Rush Limbaugh probably didn't need to listen to what President Obama said Wednesday morning when he addressed the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. It was clear to us that Rush had his checklist of right-wing Obama grievances waiting by his side, regardless what Obama would go on to say in his speech. You might be familiar by now with the usual conservative tantrum every time Obama gives a speech on the world stage. It goes something like this: Obama is apologizing for America, blaming America, and selling out Israel.
Needless to say, Rush hit all those points in this first five minutes of his show following Obama's speech. And despite the actual content of the speech, the reviews from some of the saner political and foreign policy commentators, and some diplomatic accomplishments achieved after the speech, Rush never strayed from his script:
LIMBAUGH: This is scary, dreadful. This man is in the process -- I mean, the mask came off. Obama took the mask off and he is who he is. He was who he is today. He just ripped this country to shreds. He ripped Israel to shreds.
But Limbaugh really notched his hyperbole up a few degrees moments later, likening Obama's speech to a coup:
LIMBAUGH: I would describe what Obama is doing to this country is basically a coup. It is just -- it is just frightening. He talks about a new world order, and the new world order is him. Obama is bigger than his country; he's bigger than the presidency; he is the world.
He delivered the United States of America to global powers today, just handed us over on a silver platter without a gunshot.
Never mind that Obama never even uttered the words "new world order"; it was clear from the start that we'd have to seriously address many of Rush's accusations.
Was Obama actually surrendering the United States to the world in a "bloodless coup"? Well, yes, if you define coup as "making gains" on Iran and stopping nuclear proliferation. The New York Times reported that Obama "made progress" following his speech in getting Russia to "consider tough new sanctions against Iran" and getting Russia and China to support a Security Council resolution "to curb nuclear weapons." In his recent Salon.com column, Juan Cole described Obama's policy as "slowly putting Iran in a box," adding:
The U.S. right wing accused Obama of a failure of nerve. But in fact his move was shrewd and gutsy, since he predisposed Russia to increased cooperation with the U.S. in regard to Iran's nuclear research program.
As for Rush saying that Obama "ripped Israel to shreds," well, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been at odds with the Obama administration over settlements, called the speech "positive." The Israeli leader specifically praised Obama for speaking "clearly and sharply about the right of Israel [to exist] as a state of the Jewish people." And yes, Obama was still pushing for a settlement freeze. And no, calling for a settlement freeze is not the equivalent of Obama saying, as Rush offered, "[t]he Israelis, the Jews, they stink, too."
Limbaugh's dart-lobbing at Obama's foreign policy wasn't confined to Wednesday's show. He's been complaining about Obama's change in missile defense policy for about a week now. On Tuesday, Rush again reminded us he lives in a fantasy world, bemoaning how Obama "withdrew the missile shield that was gonna be placed in Europe to defend the Czech Republic and Poland."
Of course, a cursory examination of the changes that were actually made make Rush's grievances look petty and childish. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the plan -- which would scrap plans for long-range missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic and redeploy "proven" short- and medium-range interceptor missile elsewhere in Europe to better respond to the threat of a nuclear Iran -- as a "pragmatic proposal." Also, taking into account the general unpopularity of missile shield plans amongst the Poles and Czechs, blogger Matt Yglesias makes the following point about saber-rattling Rush Limbaugh conservatives:
The right wants us to at great expensive [sic] build a missile shield that doesn't work, in places it's not wanted, to protect Western Europe from Iranian missiles that don't exist, in order to antagonize the Russians. The fact that it would make the Russians happy to kill the system somehow makes it a bad idea to kill the system. The Russians would also be mad if we bombed their naval bases -- is it appeasement to decline to do so?
Rounding out the liberal blogosphere's response to the type of arguments we've seen from this week from Rush, blogger Digby observed:
The right is very discombobulated by this new Democratic president on foreign policy. They can't wrap their minds around the fact that so far, he's behaving like a run of the mill establishment hawk ... which is how they all act to one degree or another. So they flail about incoherently attacking and defending in different directions simultaneously without really knowing who the enemy is. It's fascinating.
And why not throw NBC's Chuck Todd into the mix, too? On Thursday's Morning Joe, Todd said of Obama's speech:
TODD: I actually thought he did it -- I thought he was -- I thought they tightened up their rhetoric and toughened it up. What's funny is that the criticism coming from the right on Obama's international speeches to me felt like they were still criticizing the ones he had done a couple months ago. That -- it was almost as if the press releases were ready truly before they read the speech.
We agree. Limbaugh wasn't so much responding to Obama's speech at the U.N. as he was responding to the perceived liberal stereotype that conservatives like Rush believe Obama portrays, facts be damned.
And speaking of NBC (how's that for a transition?), the network's goal this week must have been mainstreaming Limbaugh and the word vomit he regularly spews. On Wednesday's Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams -- who, in a 2004 interview for C-SPAN, said it was his "duty to listen to Rush" -- used the exact same language as Limbaugh in comparing the U.N. General Assembly meeting to the Star Wars "bar scene."
But maybe we shouldn't be so hard on Williams -- perhaps they put something in the water at NBC in preparation for Limbaugh's appearance Thursday night on The Jay Leno Show. During his interview with Leno, Rush condensed eight months of anti-Obama diatribes into nine minutes, capping it off with the lie that ACORN, Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd are to blame for the financial crisis. Rush went through each of his talking points -- Obama's "five-minute career," no government programs "help" or "work," the market can solve everything, etc., etc. -- at such a hurried pace that Leno seemed lost and confused by the end, unable to offer more than meager pushback on anything.
Congratulations, NBC. You just gave America's No. 1 conservative bloviator a platform to say whatever he wanted -- unchallenged -- in front of a network television audience.
Finally, we'd like to return the subject we addressed in last week's column: Limbaugh's penchant for race-baiting. That theme continued this week (and we're pretty positive this won't be the last of it, either) with Limbaugh asking:
LIMBAUGH: I think, frankly, a lot of people are asking that question about Obama on everything: Is this worth it? Is the historical relevance of this president, the first black president, worth all this? 'Cause, clearly, there are designs on the traditions and institutions that have defined this country's greatness, and one of those is the United States military.
The point we made last week still stands. Rush continues to mix the sensitive subject of race into his monologues in order to pique his listeners' emotions and wield them like a political sledgehammer.