Right Hook

Did Dems conspire to take down both Arnold and Rush? The right gropes for the moral high ground on the recall, bemoans Limbaugh's worst week, and dissects Bush's woes.


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Mark Follman
October 9, 2003 2:14AM (UTC)

To call the California recall a "circus" at this point would dishonor the big top. After the L.A. Times ran a cover story featuring accusations from numerous women that Arnold Schwarzenegger had engaged in outrageous sexual behavior, conservatives became positively apoplectic. In a weekend blog entry, FrontPage Magazine editor in chief David Horowitz pronounced California Democrats and the Times' editors worthy of eternal torment.

"If there is a hell, it's a sure thing that the leaders of the California Democratic Party and Gray Davis are going there in a hand basket ... along with the evil editors of the LA Times. The front page lead story in [Saturday's] paper trumpets Davis's slimey attack on Arnold Schwarzenegger based on the latest hate rumors dredged up from the Democrats' gossip mills and featured as news stories in the Times: 'If true, [Schwarzenegger's] personal behavior was disturbing and unacceptable and his professed admiration for Adolf Hitler unconscionable,' Davis said."

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Horowitz gives Arnold a pass because of the statute of limitations, because he plays nice by Hollywood standards, and because of Democratic hypocrisy:

"Where to begin? The 'politics of personal destruction'? McCarthyite associations from an ancient past? The tabloid garbage which Davis and the Times are working off is years and sometimes decades old. [Arnold] pinched an actress in Hollywood? That makes him a boy scout by industry standards. This is the town whose liberals give Academy Awards to their heroes who drug thirteen-year-olds and rape them. Not to mention Davis's own friend and chief promoter who in the White House poked a 20-year-old intern in the groin with a cigar, groped a widow and probably raped a nurse before that. And was defended by every Democratic pol, male and female alike, shrieking -- 'it's his private life! it has nothing to do with being President!' -- etc., etc."

The revelations about Schwarzenegger's sordid sexual history also stoked near-religious fervor at American Digest. The blog has a diatribe by poster Gerard Van der Leun, who argues that the media has now set up impossible moral standards for candidates:

"The California Recall Fornication Festival currently climaxing in minute-by-minute updates throughout the nation instructs us yet again in what our media expects of candidates: pseudo moral celibacy in thought, word, and deed stretching from the cradle to the grave ... To be elected today a man (or a woman) must prepare at an early age to either leave no trace of a human existence, or determine never to have one in the first place. Like the pagan religions of antiquity or the cloistered Catholic orders that persist into our era, today's politicians must be -- according to our media -- the last surviving virgins over 18 in the United States of America."

Not everyone on the right defended the Republican candidate. California-based political consultant and National Review contributor Arnold Steinberg found the excuses made for the strongman actor laughable:

"And now, Hitler! Real people want to know, did Arnold grope Leni Riefenstahl? 'Arnold admired Hitler for the way he acquired power,' observed Charles Krauthammer Sunday on Fox. 'He's after power for his own sake.' The columnist remains properly troubled that Arnold toasted Arnold-Maria wedding guest Kurt Waldheim after he was outed as a Nazi. That disturbing fact was barely covered. (Arnold has since repudiated the toast.) Krauthammer notes: 'Obviously Arnold is not a Nazi [and] has promoted Jewish causes.' Recall that decades ago, when asked whether President Eisenhower was (as John Birchers had suggested) a Communist, conservative icon Russell Kirk replied: 'Eisenhower's not a Communist. He's a golfer.' Are they saying Arnold's not a Nazi, he's a groper?"

In a hearty endorsement of Tom McClintock for governor, R. Scott Moxley, news editor of the Orange County Weekly, said the real issue is the California economy, stupid:

"Each election season in California, the biggest weapon in the Democratic arsenal is a negative punch: "Vote for us. At least, we're not those women-hating, gun-loving, environment-spoiling, homophobic nuts from the other party." Bustamante is still learning to handle this weapon; Davis has mastered it. But voters should for once resist the gimmick, temporarily set aside the urge to solve every social concern that isn't life-or-death -- and admit that the most critical problem facing California is the government's unprecedented financial disasters."

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While Rush takes the Fifth, the Standard turns on him
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who resigned last week from his post at ESPN Sunday morning football after saying that the media has overrated QB Donovan McNabb because he is black, sees evidence of a conspiracy to take Arnold down -- but he calmed the fears of a caller concerned that the chief Dittohead's own woes might be part of the same nefarious plot.

"I have received a lot of e-mails from people who share your concerns about this, that this is an orchestrated attack. In the Schwarzenegger case, it may be. I mean, the L.A. Times had this information for the longest time. They even said, well, you know, it took us seven weeks to assemble all of this, and here you've got, I think if I have this right, Arianna Huffington somewhere parading on television with one of these babes -- this happened 30 years ago -- trying to make it sound like it happened yesterday. So there's no evidence that there's an attempt here, some coordinated effort to destroy Schwarzenegger's candidacy out there.

"This ESPN thing, you're going to have to trust me. This is a self-contained, independent moment and item that is directly traceable to an event that happened last Sunday that took a couple of people two days to react to. But I don't think the Philadelphia sportswriters were called by Terry McAuliffe or other Democratic operatives and say, 'You know, we need you to distract Limbaugh this week. Maybe humiliate him by getting him canned at ESPN so we can pull some chicanery here in the Schwarzenegger camp.' I don't think that that happened. I think I'm involved in a stand-alone, independent circumstance here. But clearly there are undertones of some sort of coordinated activity where Arnold is concerned."

As for the controversy swirling over his alleged illegal use of painkillers, Limbaugh asked his fans for patience while he tries to figure out what's going on:

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"I really don't know the full scope of what I am dealing with. And when I get all the facts, when I get all the details of this, rest assured that I will discuss this with you and tell you how it is, tell you everything there is, maybe more than you want to know about this. You can believe me and trust me on that. I don't want to answer any questions about it now, as I say, until I know exactly what I'm dealing with, and at that point I will fill you all in...

"I've often said throughout the 15 years that I've been here, that you people have made my life an adult Christmas every day. Every morning is an adult Christmas, and it's still the same. Still got up today, couldn't wait to get in here, couldn't wait to start the routine, couldn't wait to start the show prep. I'm a little frustrated that I haven't yet gotten to the bottom of what all this is about, and I'm very much desirous of telling you about this, but until I know exactly what this is -- and I don't get -- it just makes no sense to start delving into it."

The Limbaugh affair revealed a schism on the right between ranting populists and their higher-minded brethren. David Skinner, writing in the Weekly Standard, said Limbaugh's woes will hurt the right and blamed him for "Coulterizing" American conservatism:

"It's no fun being the face of the American right wing. Bush (public conservative number one) and his friend Rush (number two) are both taking it on the chin these days, with the president's approval slump and Rush's potential fall from grace. Last night President Bush extended his support to Limbaugh, calling him a "great American," a gratuitous gesture of solidarity which surely doesn't help either of them. Bush will recover; if the drug story holds, Rush's moral credibility will be permanently damaged. During the '90s, the Left treated Rush and his legions of dittoheads with the same kind of wild, over-the-top disdain they reserve these days for the Fox News Channel. This story could shift the Left's major hate beams back toward Limbaugh

"Why is Rush particularly vulnerable to a full-on, extended, Al Franken-hosted variety-show scandal? Limbaugh, more than anyone, is responsible for beginning what might be called the Coulterization of the American right. Conservatism as partisan sport -- the opposite of principled, ideological debate -- has become major entertainment and helped debase much right-aisle political debate into an undifferentiated noise of team-rooting."

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Et tu, Bill?
As if it weren't having a bad enough week, the Bush administration got a spanking from Bill Kristol, the normally staunchly supportive editor in chief of the Weekly Standard. Noting that "there is disarray in George W. Bush's administration," Kristol said a head or two might have to roll over the CIA leak affair, and that Bush needs to apologize to Mrs. Wilson.

"It seems unlikely that the Justice Department investigation [into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame] will ever lead to a successful prosecution of the leaker or leakers. That doesn't make the political reality or the moral responsibility any less urgent. Surely the president has, as the Washington Times suggested last week, taken "too passive a stance" toward this misdeed by one or more of his employees. Surely he should do his utmost to restore the White House's reputation for honor and integrity by calling together the dozens of more-or-less "senior" administration officials and asking whoever spoke with Novak to come forward and explain themselves. Presumably the relevant officials -- absent some remarkable explanation that's hard to conceive -- should be fired, and their names given to the Justice Department. The president might also want to call Mrs. Wilson, who is after all a government official serving her country, and apologize for the damage done to her by his subordinate's action.

"The leak controversy has revealed an administration at war with itself, a war intensified by the difficult aftermath of the war in Iraq ... With its submission of the $87 billion package to Congress, the administration has begun to come to grips with the problem, and seems committed to doing what needs to be done. But reports suggest that the civilian efforts on the ground in Iraq remain spotty and that the military is stretched very thin. And even more striking, as debate has raged on its $87 billion request, the administration has been virtually invisible in making its case to Congress or to the American people.

"One reason for this is that the civil war in the Bush administration has become crippling. The CIA is in open revolt against the White House. The State Department and the Defense Department aren't working together at all. We are way beyond 'fruitful tension' and all the other normal excuses for bureaucratic conflict. This is a situation that only the president can fix ... Perhaps a head or two has to roll. But the present condition is debilitating, and, given the challenges facing us in postwar Iraq, in Iran, and in North Korea, it is irresponsible to let it fester."

Make Europe and Russia pay for Iraq
Columnist Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum sees no case for Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq. Perhaps she longs for the George Bush who once campaigned against nation building. Her foreign-policy advice for the beleaguered administration: Make the Europeans and Russians pay.

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"President Bush's representative, L. Paul Bremer III, let the cat out of the bag. Iraq can't finance its own reconstruction, he said, because it has a debt of $200 billion and therefore can't borrow against future oil profits. Of that $200 billion, more than half is commercial debt owed mainly to France, Russia and Germany, and the rest is war reparations owed mainly to Kuwait from the first Gulf War...

"Repudiating Saddam's debt would teach the world an important lesson. Countries that support tyrants like Saddam with loans and investments should lose their money when the regime goes belly-up.

"The Democrats, who never saw a spending proposal they didn't like (except for abstinence education), see in the administration's request for $20.3 billion to build Iraqi infrastructure a tantalizing opportunity to increase domestic spending...

"Americans have already paid an enormous cost for this war in Iraq. With so many Americans out of work, it is insulting for Bremer to demand that U.S. taxpayers pay up to $100 billion more to rebuild a country that has ample natural resources.

"France, Russia and Germany should consider themselves lucky if they are simply able to write off all their investments and loans to Saddam as bad business deals with a con man who went bankrupt.

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"Because their money, flowing to Iraq, significantly helped to maintain that evil dictator, France, Russia and Germany, not the United States, should be called on to pay for rebuilding the country."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis, here.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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