Tough day. With MSU Billings out for "mini-break," I didn't have German class to interrupt my weekly talk show dose. So I decided to inhale a couple of hours of Rush Limbaugh, something I have not done for a good long while.
I barely made it this time. At one point, in desperation, I flipped over to Fred Thompson, but he was even worse. Just a couple of things from Rush:
The first actually came from earlier in the week when, with the market down in the morning by 166 points, he attributed the decline to the fact that Obama was returning from his European trip. The second, on Thursday, was that since Obama maintains that we are not at war with Islam, then the Somali pirates holding a U.S. ship captain hostage must not be Muslim.
Both comments are, on the face of it, utter nonsense, too puerile even to refute. Rush's defenders would say, I suppose, that they illustrate his mastery of satire, but I don't see how they even qualify. They make no larger point; they have no bite; they evoke no laugh or even a smile.
Perhaps they illustrate what Camille Paglia likes about Rush. She wrote this week, "I respect Rush for his independence of thought and his always provocative news analysis." Neither "independence" nor "provocative" necessarily implies "coherent," and maybe asking for all three would be too much.
More seriously, Limbaugh was making hay out of a clip of Obama declining to answer a question about the pirate hostage crisis. This was a win-win-win for Limbaugh: If Obama gives a substantive answer to the question, Limbaugh attacks him for disclosing details of sensitive negotiations. If Obama gives a generic answer, Limbaugh attacks him for being weak. If Obama declines to answer at all, Limbaugh attacks him for being non-responsive.
I suppose that if Obama had announced that he had personally parachuted into the lifeboat, single-handedly disarmed the pirates and freed the captain, Limbaugh would have attacked him for depleting the parachute budget.
Which raises an even larger question: After Sept. 11, 2001, Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, rallied behind their president. Whether they had voted for him or not, they overwhelmingly threw him their support as he took on that grave threat.
So if Sept. 11 is a 10 on the presidential crisis scale, and the pirates' hostage crisis is a 1, then where along the spectrum do you suppose that Limbaugh decides to drop his partisan attacks and simply rally behind the president as a loyal American? Never?
Neither Limbaugh nor Hannity could talk about the economy on Thursday, because the stock market was up a couple of hundred points, and it appeared possible that the explanation was that Obama's policies were working. In their world scheme, Democratic presidents are responsible for what happens in the stock market only when it goes down. So that topic was off limits.
Instead, they talked about the president's alleged dissing of America on his European trip, when he said that Americans had at times been "arrogant" and "dismissive" toward Europe. Hannity has repeatedly seized on this, always omitting Obama's next sentence, which was that Europeans in turn had indulged a casual and insidious anti-Americanism.
As Jon Stewart put, that's like criticizing Charles Dickens by quoting only the first clause of his famous opening sentence in "A Tale of Two Cities": "'It was the best of times ...'? Well, it was wasn't the best of times for everybody, Dickens."
Hannity and Limbaugh made their case against Obama by showing just how arrogant and dismissive Americans can be. Hannity maintained, as he often has, that America essentially won World War II all by itself. He seems not to be aware that the war had gone on for two long years before we even entered it. He seems not to know that Britain already had won the naval war (except against submarines) in the North Atlantic and had won the air war over London. He seems not to know that while we were still cranking up the war machine, the Soviet Union had defeated Germany in the largest and most decisive battle of the war. He seems not to know that even the maligned French (a country the size of Texas) sacrificed half as many soldiers' lives in defense of their country in their short campaign as we did in four long years.
Anybody who denies the importance of U.S. contributions to allied victory in World War II is a fool. But anybody who thinks that is all there was to it is simply, well, arrogant and dismissive.
Limbaugh's tack was to give Ronald Reagan full credit for winning the Cold War, with a slight nod to Maggie Thatcher. He didn't mention Gorbachev, except in derision. He didn't mention Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, two giants in the struggle. He didn't mention NATO. He didn't even mention the tiny but cumulatively powerful contributions of hundreds of thousands of soldiers like me -- a guy who was sitting on the East German border monitoring troop movements while Limbaugh was at home honing his radio voice and nursing his anal cyst. Nor did he mention the key and stubbornly brave part played by the Afghan people, many of whom (or at least their sons and nephews) are now fighting American soldiers they same way they fought the Soviets.
That last detail ought to cure anyone of arrogance. But it has failed to do so.
UPDATE: Stewart also had the best overall summary of right-wing whining over Obama: If the guy you didn't vote for because you didn't like his policies wins the election anyway and starts implementing policies you don't like, that isn't tyranny. It's democracy.