Rush Limbaugh called me a "wacko" yesterday to his 20 million radio listeners.
I am truly honored and humbled.
This is the guy, after all, who compared Abu Ghraib to a racuous frat party, who took American radio to a new lows with terms like "feminazi," who made fun of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease and who called positive press for the Eagles' Donovan McNabb "a social concern" because McNabb is a black quarterback -- just 17 months before McNabb led his team to the Super Bowl. To make my way to his "wacko" list...well, I can think of no better proof that I must be doing something right.
To what do I owe the privilege? The backstory is interesting, but in a nutshell the right-wing blogosphere belatedly (as in nearly two months late) stumbled onto Sen. Barack Obama's April visit to the Daily News, where I had the chance to ask him how an Obama administration might deal with White House internal discussions of torturing terror suspects, and other potential crimes in the Bush White House.
Here's a short snippet of what I wrote on April 14:
Tonight I had an opportunity to ask Barack Obama a question that is on the minds of many Americans, yet rarely rises to the surface in the great ruckus of the 2008 presidential race -- and that is whether an Obama administration would seek to prosecute officials of a former Bush administration on the revelations that they greenlighted torture, or for other potential crimes that took place in the White House.
Obama said that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted -- but he also tread carefully on the issue, in line with his reputation for seeking to bridge the partisan divide. He worried that such a probe could be spun as "a partisan witch hunt." However, he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law."
The story actually did make a small fuss at the time, but the world moved on, until a conservative blogger named Thomas Lifson apparently stumbled across the old post -- just as the right wing was waking up to the very real notion of an Obama presidency. To Lifson, Obama's fairly measured comments on the subject (in my opinion) in fact suggested "the totalitarian practice of jailing the predecessors when a new president takes office." From there, the far-right blogosphere was off and running, working its way down the food chain until it burrowed into the muck of Limbaughland, who really seemed more worked up about insignificant little me -- who became a "Stalinist" once the worked-up El Rushbo reached the end of his monologue -- than about the Democrat poised to take over the White House :
After the administration's left office, to pursue an investigation that might lead to criminal indictments for war crimes and other things. We used to do that to the Nazis. We did do that to the Nazis, the Nuremberg Trials and so forth. This is who today's modern liberals are. Now, Obama's got this wacko reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News who's obviously not a reporter. He is a leftist who happens to have secured a job in journalism, and he's got an agenda, and the agenda is right out of the cliched story line of the Drive-By Media, that we are a murderous, raping, torturing nation and that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell have to pay. This is all about creating the notion in as many people's minds that our country is criminal, is in a constant state of decline, and we are not worth our reputation as the world's greatest superpower.
This would be a direct assault on the United States and its government. And you talk about we need to improve our reputation in the world. Look at how they would do it. By finding the US guilty at every opportunity of whatever baseless, phony charges that they would make. This is Stalinist. If you've ever wondered what the definition of is Stalinist, this would fit it.
Frankly, I think the political right, all the way up to the White House, doth protest too much on this whole "war crimes" issue; that is, they're realizing the polls are showing the GOP may be shut out of power, and people desperately want to steer the conversation away from the things that were actually done the last 7 1/2 years, from authorizing torture to widespread spying on Americans. You're going to see a lot of things in the next few months -- some subtle, some blatant -- seeking to shift the debate away from the horrors inside the House at 1600.
Ironically, as the person who was actually in the room when Obama made his remarks, my sense was that -- given his reputation for caution and seeking the center -- that he'd rather undergo root canal than be linked to any kind of criminal prosecution of what happened from 2001-09 -- unless what happened under Bush and Cheney was so egregious that decent people simply could not look the other way.
Sadly, that may well be the case. Remember, we're talking about waterboarding, rendition, unlawful spying and possible cover-ups of those acts. Does most of America want a new attorney general who doesn't think these things aren't worth at least a preliminary peek?
Which brings me to the substance, such as it is, of what Limbaugh said yesterday. His message is quite simple -- or should I say simplistic? -- which is that an attack on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney very easily morphs into an attack on the "nation" -- as he said, specifically, that "we are a murderous, raping, torturing nation." Except that I said no such thing, nor do I believe that, nor do other people with liberal views. We believe that America has been a nation that has brought incredible good to the world, from our bedrock principles of free speech, free beliefs and democratic elections to the amazing people who used our liberty to bring the world everything from the electric light to the World Wide Web to "The Great Gatsby" and so many, many other things.
It was that power -- the power of morality and the idea that a nation could be ultimately governed by its lofty laws and not by flawed mortals -- that made America into the superpower that Limbaugh spoke of, a superpower in the sense that millions of people from around the world wanted to come here and, once upon a time, millions more wanted to be just like us. Our country is not criminal -- no one said that, either -- but for the sake of my children I want to make sure that future leaders know that criminals who somehow get in place to run the country can't get away with it. And no one said that our country is in a "constant state of decline" -- unless somehow when I wasn't looking the definition of "constant" was changed to "7 1/2 years." It was only a decade ago that most of the world envied our technology, our culture, and our enterprise -- before people around the globe from Bogota to Beirut learned how to pronounce Guantanamo.
A couple years back, Limbaugh wrote an interesting piece for the Wall Street Journal in 2005 explaining conservatism by saying that "We believe in individual liberty, limited government, capitalism, the rule of law, faith, a color-blind society and national security." Except that just three year later Limbaugh (in addition to his "color-blind" endorsement of an op-ed that called Obama "a magic Negro") doesn't care much about the unlimited power of a government to deprive people of their individual liberty -- even as Gitmo and Abu Ghraib compromise national security by serving as a recruitment tool to new terrorists.
Well, at least he still has faith in capitalism.
But Limbaugh's worst sin is equating our corrupt leaders -- who must never be above the law, both when they're in office and after they've left it -- with our timeless Constitution and the laws that all Americans are bound to follow, and -- if necessary -- to enforce. Indeed, who is really hating on America here? To say that any criticism or, if required, prosecution of those leaders is the same thing as an assault on our country means that we are no longer a nation but a cult of personality -- which in fact is exactly what they had in the Soviet Union and those other totalitarian states.
If you've ever wondered what the definition of Stalinist is, this would fit it.