The Friday Rush: Limbaugh takes race-baiting to puzzling extremes

››› ››› GREG LEWIS

For most, race is a subject that's difficult to approach. As such, it's a topic that most people, for better or worse, handle with a great deal of caution. Rush Limbaugh, however, is not "most people," and his contribution to this week's discussion in the media of race and the Obama presidency was to engage in some markedly despicable race-baiting.

For most, race is a subject that's difficult to approach. The nation's troubled racial history still echoes decades after the landmark Civil Rights Act and nearly 150 years after slavery was made illegal. As such, it's a topic that most people, for better or worse, handle with a great deal of caution.

Rush Limbaugh, however, is not "most people," and his contribution to this week's discussion in the media of race and the Obama presidency was to engage in some markedly despicable race-baiting. There's really no other way to categorize what he said and the topics he covered over this five-day span. And while Rush has distastefully opined on the subject of race in the past, this week merits recognition for the way in which the de facto leader of the GOP used his high-impact media platform to stir up his audience's emotions on race to a new extreme.

The week in race-baiting began in typical Limbaugh fashion: nonsensically. Responding to the mean things Time's Joe Klein said about him, Rush acted defensively by saying that Klein was "playing the race card." We found that puzzling, seeing as Klein didn't actually mention race in the portions of audio Rush played. Later in the same program, Limbaugh defended his own record on race, describing how he "didn't become a racist until somebody called [him] one."

Tuesday is where things started to get out of hand, as Rush set his sights on the Belleville, Illinois, school bus incident.

If you're a loyal reader of the Drudge Report or an observer of the conservative media, you might have noticed this seemingly insignificant story getting blown wildly out of proportion, with racial implications being passed around willy-nilly. If you're not, then we'll quickly sum up the events for you: Two teenagers beat up another teenager on a school bus. It was caught on tape and wasn't fun to watch. Incidentally, the kids administering the beating were black, while the kid being beaten up was white.

The story turned out to be too much for Rush to handle as a mature adult:

LIMBAUGH: It's Obama's America, is it not? Obama's America -- white kids getting beat up on school buses now. I mean, you put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety, but in Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.

Rush says he was trying to make a point about the recent flare-up of media labeling criticism of Obama as racist. Regardless of what he says he was trying to do, what he succeeded in doing was exaggerating the racial element of the story and linking purportedly race-based violence to the first African-American president, which seems -- and we're being generous here -- disingenuous and a little dangerous.

And whatever point Limbaugh says he was trying to get across, all he ended up doing was using the sensitive subject of race as a political weapon and linking some of the worst racial injustices in the country's history to the president. This, of course, fits neatly into the dangerous, radical right-wing effort to demonize Barack Obama, which Limbaugh has been spearheading for months. A few weeks ago, he was smearing the president as a Nazi (more on that in a bit), and by Thursday's show, he was proclaiming that Obama "is racism."

The following day on his show, Rush continued to rant about the media's tendency to talk about whether criticism of Obama was racist, which led Rush to ask his audience this "legitimate" question: "[C]an this nation really have an African-American president?" It was only earlier that morning that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough asked: "What has Rush Limbaugh said that you would consider racist? Because I haven't heard that." We've already hit Scarborough for playing dumb about Rush, so we'll let this one speak for itself.

Another highlight from the week was Limbaugh joining in on the conservative chorus exaggerating the turnout of the 9/12 rally in Washington, D.C. Though he was not as humorously ignorant as Glenn Beck, who cited a nonexistent National Park Service spokesman, Limbaugh still made things up on Monday's show, citing a British press article to claim that 2 million people had attended. This number diverged a bit from the D.C. fire department's estimate of between 60,000 and 75,000. Oh, and the article he read didn't actually claim there were 2 million protesters.

By the next day, Rush had walked backed his wild guessing and stated: "So the guesses are out there from 60,000 to one and a half million to two million; bottom line is that there is a buzz out there." That's quite a range he had there -- he must have forgotten the absurdly large number he ran with as fact the day before.

And speaking of backtracks, Rush spent some time this week rewriting his own history. Remember all those instances in which Limbaugh compared Obama to Hitler and health care reform to Nazism, and everything in between? Well, now Rush is denying he ever did so, as he did on Tuesday when he brushed off "people comparing Obama to Hitler," attributing that instead to the "LaRouche Democrats." Then, a caller to Wednesday's show provoked this denial from El Rushbo:

CALLER: You know, Rush, you conservative Republicans have spent months calling President Obama a Marxist, a socialist, a Nazi, soft tyranny, and for months now --

LIMBAUGH: Wait just a second now, [caller]. Marxist, socialist, fascist, yes. I never called him a Nazi. That's what his people are calling us.

Ah, he "never called" Obama "a Nazi." Except when he did. And Rush has repeatedly tried to blame the House speaker for "calling us" Nazis. Except that she didn't. Welcome to the bizarro fantasyland that is The Rush Limbaugh Show.

Limbaugh's other convenient memory loss of the week happened on Tuesday, when he disparaged the birthers by coming up with a scheme for Obama's Kenyan relatives to scam the birthers out of their money so they can build an Obama family museum:

LIMBAUGH: You know how to get that thing built? Here's what the village elders oughta do. They oughta say to the birthers in this country that they've got Obama's birth certificate and that they will put it display if somebody donates the money to start the building of the family museum. Would that not be -- the birthers! The birthers could build the Obama family museum. All the Kenyans would have to do is say "Hey!" And we'll put -- the first exhibit will be the birth certificate.

We still remember the days when Limbaugh himself fed the birther insanity.

But Rush's memory isn't entirely on the fritz -- Rush proved on Monday that he still remembered what he said last week about community service being "the first step toward fascism." We'll set the over-under for Rush's forgetting he ever said this at three weeks. Any takers?

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