Rush Limbaugh's Campaign To “Otherize” Obama

With the 2012 presidential election approaching, Rush Limbaugh has stepped up his efforts to “otherize” President Obama, engaging in dog-whistle politics intended to push the idea that Obama is foreign to the American experience.

In 2008, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote of a deliberate effort to exaggerate differences between Obama and other Americans, with the goal of “de-Americaniz[ing]” him in the eyes of American voters. This effort, which Kristof described as a “campaign to 'otherize' ” Obama, has had many voices, but perhaps none more prominent than Limbaugh.

Since as early as 2007, Limbaugh has attempted to portray Obama's life story as foreign to the American experience, often exploiting racial and religious prejudice to sow distrust and fear of Obama. Limbaugh's past remarks include accusing Obama of being “more African in his roots than he is American” and guilty of “behaving like an African colonial despot.” He has also called Obama a “Halfrican American” and questioned Obama's faith, asking, “Obama says he's a Christian but where's the evidence?” Limbaugh also asserted that “Imam Hussein Obama” is probably the “best anti-American president the country's ever had,” and then a day later trumpeted a poll showcasing the mistaken belief that “Imam Obama is a Muslim.”

Now, with the 2012 election just a few months away, Limbaugh has stepped up these efforts to “otherize” Obama.

On the July 16 edition of his radio show, after airing comments Obama delivered at a campaign rally that touched upon the relationship between small business success and public investment in infrastructure, Limbaugh declared that “it can now be said, without equivocation” that Obama “hates this country.” He added that Obama “is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream,” and concluded that Obama “despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great. He hates it.”

On July 24, responding to a caller who attacked Obama for not understanding how business works, Limbaugh posited that Obama's philosophy “does not comport with the American experience.” He then explained that Obama “cannot relate to” the “American experience,” because “he has been taught to resent it.” 

A day later, on July 25, Limbaugh discussed a poll showing that half of Americans say Obama has the background and values they identify with. Limbaugh expressed bewilderment that Americans could relate to Obama's background, saying Obama doesn't have a life story “that has much in common with anybody in this country.”  

The campaign to “otherize” Obama, championed in part by Limbaugh, has made an impression on the American electorate. In 2008, a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 12 percent of registered voters incorrectly believed Obama to be Muslim, while not even 60 percent correctly identified Obama as Christian. In a recent survey, nearly four years into Obama's presidency, Pew revealed that 17 percent of registered voters -- a 5 percent increase -- wrongly view Obama as Muslim, while less than 50 percent believe he is Christian.