While Republican leaders owe no apology for Mr. Limbaugh’s comments, they do have a responsibility to repudiate them — and him.
House Speaker John Boehner took a step in that direction Friday: “The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail Friday morning. But there’s no moral equivalency between the Democrats’ hyperbolic but abstract “war on women” line and Mr. Limbaugh’s targeted attack. Mr. Boehner and others of his stature need to say unequivocally that such gutter rhetoric has no place in their party or in American politics.
I find it a bit impractical for politicians to survey all the rude, extreme and untoward comments made by their media allies and renounce them individually. (There are not enough hours in the day to get a fraction of the miscreants on the left and right). And I don’t much like the idea of elevating and rebroadcasting crude remarks. (President Obama insured that everyone in America knew that Sandra Fluke had been called a “slut.”)
But if we are going down the road, I’ve got my list for Democrats. Let’s start with Paul Krugman, who repeatedly blamed Republicans for the shooting of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the slaying of other innocents. (Remember, we have to be specific, so Obama’s plea for civility in general really won’t do.) Even more egregious was Tom Friedman’s assertion that Congress had been “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby.”Where was the White House? Then there is Andrew Sullivan who spent a good deal of the 2008 election accusing Sarah Palin, then governor of Alaska, of faking her pregnancy. That was indicative of a much larger trend of sexualized put-downs by Palin critics, a regrettable trend exhaustively documented by Matt Continetti, then a Right Turn guest blogger and now Washington Free Beacon editor. It would have been nice if Democrats had not been silent while Palin was called everything from a “bimbo” to a “slutty librarian.”
Currently, there’s a big flap over certain bloggers at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and at Media Matters who used anti-Israel or anti-Semitic language. It would be great if Obama and members of Congress, again by name, singled out these individuals to make certain that the Democratic Party would distance itself from such discourse. (Hey, AIPAC’s conference starts today so the timing would be great!)
Let us not forget the evening line-up at MSNBC that. . .well, you get my drift. I could go on. And on. I mean, we wouldn’t want to simply single out one talk show host, on one side of the aisle for such treatment, right?
Once you get into the practice of expecting pols to call out excesses and/or “gutter rhetoric” there’s no end to it. And the taking-offense industry (already a growth market) would be multiplied as each side took offense at the other side’s failing to take sufficient offense over this or that figure’s outburst.
Politicians can choose to weigh in on these flaps or not; I tend to think it’s quicksand that distracts them and the voters from real issues (Have we solved that debt thing yet?) Moreover, given the widespread and lively discussion over Limbaugh’s words, and the forceful condemnations from many, I don’t think that we really need Republicans to pile on (would they do it one by one or could they just say “ditto” after Boehner’s statement is read aloud?).
And a final thought: After watching the GOP presidential primary minute by minute for months, I feel confident that the Republicans’ problem is not that they have fallen “under the influence of Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk” or even that they “risk coming before the voters in 2012, and after, with nothing but grievances.” In fact the candidate least attractive to the ilk is coming closer every week to winning the nomination. (And beyond mere grievances he has all sorts of plans on taxes, entitlements, jobs, debt, etc.) There is, however, a slight risk that Republicans will get dragged into unending culture wars and fights about talk show hosts, all of which take the voters’ minds off the president’s record and the very real problems we face. And we wouldn’t want that to happen.