I must admit, it has been really rather fun watching the batshit insane wing of the American Right go, well, batshit insane since Obama took office. Case in point:
What’s bizarre, and even a little disturbing, isn’t so much the sentiment expressed here, which we have come to expect from Limbaugh, but the way in which he has effectively stepped into the Republican message vacuum—becoming not a marginal (albeit widely heard) conservative talk radio voice, but something approximating the GOP’s point man. I suppose that on one hand this should be no surprise, considering that the best the Republicans have to offer right now are crazy-ass Michael Steele, and Bobby Jindal—whose flaccid Mr. Rogers-esque response to Obama’s State of the Union address seriously has to go down as one of the worst pieces of public speaking in history (I think that his aides looked at the contrast between Obama and Bush/Palin and came to the conclusion that speaking clearly in complete sentences was the way to go, without taking into consideration the fact that Obama matches form to content and doesn’t speak like a grade three student delivering a book report).
On the other hand though, think about this: “I want him to fail.” This, Limbaugh has said repeatedly: he wants the president and his initiatives to crash and burn. No one among the Republicans has endorsed this view, and some have distanced themselves from the sentiment, but no one has rebuked Limbaugh for it either.
On its face, this declaration is somewhat breathtaking, both for its nerve and its tone-deafness.
Let’s consider its nerve first: Limbaugh’s apologists (including the man himself) have defended his statement on the grounds that liberal and left-wing outrage is simply disingenuous—that we on the left spent the last eight years hoping that the Bush Administration would succeed at nothing, or savouring schadenfreude when they bungled their response to such disasters as Hurricane Katrina or the Iraqi insurgency. The difference here, they say, is that Limbaugh at least has the honesty to speak truthfully.
(Also, just as an aside: this is the same guy who, along with his cohorts over at Fox News, six years ago declared ad nauseam that criticism of the war in Iraq wasn’t just un-American, but treasonous).
I obviously cannot speak for all those who, like me, virulently disliked George W. Bush and his government. Were there those who silently wished catastrophe on his endeavours? I would have to say almost certainly. But there is in fact a profound difference between a shameful secret wish and its proud, loud articulation. No one in their right mind desires catastrophic governmental failure, at least not when you honestly balance your own personal feelings of resentment toward that government against the human cost of that catastrophe. No one in their right mind wants people in New Orleans to drown or soldiers to be killed just for the sake of an administration getting egg on its face.
And yet, that is precisely what Limbaugh is saying. We can translate “I want him to fail” into “I want millions of Americans to lose their jobs, their houses, to fall into poverty; I want the United States to slide irrevocably into a depression that will make the 1930s look like a Hamptons garden party.” It’s one thing to look at the stimulus package and the budget and feel that these are measures certain to fail, and work as hard against them as you can. But if you can’t change it or stop it, do you not hope that, whatever your own misgivings, it succeeds in pulling the country out of the mire?
And this is why Limbaugh’s statement—and the Republicans’ refusal to chastise it—is utterly tone-deaf. Poll after poll after poll shows that the majority of the American people see the Republicans as out of touch, and want them to work with Obama. Limbaugh, and by extension the GOP, is preaching to a small and marginal choir while the rest of the country (and the rest of the world) holds its breath and prays that the Obama Administration succeeds. Because really—to the person who has lost his house and job, and is desperately anxious about what is on the horizon, Limbaugh’s statement is as much about him as it is about the president.