageous "than some of the hatemongering that I hear from Rush Limbaugh and some of the people on the right questioning the patriotism of people like MoveOn.org" and asking "why are you not questioning Rush Limbaugh attacking patriotism." Fox News co-host and weatherman Steve Doocy said, "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't heard Rush Limbaugh do that. Later that day on his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh played audio from Davis' Fox & Friends appearance, and said: "I hope Fox does a program on me. I won't participate in it because I don't do that, but -- what have I said? What in the world have I said? All I said was that they're invested in defeat. I've said that it's just -- it's unacceptable, it's indecent the way they attack General Petraeus."

In addition to his "Senator Betrayus" comment, Limbaugh has repeatedly and explicitly attacked the patriotism of his political opponents, as Media Matters for America has documented:

  • In a commentary segment on the September 7, 2006, broadcast of the CBS Evening News, Limbaugh said, "But some Americans, sadly, not interested in victory, and yet they want us to believe that their behavior is patriotic. Well, it's not. When the critics are more interested in punishing this country over a few incidents of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay than they are in defeating those who want to kill us, when they seek to destroy a foreign surveillance program which is designed to identify those who want to kill us and how they intend to do it, when they want to grant those who want to kill us U.S. constitutional rights, I don't call that patriotic. Patriotism is rallying behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat Islamofascism."
  • On the August 21, 2006, broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh said, "I want to respectfully disagree with the president on the last part of what he said. I am going to challenge the patriotism of people who disagree with him because the people that disagree with him want to lose."
  • On the August 23, 2005, broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh said, "It's time for somebody to tell the people on the left, you're damn right we're questioning your patriotism." Limbaugh subsequently featured this self-described "brilliant El Rushbo monologue" on his website under the heading, "You're Damn Right, American Left; We're Questioning Your Patriotism."
  • On the September 17, 2004, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh said that half of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry's (MA) base "hates the military, hates America, hates Bush, hates the world except for France and Germany."

Additionally, on September 11, Limbaugh referred to terrorist Osama bin Laden as "U -- Ubama -- I'm sorry, Usama," continuing a pattern, which Media Matters for America has documented, of conflating Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) with bin Laden.

From the January 25 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Does that sound like Cheney is standing up in righteous indignation and pointing his finger at Blitzer and demanding that he shut up and accusing them doing a hit piece? Does it sound like that at all? No, it doesn't. Next question from Wolf Blitzer. "What if the Senate passes a resolution saying this is not a good idea? Will that stop you?"

CHENEY [audio clip]: It won't stop us, and it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops, as General Petraeus said yesterday. He was asked by [Sen.] Joe Lieberman [I-CT], among others, in his testimony about this notion that somehow the Senate could vote overwhelmingly for him, send him on his new assignment, and then pass a resolution at the same time and say, "But we don't agree with the mission you've been given."

LIMBAUGH: Right. By the way, we had a caller call, couldn't stay on the air, got a new name for Senator Hagel in Nebraska. We got General Petraeus, and we got Senator Betrayus. New name for Senator Hagel. Here's now one final bit -- well, two more. Question from Blitzer: "Here's the problem that you have. The administration, credibility in Congress with the American public, because of the mistakes, because of the previous statements, the 'last throes,' the comment you made a year and a half ago, the insurgency was in its last throes. How do you build up that credibility because so many of these Democrats and a lot of Republicans now are saying that they don't believe you anymore."

From the February 4 edition of ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're taking a lot of heat from conservatives over your position. Here was Rush Limbaugh this week.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: If Chuck Hagel had been around during D-Day with the same kind of media we have today, he would have demanded that the invasion stop after the landing because there had been so many deaths. War is not something you put on a timetable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He calls you "Senator Betrayus."

HAGEL: Well, listen, everybody has to be somewhere. Everyone has to make a living. Rush has to make a living. And he has a right to say whatever he wants.

From the February 5 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: The word of my [Nobel Peace Prize] nomination just continues to roil drive-by media outlets, and it continued over the weekend. Then, on George Stephanopoulos' show on Sunday, he had Chuck Hagel as his -- as guest. They had this exchange.

[begin audio clip]

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're taking a lot of heat from conservatives over your position. Here was Rush Limbaugh this week.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: If Chuck Hagel had been around during D-Day with the same kind of media we have today, he would have demanded that the invasion stop after the landing because there had been so many deaths. War is not something you put on a timetable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He calls you "Senator Betrayus."

HAGEL: Well, listen, everybody has to be somewhere. Everyone has to make a living. Rush has to make a living. And he has a right to say whatever he wants.

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: But note he doesn't comment specifically on what I say. "Well, you know, Rush has to be somewhere, he can say whatever he wants," but didn't dispute the substance of my point.

From Smith's September 10 Politico blog post:

A footnote to the fuss over MoveOn's "General Betray Us" ad, a favored GOP talking point of the day. (Genius? Idiocy? Interested in readers' views.)

Anyway, it also appears to have been borrowed, indirectly, from Rush Limbaugh. According to a Free Republican diary, Rush took a call in January from a listener who suggested he contrast General Petraeus with Senator Chuck Betrayus -- i.e., Hagel.

From the September 11 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: The Democrats are accusing Petraeus of being a patsy. The Democrats are accusing him of lying. I've suggested to you that if you ever -- 'cause, you know, I'm talented here, folks. I can read the stitches on the fastballs. I can see between the lines. I know these people like every square inch of my glorious naked body, and I am telling you that when they say Petraeus is lying, it means they are. When they say that Petraeus is a puppet, they are.

And I'll tell you who's pulling their strings: MoveOn.org and that -- that contemptible, indecent ad that ran yesterday in The New York Times. The kook, fringe, left-wing blogosphere -- that's who they're afraid of. They're not afraid of U -- Ubama -- I'm sorry, Usama. They are not afraid of the enemy.

From the September 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Right now, Republicans have condemned the MoveOn.Org ad criticizing General Petraeus. "Betray Us," Petraeus, you know what we're talking about. But what do the Democrats have to say, and how was President Bush's address received across America as well? Time now for a fair and balanced debate. Former special counsel to the President Clinton and author of Scandal: How 'Gotcha' Politics is Destroying America Lanny Davis joins us live, screen left, appropriately enough. And screen right, former RNC senior adviser Terry Holt. We thank you very much, Terry, for joining us as well.

HOLT: Thank you.

DOOCY: All right, Lanny, let's start with you. None of the -- I know you're familiar with Hillary Rodham Clinton, she wants to be president. She has not come out and denounced this ad. Do you think she should?

DAVIS: I think every single Democrat should say that MoveOn.org using the expression "General Betray Us" is engaging in outrageous and, in my opinion, offensive rhetoric, but no less so than some of the hatemongering that I hear from Rush Limbaugh and some of the people on the right questioning the patriotism of people like MoveOn.org who have a right under the First Amendment --

DOOCY: Sure.

DAVIS: -- to say anything they want. Why we give them such credence when nobody can take seriously that kind of -

DOOCY: Right, but Lanny --

DAVIS: -- outrageous exercise of their First Amendment rights is, to me, amazing that you would start out with that subject rather than George Bush's speech last night, which is important.

DOOCY: Well, we are going to get to that. That was our lead story today, but should Hillary denounce it? I know you said all Democrats. Why hasn't she?

DAVIS: Um, I think Senator Clinton should denounce it. I don't know why, but again, you're still focused on Moveon.org rather than President Bush. Why are you, and you said we're going to get to that --

DOOCY: Yeah, we will.

DAVIS: -- but you're still following up on an issue -- why are we -- why are you not questioning Rush Limbaugh attacking patriotism? Why hasn't Fox done one program about Rush Limbaugh? Would you answer that question? Let me interview you and Fox & Friends for a second. Why MoveOn.org, which I denounce -- why are you not denouncing Rush Limbaugh questioning my patriotism for disagreeing on the Iraq war?

DOOCY: Lanny -- Lanny -- I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about I haven't heard Rush Limbaugh do that. I'll look into it --

DAVIS: Why don't you -- why don't you do a study and invite me back, and we'll have a program about Rush Limbaugh rather than just focusing on what you call the left.

DOOCY: OK. Lanny, Lanny -- you're filibustering. Let's go to Terry. Terry, you're comment on this.

HOLT: Well, I think that MoveOn.org has quickly become one of the largest and most influential special interest groups dominating the Democratic Party, and I think they won't denounce it simply because they're afraid that they'll be denounced by MoveOn.org, who carries with them the perception that they have a stranglehold on the liberal Democratic base. I mean, this is one of those groups that nobody had ever heard of five years ago, and now every politician on the Democratic side runs in fear whenever MoveOn.org utters a word.

From the September 14 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Lanny Davis is upset at me. The former Clinton spinmeister was on the Fox News Channel this morning on Fox & Friends, and Steve Doocy -- does the weather -- interviewed Lanny Davis and said, look, I know you're familiar with Hillary. She wants to be president. She's not come out and denounced this MoveOn.org ad. Do you think she should?

[begin audio clip]

DAVIS: Every single Democrat should say that MoveOn.org using the expression "General Betray Us" is engaging in outrageous and, in my opinion, offensive rhetoric, but no less so than some of the hatemongering that I hear from Rush Limbaugh and some of the people on the right questioning the patriotism of people like MoveOn.org who have a right under the First Amendment --

DOOCY: Sure.

DAVIS: -- to say anything they want. Why we give them such credence when nobody can take seriously that kind of --

DOOCY: Right, but Lanny --

DAVIS: -- outrageous exercise of their First Amendment rights is, to me, amazing that you would start out with that subject rather than George Bush's speech last night.

LIMBAUGH: So the conversation continues with Lanny Davis bringing me back into it.

[begin audio clip]

DAVIS: Senator Clinton should denounce it. I don't know why, but again, you're still focused on MoveOn.org rather than President Bush. Why are you not questioning Rush Limbaugh attacking patriotism? Why hasn't Fox done one program about Rush Limbaugh? Would you answer that question? Let me interview you and Fox & Friends for a second. Why MoveOn.org, which I denounce -- why are you not denouncing Rush Limbaugh questioning my patriotism for disagreeing on the Iraq war?

DOOCY: Lanny -- Lanny -- I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't heard Rush Limbaugh do that. I'll look into it --

DAVIS: Why don't you -- why don't you do a study and invite me back, and we'll have a program about Rush Limbaugh rather than just focusing on what you call the left.

DOOCY: OK. Lanny, Lanny -- you're filibustering.

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: I welcome it. I hope Fox does a program on me. I won't participate in it because I don't do that, but -- what have I said? What in the world have I said? All I said was that they're invested in defeat. I've said that it's just -- it's unacceptable, it's indecent the way they attack General Petraeus. Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know if this conclusion has come to anybody else out there, but during the Petraeus hearings -- and even in the postmortem -- you know, not one liberal, not one Democrat has asked what can we do to help you and the troops. While they were talking to General Petraeus, Lanny, there wasn't one Democrat in the House or Senate on either committee that asked the general what they could do to help him and the troops.

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