By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
If White House officials were trying to elevate Rush Limbaugh to the leader of the opposition, they may have succeeded.
After the radio host delivered a raucous red-meat speech Saturday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on CBS's "Face the Nation" the next day: "He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party, and he has been upfront about what he views, and hasn't stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added his voice yesterday, saying reporters should ask Republicans "whether they agree with what Rush Limbaugh said . . . in wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country."
Limbaugh, a master at drawing media attention, has filled a vacuum for the GOP since the election, and Emanuel's comments served only to further boost his prominence. Limbaugh fired back on his show yesterday, saying the White House is trying to "malign me, take me out of context" and "attach it to the Republican Party in general, because President Obama wants no debate." He said that this is "a game of manipulation emanating from the Oval Office," and that he wants Obama's "socialist" policies to fail, but added that he does not want to see the economy and stock market tank.
But White House officials contend that, with Limbaugh commanding more airtime than any other prominent Republican, they are obliged to respond to his call for the president's failure -- which they are more than happy to equate with financial ruin.
Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele distanced himself from the radio host's commentary over the weekend, telling CNN's D.L. Hughley that Limbaugh is "an entertainer," not a party leader, adding: "Yes, he's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly."
But Steele said yesterday that he tried to reach Limbaugh to assure him of his "enormous respect," telling Politico: "I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. . . . There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership." In his CBS interview, Emanuel said of Limbaugh that "whenever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood."
Liberal bloggers denounced Limbaugh's hour-long address, which was carried live by Fox News and CNN, with Huffington Post's Taylor Marsh calling it "a rambling, sometimes incoherent, self-indulgent mess." Limbaugh, who often assails the "drive-by media," has been a leading provocateur on the right for two decades. House Republicans named him an honorary member of Congress after he aided the GOP takeover in 1994. In January, then-President George W. Bush held a White House luncheon in his honor.
Among the points in his speech that drew the greatest ire were:
-- "There will be more controls over what you can and can't do, how you can and can't do it, what you can and can't drive, what you can and can't say, where you can and can't say it."
-- "They don't have the right to take money that's not theirs, and none of it is, from back pockets of producers and give it to groups like ACORN. . . . If anybody but government were doing this, it would be a crime."
-- "They have destroyed poor families by breaking up those families, by offering welfare checks to women to keep having babies, no more father needed."