I found out about Rush Limbaugh's hospitalization for chest pains Wednesday night on Twitter. Given that my follow list is heavy on liberals, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that some people were either celebrating or mocking Limbaugh's illness, with a few folks flat-out wishing he'd...go away. I couldn't join in the fun, and I priggishly tweeted as much.
Am I a kill joy? Probably. Part of the problem with liberalism? Maybe. It's possible my lack of bloodlust is one reason liberals are always getting the beat-down by amoral right-wingers. But if an aversion to wishing illness on a political enemy is wrong, to echo a great old R&B song, I don't want to be right. If victory means being as cruel as so many right-wingers are, then I don't think I want to win. But I don't accept that formulation.
I think about this conundrum a lot, as the right wing savages President Obama with lies and abuse: charges of death panels, socialism, phony birth certificates; Rep. Joe Wilson calling the president a liar during a speech to Congress; Limbaugh and Glenn Beck deriding him as a racist; Dick Cheney wrapping up the year smearing Obama for "pretending we're not at war." I yearn for liberals who'll fight back – and I think Democrats should jump on Cheney with both feet for his lies -- but then I cringe when folks like Rep. Alan Grayson repay them in kind, insisting the Republican healthcare reform policy is to tell sick people to "die quickly," and calling the estimated 44,000 Americans who die each year because they lack insurance a "holocaust." (Update, in reply to smart letters: In no way am I equating Grayson with Limbaugh, there is no comparison. I'm just saying that hyperbole bordering on dissembling leaves me cold, even when it's practiced by liberals on behalf of causes in which I believe. I still think a lot of readers will disagree with me on Grayson, but I would never want to leave the impression I think he's malicious like Limbaugh.)
Plus, it's not as if Limbaugh hasn't gloried in others' suffering. When former President Clinton had his own heart troubles, Limbaugh "joked" that he opted for quadruple rather than triple bypass to as a ploy for more sympathy. (The repellant Michael Savage said Clinton didn't die because "hell was full.") He's infamous for making fun of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease, complete with fake tremors, after Fox endorsed Democrat Claire McCaskill for Senate in 2006. A year later Limbaugh mocked 12-year-old brain-injury survivor Graeme Frost after the boy credited the S-CHIP program (whose expansion was vetoed by President Bush) with saving his life.
So if anyone deserves bad wishes from liberals, it's probably Limbaugh. Except: for the most part, that's not who we are. There's no liberal Rush Limbaugh, because most liberals don't have a taste for cruelty as entertainment or political sport. Alan Grayson was hailed by some as a hero for fighting the GOP at his own game, but even Rachel Maddow – whose show is the closest liberals come to using wit plus facts to skewer the right wing – challenged Grayson for using the term "holocaust."
It's OK. Reality has a well known liberal bias, as that other great progressive satirist Stephen Colbert has told us. We'll get to where we want to go without turning into Limbaughs or Cheneys. I wish Rush Limbaugh well this New Year's Eve. I hope his heart heals, in every sense of the word. And I hope liberals find moral, honest and effective ways to turn back the tide of GOP lies and viciousness in 2010. Happy New Year!