Posted by: brian | January 27, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, attention whore

Rush Limbaugh has declared that President Obama is frigtened of him. This is based on a comment Obama (allegedly) made to Republican leaders, which isn’t in the CNN story, that, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

Let’s lay a little groundwork here. Obviously, Limbaugh is not a fan of the Obama’s. That’s a given. He even went so far as to bestow a nickname on the President back when he was a Senator and just starting his campain, in December of 2006:  “Barack Hussein Odumbo.”

Tell me, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that? To me, I thought it was that Obama is a dumbo because of his political positions. Do you think about Obama’s ears? I didn’t, but apparently that’s where the name started (I’d be very surprised to learn that it hasn’t been used in the other sense since that time). So, how did it originate?

Turns out Obama told columnist Maureen Dowd that he’s senstive about his ears.

OBAMA: You talked about my ears. I just want to put you on notice: I’m very sensitive about — what I told them was, ”I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.”

DOWD: We’re just trying to toughen you up.

Even reading that, I get the impression that Obama was teasing Dowd, that he was being self deprecating. Maybe he was teased as a kid, but it does not follow that he is still actually bothered by his ears. What did Limbaugh hear?

LIMBAUGH: “We’re just trying to toughen you up.” Here is what Barack Obama said: Talk about my ears, so “I just want to put you on notice: I’m very sensitive about — what at I told them was that [sic] ‘I was teased relentlessly when I was a kid about my big ears.’ ”

Now, there are many aspects of this, folks, that we need to delve into and explore. For one thing — I mean, you know me — if the guy is sensitive about his big ears, we need to give him a new name, like Dumbo, but that doesn’t quite get it. You know, just calling him — calling him — that just doesn’t — how about Barack Hussein Odumbo?

Well, if he’s sensitive — stop to think about this. This is a man being lauded as the savior of the country, a presidential candidate ready to be anointed, and he can’t handle being teased about his big ears? And he goes out to Maureen Dowd and says, “I am putting you on notice”? Is that a threat? I want to put you on notice?

This time, the faulty reasoning lies first in assuming that Obama is seriously sensitive about his ears (surely Limbaugh is capable of recognizing humor?), and then in assuming that a person who is sensitive about one of their physical characteristics is incapable of performing a job. The nice thing about “Odumbo” is that it appeals to Limbaugh’s listeners’ desire to reduce their opponents to a single simplistic trope. It meets their standards of intellectual rigor while serving to compartmentalize the target. It’s a bonus that it not only makes fun of his ears, but also his intelligence. This is a classic example of an ad hominem argument – an attack not on the ideas or arguments of the opponent, but rather the person himself.

The problem with Limbaugh isn’t his political orientation. It’s the way he presents his “arguments.” I use scare quotes because “an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.” The definition provided in the Monty Python sketch implies, but doesn’t say outright, that an argument in this sense is a logically connected series of statements: “Argument is an intellectual process.” This is where Limbaugh consistently fails to impress. His appeals are not to logic, but to emotion.

So, is Obama afraid of Limbaugh? I doubt it. Did he say, “Stop listening to that Limbaugh guy, [or else]”? No, he did not. He said “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” To me, this looks like Obama using a prominent example of the conservative talk-show set to illustrate a point. What he’s saying is that listening to Limbaugh and his ilk is not a viable approach to policy making. Making policy is hard work, and requires that we consider all sides of an issue, not just one. Republican leaders “can’t just listen to [people like] Rush Limbaugh[, ignoring other sides of an issue,] and [expect to] get things done.”*

Does Limbaugh misinterpret and distort facts? Yes – we all do, to some extent (yes, even me). Does he have the right to say what he wants? Of course! Is he wrong about everything? Certainly not. (E.g., his stance against the Fairness Doctrine is appropriate, because that policy suggests that speech ought to be moderated, i.e., not free. Baloney!) Do we have the right to disagree and to speak against him?

*Did I just put words in the President’s mouth?! How very dare I! My point is that language is a complex thing, and that meaning is often implicit rather than explicit. What I wrote is simply my understanding of Obama’s statement, re-written to explicate my own understanding. Is it actually what Obama meant? I have no idea. And neither does Rush Limbaugh. He could find out, if he had context and perhaps an explanation from Obama, but I doubt he’d accept any explanation other than his own. Because he’s always right, right? Aren’t we all?

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