By Greg Lewis
Sometimes we're impressed by the way our now-weekly Rush Limbaugh commentary manages to almost write itself. On Thursday's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough said that Rush's reaction to the passing of Ted Kennedy "showed great restraint." A few hours later on Thursday's Rush Limbaugh Show, Rush played back that sound bite and agreed with the MSNBC morning host. "I did practice restraint," said Rush.
We have a simple request for Joe Scarborough: Please define "great restraint." Clearly, the bar has to be set pretty low for the modern era's foremost practitioner of venom-laced demonization, but even so, how did Limbaugh show "restraint" when he used Kennedy's passing to invoke the rationing bogeyman, death panels, and the "pain pill"? Rush even admonished Democrats for making Kennedy into a "pawn" whom they would "use to facilitate a political aim." He managed to express that sentiment without a hint of irony -- tactful, when you consider Rush himself, at that very moment, was using Kennedy as his own "pawn" to argue against health reform:
LIMBAUGH: I think it would be a tremendous disservice to come up with a health care bill that we have now in the House and is floating around the Senate, the one that [President] Obama's talking about, where the government is going to decide whether people like Ted Kennedy get to go through every aspect of survival that he did.
Did Rush also show "great restraint" when he essentially said that Kennedy's health care reform plan would be equivalent to slavery? Maybe Rush showed his "restraint" when he repeated his tired mantra about how liberals like Kennedy take money from people who work and give it to people who don't.
Scarborough wasn't alone in sanitizing Limbaugh's Kennedy eulogy. Politico's Patrick Gavin appeared on that same episode of Morning Joe and agreed with the host on Rush's "restraint":
SCARBOROUGH: Rush Limbaugh showed great restraint, saying that he felt uncomfortable saying anything negative about Senator Kennedy.
GAVIN: Yeah, that's right. The only thing that Rush Limbaugh said was that yes, Ted Kennedy was a lion, and we were his prey. But, you know, for the day and for Rush Limbaugh, I think that was actually pretty tame.
That might have been "the only thing that Rush Limbaugh said" in the first 30 seconds of Wednesday's show, but it was in no way the end of Rush's Kennedy commentary. As to Scarborough's reference to Rush's discomfort in "going after" Kennedy "on matters of politics," Rush immediately followed that up by saying:
LIMBAUGH: I think it suffices to say that it would be as hypocritical as it could be to put his name on a health care bill that forces things on people that he was not forcing on himself. I think it would be an insult to his memory.
And at that point, Rush had already made his health care reform-slavery comparison, had already declared that Kennedy "didn't have to read a death book," and had already invoked the numerous health care reform falsehoods mentioned above. Taking that into account, Gavin's remark that Limbaugh was "pretty tame" is just as silly -- if not more so -- as Scarborough's "restraint" line.
And a few hours after Scarborough praised Limbaugh's "great restraint," Rush continued to ratchet up his rhetoric on Kennedy's legacy. Thursday's show saw an end to the -- *ahem* -- "tame restraint," as Rush brought some more gems to the table. Rush joked that "Obama-Kennedycare" wouldn't ration abortions or assisted suicide, declared that Ted Kennedy "screwed up everything he touched," accused Kennedy of ushering in "the beginning of the dawn of the age of the current hate" by opposing Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, and saying that Cutty Sark is "paying for the Kennedy funeral."
But maybe this is a bit unfair to the Morning Joe crew, and perhaps we should all take a deep breath and look at the big picture. As noted above, when talking about Limbaugh, the media tend to set the bar for "restraint" so low that you'd have to raise it a few inches to hit topsoil. Maybe in this whacked-out world of Limbaugh relativity, Rush did show "great restraint." Consider some of the more out-there statements Rush has made recently, and you might be able to argue that what he said about Kennedy could have been worse. He didn't say, "Adolf Hitler, like Ted Kennedy, also ruled by dictate." He didn't call Kennedy a "reverse racist" or compare him to David Duke. And he didn't say that Ted Kennedy "doesn't like this country."
So we think we have this sorted out now. Rush Limbaugh is considered "restrained" when he calls the recently deceased Kennedy a Soviet sympathizer and compares his policy ideas to slavery, because those absurd statements happen to be a couple pegs lower than the most outrageous things he has said in the past. Got it.
And before we sign off for the weekend (Rush, of course, doesn't broadcast on the weekends, so they usually unchain us from our desks), this week's broadcasts saw Rush sidestep his recent comparisons of Obama and health reform to Hitler and Nazism. (Are the LaRouchies getting to you, Rush?) Instead, the -ism of the week was fascism, and it was another attempt by Rush to rewrite history by pegging "radical leftist" Obama with a political ideology historically associated with many right-wing beliefs. Rush said on Thursday's broadcast:
LIMBAUGH: It's not socialism. You know, it's -- socialism -- it's actually fascism. And I think we need to be precise about this. [...] [F]ascism is where the private sector still owns businesses, but the government runs it. [...] [F]ascism is a more apt illustration of what Obama's establishing and setting up here. But they both are horrible.
This whole idea of "liberal fascism" was spelled out in Jonah Goldberg's 2008 exercise in revisionist history titled, um, Liberal Fascism. Austin Bramwell reviewed the book for The American Conservative (that fascist liberal rag!), writing that "creative theorists" like Goldberg -- and we would argue this label could apply to Limbaugh as well -- "can mix sundry political ideas as freely as the ingredients of a cocktail." Bramwell also pointed out: "That liberalism and fascism happen to overlap is not surprising. One can find just as many similarities between fascism and movement conservatism."
But as Rush teaches us week in and week out, proper historical context doesn't actually matter to him. His goal is to associate the name "Barack Obama" with as many frightening political ideologies and buzzwords as he can -- and if he can apply a shade of otherness, all the better -- to make his audience "scared to death" of the president of the United States.
Oh yeah, and this happened.