Limbaugh twice used word "spade" during discussion of Obama

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER & BRIAN LEVY

One week after claiming that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's suggestion that Sen. Barack Obama "has not done the kind of spadework" that Clinton has done was "not coincidental," Rush Limbaugh returned to the subject on his January 14 show. While discussing Obama, Limbaugh twice used the word "spade," which can be used as a racial slur. Specifically, Limbaugh said that "Obama is holding his own against both of them [Bill and Hillary Clinton], doing more than his share of the 'spadework,' maybe even gaining ground at the moment, using not only the spade, ladies and gentlemen. But when he finishes with the spade in the garden of corruption planted by the Clintons, he turns to the hoe. And so the spadework and his expertise, using a hoe. He's faring well." "Spadework" is a common term among political figures and the media.

On the January 7 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Rush Limbaugh said that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) suggestion that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "has not done the kind of spadework" that Clinton has done was "not coincidental," given, he said, that "this is the bunch that suppresses black people in the Democrat [sic] Party." Limbaugh returned to the topic on the January 14 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show. But this time, while discussing Obama, Limbaugh twice used the word "spade," which can be used as a racial slur. Specifically, Limbaugh said that "Obama is holding his own against both of them [Bill and Hillary Clinton], doing more than his share of the 'spadework,' maybe even gaining ground at the moment, using not only the spade, ladies and gentlemen. But when he finishes with the spade in the garden of corruption planted by the Clintons, he turns to the hoe. And so the spadework and his expertise, using a hoe. He's faring well." "Spadework" is used commonly among political figures and the media to describe efforts by individuals of all races to lay groundwork for various initiatives or campaigns.

Limbaugh discussed Clinton's reference to "spadework" after it aired on NBC's Today; the remark originally aired on NBC's Nightly News. Limbaugh also posted his January 14 monologue on YouTube.

On the January 7 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said: "Did you hear what Mrs. Clinton said on the Today show today with Matt Lauer? She said that Barack Obama 'hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president.' " Limbaugh then asked: "Now, let's imagine, shall we, if Trent Lott, or Mitt Romney, or Ross Perot had said that Barack Obama 'hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president.' Nothing that happens in the Clinton campaign is coincidence, folks. Barack Obama hasn't done the 'spadework'? Whew. Where is the Reverend [Al] Sharpton on this?" Limbaugh later added that Clinton's comment "is not coincidental. I guaran-damn-tee you. Look, this is the bunch that suppresses black people in the Democrat [sic] Party. From Maynard Jackson, to Carl McCall, to the Reverend [Jesse] Jackson, to Al Sharpton, these are the people that when the blacks get too 'uppity,' they get stomped down."

Returning to the subject on the January 14 edition of his radio program, Limbaugh declared: "For all of her [Clinton's] BS about being a victim and piling on, Obama is holding his own against both of them [Bill and Hillary Clinton], doing more than his share of the 'spadework,' maybe even gaining ground at the moment, using not only the spade, ladies and gentlemen. But when he finishes with the spade in the garden of corruption planted by the Clintons, he turns to the hoe. And so the spadework and his expertise, using a hoe. He's faring well."

Various dictionary definitions of the word "spade" as a noun note that the word can be used as a racial slur: "Slang: Disparaging and Offensive. a black person"; "Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Black person'; "Derogatory meaning 'black person' is 1928, from the color of the playing card symbol"; or "(ethnic slur) extremely offensive name for a Black person."

In a June 5, 2004, Daily Telegraph article, Michael Quinion, founder of World Wide Words and contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, wrote that most people "know that 'spade' is a rather outmoded derogatory slang term for an African-American" and explained the term originating from "the suit of cards":

Many people in the USA regard "call a spade a spade" as a racist comparison -- or worry that it might be thought so -- and there have been complaints about those who have used it. It is rare to find it in American newspapers, and writers are often advised to avoid it.

For example, Rosalie Maggio, in The Bias-Free Word-Finder (1992), writes: "The expression is associated with a racial slur and is to be avoided," and recommends using "to speak plainly" or other alternatives instead.

There's a considerable misunderstanding behind all this. The spade in the idiom isn't the same spade as in the slang term. The first is undoubtedly the digging implement; the second is the suit of cards.

In the latter case, the allusion was to the colour of the suit, and originally appeared in the fuller form "as black as the ace of spades". The abbreviated form "spade" seems to have grown up in the early part of the last century (it first appears in print in the 1920s). Though they're the same word historically -- both derive from Greek spathe[macr], for a blade or paddle -- the one you dig with came into Old English from an intermediate Germanic source, while the card sense arrived via Italian spade, the plural of spada, a sword.

Later in his January 14 radio program, purporting to respond to "popular demand," Limbaugh repeated the opening monologue in which he twice used the term "spade":

LIMBAUGH: OK. By popular demand -- also getting requests to repeat what I just did. I can't. It'll be on the website, folks, and don't -- it's a theme I'm gonna continue carrying throughout the year, so sit tight.

We are gonna replay the opening show monologue when we come back here from the break at the top of the hour. If you missed it, you're gonna hear it. If you heard it, you're gonna like hearing it again.

Below are examples of various media and political figures using the term "spadework," or a variation of it, in a political context:

  • On the June 7, 2006, broadcast of National Public Radio's Day to Day, discussing the rejection of "a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage," NPR congressional correspondent David Welna said: "And even some of the conservative religious groups that this measure was clearly aimed at pleasing are saying this is simply a bone being tossed their way. And I think the vote tally today is likely to sharp their sense that Majority Leader Bill Frist, who's seeking their support for White House bid, has not done kind of the spade work in his caucus that was needed for a better outcome."
  • On July 24, 2007, the Associated Press reported that in response to Obama's offer to meet with "leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran," Clinton supporter and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: "It's a step-by-step process. It's not just some event. ... I would think that without having done the diplomatic spadework, it would not really prove anything."
  • NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported on July 25, 2007, that Obama said: "The general principle that I was laying out is that we should not be afraid as America to meet with anybody. Now, they may not like what we want to hear -- so if I'm talking to the President of Iran, I'm going to inform him that Israel is our stalwart ally, and we are going to do what's necessary to protect them -- that we will not accept a nuclear bomb in Iran, but that doesn't mean we can't say that face to face. And obviously, the diplomatic spadework has to be done ahead of time."
  • In an April 24, 2007, House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said, "Now, the Plan Colombia came about in the late 1990s partly because I was down there. We worked at it. We worked with the Clinton Administration. I went to Colombia in 2000, and when President Clinton signed Plan Colombia it was the work of then President [Andres] Pastrana, but a lot of that spade work happened before that because we were there."
  • Discussing the Democratic presidential primary on MSNBC on February 1, 2000, former Clinton administration press secretary Dee Dee Myers said that California is "a state where Al Gore has done a lot of spade work over the last seven years. He's got a lot of -- not a big organization but a lot of chits out. And I think that that's going to sustain him fairly well."
  • In a November 7, 1996, article, the Chicago Tribune quoted then-President Bill Clinton as saying: "We did it by raising money early and doing our spade work in New Hampshire and Iowa."
  • On the June 10, 1996, broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, Republican presidential candidate and then-Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS) said, "I believe it's up to President Clinton to assure the American people that this unprecedented breach of FBI files was not the spade work for a vicious negative campaign this fall."

In addition, journalists have repeatedly described candidates as doing "spadework":

Wesley Clark

In a January 15, 2004, New Hampshire Union Leader article, John DiStaso wrote: "Maybe the negative attacks on [Democratic presidential candidate Howard] Dean by [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry and [Democratic presidential candidate] Joe Lieberman are softening him up, while [Democratic presidential candidate Wesley] Clark stands by and lets them do his spade work."

Hillary Clinton

On January 25, 2007, nationally syndicated columnist Marie Cocco wrote: " 'There is nothing worth discussing when it comes to strategic errors made in the state of New York,' says Gary Lewi, a New York public relations executive with long-standing ties to the state Republican Party -- and to Clinton's one-time Whitewater antagonist, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. 'Even the most partisan has to give her points for very hard political spadework that she's done across the board.' "

In an April 16, 2000, Washington Post article, Lynne Duke wrote: "But after a bad stretch of stumbles and organizational disarray last year, Clinton has proved herself a tough campaigner. She has displayed an appetite for the spade work as well as the cut-and-thrust of elective politics, and she has devoted considerable time and resources to raising her profile in the crucial upstate areas."

On the July 11, 1999, edition of CNN's Newstand: CNN & Time, Time correspondent Karen Tumulty said: "Mrs. Clinton has spent a lot of time in New York, has met a lot of people. But a lot of the really more important spade work that has gone into this decision has been over the phone."

A June 3, 1999, Baltimore Sun article said: "While acknowledging the potential pitfalls, many top Democrats are nevertheless telling Clinton that she can win in New York. They say she is diligently doing the necessary spadework in state political circles."

John Edwards

In a December 8, 2006, Washington Post online chat, Chris Cillizza wrote: "Voters like John Edwards -- don't underestimate the importance of likeability in presidential politics. He has also done considerable spadework -- especially in the labor world -- to prepare for a 2008 bid. He is stronger than most people realize and I think he will be a factor whether or not Obama is in the running."

In a May 21, 2006, Washington Post article, Cillizza wrote: "Privately, Edwards has done substantial spadework on the labor front, as well. He meets with small groups of local labor leaders as he travels the country."

In a February 11, 2004, New York Times article, Adam Nagourney wrote: "And Mr. Edwards, several Democrats said, may well have an eye on the vice presidential slot in November. He may also realize that any spadework he does now could help him if he runs for the presidency again in 2008."

Al Gore

A March 5, 2000, Los Angeles Times article said: "Four years later, Gore saw Bill Clinton get 'the treatment.'

'The reason Gore's not getting hazed this week is because of all the spade work he's done over the last 7 1/2 years to make sure he'd never get hurt here again,' said Mark Green, a top city Democrat expected to succeed Giuliani as mayor."

John Kerry and Joe Lieberman

In a January 15, 2004, New Hampshire Union Leader article, John DiStaso wrote: "Maybe the negative attacks on [Democratic presidential candidate Howard] Dean by [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry and [Democratic presidential candidate] Joe Lieberman are softening him up, while [Democratic presidential candidate Wesley] Clark stands by and lets them do his spade work."

John McCain

A February 13, 2007, Washington Post article by Alan Cooperman and Cillizza said: "McCain and Romney have also done significant spadework to recruit well-regarded social conservative operatives to their cause."

An October 21, 2006, Wall Street Journal article by Greg Hitt and Christopher Conkey said: "Republican consultant Greg Mueller said the political spadework by Mr. McCain, long considered an outsider within his own party, is helping him build ties with the conservative activists and party mandarins who play a key role in determining the Republican nomination."

From the January 6 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

LESTER HOLT (anchor): NBC's Andrea Mitchell covers the Clinton campaign and is just back from an interview with Senator Clinton. Andrea, good evening.

MITCHELL: Good evening, Lester. Hillary Clinton clearly sees the polls, so she's trying, between now and Tuesday, to reach out to women, independents, young people, the groups who voted against her in Iowa. We caught up with her after a rally in Nashua.

[begin video clip]

MITCHELL: You acknowledge he's a great speaker, and if they're responding to that and not to your programs, your ideas, how do you deal with it?

CLINTON: When they say to themselves, "OK, I have a choice between a truly inspirational speaker who has not done the kind of spadework with the sort of experience that another candidate has, and now I'm finding out more about the changing positions and some of the different information that's coming out," let's take a deep breath here.

From the January 7 edition (subscription required) of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Did you hear what Mrs. Clinton said on the Today show today with Matt Lauer? She said that Barack Obama "hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president." She -- he "hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president," as though she has. Now, let's imagine, shall we, if Trent Lott, or Mitt Romney, or Ross Perot had said that Barack Obama "hasn't done the spadework necessary to be president." This -- nothing that happens in the Clinton campaign is coincidence, folks. Barack Obama hasn't done the "spadework"? Whew. Where is the Reverend Sharpton on this? By the way, big story: Reverend Sharpton waiting on his time to endorse. He's waiting for commitments. That means he's probably waiting for money from one of these two camps.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Here's Mrs. Clinton's "spadework" line. Now this, I guarantee you, if I had said this -- if Romney had said it, if anybody had said this -- about Obama, the fur would be flying.

CLINTON: [audio clip]: When they say to themselves, "OK. I have a choice between a truly inspirational speaker who has not done the kind of spadework with the sort of experience that another candidate has --

LIMBAUGH: Oh, ho-ho-ho! Folks, this is not -- this is not coincidental. I guaran-damn-tee you. Lookit, this is the bunch that depresses -- suppresses black people in the Democrat [sic] Party. From Maynard Jackson, to Carl McCall, to the Reverend Jackson, to Al Sharpton, these are the people that when the blacks get too "uppity," they get stomped down. "Hasn't done the spadework." That's right. Spadework. That's right. Spade -- "Hasn't done the spadework."

From the January 14 edition (subscription required) of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: So what do we have here? Barack Obama holds the race card. Hillary Clinton the gender card. The "Breck Girl," [Democratic presidential candidate] John Edwards, left trying to play a class card. Major poker game going on on the Democrat [sic] side. Supporters of each of these candidates, and the drive-by media struggling against the new reality that the favored old disqualification tack doesn't work, since they're all liberals. You can't disqualify Mrs. Clinton for throwing the race card; she's a liberal. You can't disqualify Obama for holding the race card; he's a liberal. You can't disqualify Mrs. Clinton for using the gender card; she's a liberal. You can't disqualify the "Breck Girl" for playing the class envy card; he's a liberal. So what's the drive-by media to do? Find a way to blame all of this on Mitt Romney.

Supporters of all three Democrat [sic] candidates and the drive-bys are struggling against this new reality, trying to navigate this awkward political reality without dashing the diversity canards that have held them in such good stead for so many decades -- which, by the way, these diversity canards have led to moments of high comedy. Andrew Young arguing for Clinton being blacker than Obama because he's been with more black women than Obama.

The race card was obviously thrown -- racist comments -- much earlier in this campaign than the drive-bys are willing to acknowledge. Michelle Obama, wife of the man of hope, touting her husband as a better candidate for women than Clinton, because he's a man comfortable with strong women in his life. The Breck Girl's supporters touting him as potentially the first female president -- and all the stuff that just happened in the last week with Mrs. Clinton; Barack Obama; the Reverend Doctor King; Robert Johnson; Black Entertainment Television; "the shuck and jive," don't forget that; the "fairy tale"; the kid.

It is funny to watch -- and, ladies and gentlemen, a final observation here. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton -- have you noticed, it's Obama versus the Clintons? Two against one. Obama campaigning against both of the Clintons. I wonder how well Mrs. Clinton would hold up if the shoe was on the other foot. That is, if she had to run against an ex-president and a senator. I think she'd cry and complain about the unfairness. For all of her BS about being a victim and piling on, Obama is holding his own against both of them, doing more than his share of the "spadework," maybe even gaining ground at the moment, using not only the spade, ladies and gentlemen. But when he finishes with the spade in the garden of corruption planted by the Clintons, he turns to the hoe. And so the spadework and his expertise, using a hoe. He's faring well.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Person
Rush Limbaugh
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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