Want to know what's really going on out there in the "heartland" of America? You know, where conservatives say the "real Americans" live?
Forget the Sunday shows and the politicians on C-SPAN. Forget the fancy op-ed writers and the buttoned-down think-tankers. If you really want to gauge the national political climate, you need only turn on the radio, where the notion that we are living in the midst of a grand post-partisan era drowns in a sea of right-wing venom so deep it calls to mind an earlier day.
From the archaeological ruins of the Arkansas Project -- a well-heeled 1990s network of conservative think tanks, media outlets, and political pundits whose sole purpose was achieving an early end to the Clinton administration -- has risen a new network that, like the Arkansas Project before it, has one underlying, unifying goal: to destroy the Obama administration.
I guess you could call it the right's new Manhattan Project.
Flying under the radar, undetected by those not listening in, an army of Little Limbaughs is stoking the fires of hate, conspiracy, crass hyper-partisanship, and an obtuse revulsion to truth.
Guest-hosting on Laura Ingraham's nationally syndicated radio show this week, right-wing stand-in and self-professed "authentic feminist" Tammy Bruce said of Michelle Obama, "This is what we've got -- you know what we've got? We've got trash in the White House." Following a flurry of emails from those concerned with her "trash" talking of the first lady, Bruce was beside herself, finding it "hysterical" that anyone would find her comments objectionable.
Bruce is hardly alone with her off-the-wall tirades.
Take San Francisco's Lee Rodgers, who regularly traffics in incendiary right-wing paranoia and recently claimed that President Obama is "clearly is more sympathetic with the long-term goals of world communism, and let's be blunt about it, Muslim terrorists, than with any legitimate American goals" -- comments that underscored Rodgers' stated belief that Obama is "out to sell us out" to the Islamic world.
California's Bay Area is also home to the highly rated, nationally syndicated conservative hate talker Michael Savage (née Weiner). This month alone, he's said that Obama is the "biggest liar in the history of the presidency" and that he's "getting away with it ... because he's a man of color"; that Obama "is a neo-Marxist fascist dictator in the making"; and that "[i]t seems that the Obama appointees actually have almost the same exact policies as the Nazi Party did." Taking conspiracy theories to new levels of depravity, Savage also recently claimed that "Obama has a plan to force children into a paramilitary domestic army" and that the "radical left," including Obama, "dream[s]" of "Maoist revolution" with "death camps." Savage isn't joking around. While unquestionably bizarre, he's really quite serious.
You need not visit this hotbed of California progressivism to find this sort of rubbish on the radio dial -- it's everywhere, in every major American city and small town.
If you live in Cincinnati, you could always listen to Bill Cunningham during your lunch break yammering on about the long-debunked crackpot theory that Obama may not be an American citizen -- this is the same Bill Cunningham who invoked "[s]ix-six-six" and "the beast" in discussing "Barack Hussein Obama" during the presidential campaign just a few short months ago. Or if you're in Colorado, there's always Denver's "Gunny" Bob Newman, who has asserted "the Obamanista regime" could lead to "absolute despotism," and Jon Caldara, who has called Obama "Jimmy Carter with a tan" on more than one occasion.
Of course, if the Little Limbaughs don't satiate your palate's desire for crazy, there's always the real thing: Rush Limbaugh himself, who this week compared Obama to Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's controversial president, calling him "Barack Ogabe." In an apparent effort to nip protests over his comments in the bud, Limbaugh backpedaled, noting that "Barack Ogabe, Robert Mugabe -- at least in human structure, two different people. I don't know about policies."
Sadly, these examples hardly skim the surface when it comes to the vitriol spewed daily by conservative radio hosts in this country, who are quickly filling a leadership void within a listless conservative movement.
Is it any wonder we see such fierce partisanship from the right on Capitol Hill? How can we expect Republican members of Congress to work with Obama as he seeks to fix our struggling economy and so many other pressing problems when this is the type of bile their rank-and-file activists digest day after day?
As the saying goes -- garbage in, garbage out.
Karl Frisch is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, research, and information center in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign-up to receive his columns by email.