Joe Conason's Journal

Rush Limbaugh gets cut down to size, Brit Hume claims credit for the midterm elections and David Horowitz is (surprise!) really angry.


Salon Staff
November 22, 2002 2:57AM (UTC)

More like McCain
Tom Daschle deserves sympathy if his family is being threatened by talk radio listeners -- or by anyone else. Over the past year or so, Daschle has endured anthrax attacks, conservative advertising that paired him with Saddam Hussein, and finally a concerted, successful effort to defeat his Senate Democrats. The gentle, decent Air Force veteran's frustration must be considerable, particularly in the face of frequent attacks on his patriotism by a chicken-hawk like Rush Limbaugh (who infamously beat the Vietnam draft due to a boil on his butt, or his family's political influence, or possibly both). Yet it's hard to imagine what the Senate leader expected to accomplish by complaining about Limbaugh and his audience.

I don't agree with Howard Kurtz's observation that Limbaugh merely "pokes fun" at Democrats on issues of "policy." The talk jock attacks liberals and Democrats with as much bile as ever, and talks about personalities at least as much as policy. If he is now considered "mainstream," as Kurtz puts it, that's only because the mainstream media has moved sharply to the right.

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All that Daschle's public complaint achieved, however, was to elevate Limbaugh. Despite grandiose claims that he represents the American mainstream, Limbaugh's extreme viewpoint is still shared by a minority; and despite his worst daily efforts, the candidates he approves have been defeated at the polls repeatedly during the past decade.

Blaming Limbaugh or talk radio for the Democratic midterm losses is pointless. Besides, Brit Hume wants to claim credit for Fox News. Last Tuesday he told Imus, "It was because of our coverage that it all happened. We've become so influential now that people watch us and they take their electoral cues from us. No one should doubt the influence of Fox News in these matters." (Of course, Hume must have been kidding, because we know that his boss Roger Ailes is running a fair, nonpartisan network.) They're all part of the political environment, they're not going away and they aren't going to change. Instead of wishing that Limbaugh and Fox News would behave better, liberals need to develop their own media alternatives that are just as aggressive.

As for Daschle, he waited too long to respond to the assaults on his character. He should have hit back sooner and much harder -- as John Kerry did in defense of the South Dakotan many months ago. As for Limbaugh, the best attitude to adopt is the tough insouciance of John McCain, target of El Rushbo's nastiness for many years now. McCain told a radio interviewer today that he considers Limbaugh "entertaining." The Arizonan told a host on Limbaugh's outlet in Phoenix: "I view him like I view a circus clown."

Fun with Horowitz
It would be an onerous chore to respond to David Horowitz, except that he always makes me laugh. Today's headline message on his Web site calls me a "liar" because I wrote that he defames opponents as traitors and liberals as communists, while letting certain conservative anti-warriors slide.

Here's the funny bit: To prove that he does attack right-wingers, Horowitz announces that he is "at war with Justin Raimondo," a libertarian antiwar activist. By "war," Horowitz evidently means an exchange of hissing e-mails and blog items, like in this sample salvo: "From the subtext of Raimondo's text and the tenor of his obsession, I would also guess that he is jealous of the fact that I am better known than he is and that I receive more support. Tough."

But it only proves my case. Raimondo is no conservative, and in fact despises Republicans -- as does Pat Buchanan, who Horowitz also says he has attacked.

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Horowitz does claim, however, to have "taken pains to explain that the term Fifth Column left refers specifically to those who regard America as 'the Great Satan' and proclaim themselves to be in solidarity with the terrorists." Really? A worried citizen who then clicks on "Fifth Column" will discover screeds against National Public Radio; Barbra Streisand and other celebrities; various professors of Mideast studies; the city council of Ithaca, N.Y.; AFL-CIO political organizer Steve Rosenthal; and so on.

The Horowitz style doesn't allow facts to determine who gets smeared or how. Consider the rabid remarks posted about Nancy Pelosi by one of Horowitz's pet pit-bulls: "If the likely Republican Speaker becomes Gingrich disciple Tom DeLay, called by Democrats 'the Hammer,' how long will it take before people nickname Pelosi 'the Hammer and Sickle'?" Her well-known opposition to China's human rights violations is described in the same article as "a fig leaf against accusations of being closer to red than red-white-and-blue."
[1:53 p.m. PST, Nov. 21, 2002]

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