Conservatives and the King funeral: Who's "classless" now?

Rush Limbaugh's play-by-play: "Sperm banks" and "Astroturf."

Published February 8, 2006 2:59PM (EST)

The right is in full crow today about remarks made at Tuesday's funeral for Coretta Scott King.

With George W. Bush forced to listen, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King's husband, said that weapons of mass destruction hadn't been found in Iraq but that "there are weapons of misdirection right down here." Former President Jimmy Carter noted that the Kings had been the targets of government wiretapping in their day, and he said "the color of the faces" of those "who were most devastated by Katrina" showed that "there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."

The response is about what you'd expect: Liberals "cheapened" the funeral service in another "Paul Wellstone moment" by taking "potshots" at a president who had "rearranged his schedule to attend the funeral."

Leading the pack of critics: Rush Limbaugh, whose outrage seems to be focused most on the side-by-side appearance of a couple he calls the "classless Clintons."

Classless? Here's the play-by-play commentary from Limbaugh as Bill Clinton spoke at King's funeral:

Limbaugh: I'm looking at something I haven't seen in I don't know how long. Bill and Hillary are at the pulpit side by side, and she is looking so lovingly and respectfully at him that I don't believe it. The last time I saw them side by side was in that picture when they were on the beach dancing to no music two weeks before the Monica Lewinsky story broke ... Let's bring up the president -- I'm going to regret this; I know I'm going to regret this -- the first black president at the Coretta Scott King funeral.

Clinton: President Bush 41 complained that he was at a disadvantage because he was an Episcopalian. Then he came up here and zings old Laura like he did. I thought, "That ain't bad for one of the 'frozen chosen.'"

Limbaugh: Frozen chosen?

Clinton: We --

Limbaugh: Maybe it's a sperm bank. That's a sperm bank term!

Clinton: -- doing good together and --

Limbaugh: Frozen chosen?

Clinton: Let me say --

Limbaugh: Clinton used to be a greeter in a sperm bank, I know that.

Clinton: -- I don't want us to forget that there's a woman in there, not a symbol. Not a symbol, a real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt, and had dreams and disappointments --

Limbaugh: I hate to say this, folks, but that's what he said about the mummy.

Clinton: -- and I don't want us to forget that. You know what?

Limbaugh: He said that about the mummy!

Clinton: You know what I was here thinking? "I wish I knew what her kids were thinking about now. I wonder if they were thinking about what I was thinking about my mother's funeral."

Limbaugh: It's about him.

Clinton: All this grand stuff. I wonder if they're thinking about when she used to read books to them, or when she told them Bible stories, or what she said to them when their daddy got killed. We're here to honor a person. Fifty-four years ago her about-to-be husband said that he was looking for a woman with character, intelligence, personality and beauty, and she sure fit the bill, and I (cheers) I have to say, when she was over 75, I thought she still fit the bill pretty good, in all those categories.

Limbaugh: He said that about the mummy, the 500-year-old mummy --

Clinton: I think that's important.

Limbaugh: -- as visions of AstroTurf danced through his head.

Clinton: The day after her husband was killed she had to decide, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" We would have all forgiven her, even honored her, if she said, "I have stumbled on enough stony roads. I have been beaten by enough bitter rods. I have endured enough dangers, toils and snares. I'm going home and raise my kids. I wish you all well." None of us, nobody could have condemned that decision, but instead, she went to Memphis, the scene of the worst nightmare of her life, and led that march for those poor, hardworking garbage workers.

Limbaugh: They're called "sanitation workers" now.

And so it went until Limbaugh cut away for a commercial break. When he came back, he noted that the Clintons stayed close to each other while each took a turn speaking. He then imagined a conversation between the senator and the former president: "If I had to stand here like a sock puppet when you were speaking, you're going to act like a sock puppet when I'm speaking. Besides, I am not letting you out of my sight. I've seen all the women in this place tonight. There are 10,000 of them in here, and you've probably got a phone number written down on the palm of your hand and I'm not letting you give it to anybody." That's how I interpret these things.

A few minutes later, a caller asked Limbaugh why the current president attended the funeral, knowing that others there might criticize him. Limbaugh said the criticism only made the critics look bad: "They're the ones that look petty; they're the ones that look like they are absent any class," he said.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Bill Clinton Martin Luther King Jr. Rush Limbaugh