Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Tiger Woods

Thoughts on treason, cruelty and racism as we start the year

By Joan Walsh
Published January 4, 2010 9:05PM (EST)

As the new year begins, I had a couple of pieces of 2009 business I wanted to wrap up. Over the long holiday weekend, the right-wing media-watch site Newsbusters.org and its readers brayed against my remarks on MSNBC's "Hardball" last Wednesday, labeling Vice President Dick Cheney's year-long crusade to accuse President Obama of being weak on terrorism "un-American" and "traitorous." An e-mail campaign by Newsbuster readers reminded me that in 2003, Sen. Hillary Clinton complained about the Bush administration's efforts to stifle dissent: " I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you're not patriotic," Clinton declared. "We should stand up and say 'We are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.'"

Of course I agree with now Secretary of State Clinton. I'm incensed by Cheney's year-long crusade to undermine Obama, and it showed in the video. I generally don't use words like "traitor" or "un-American," and I was horrified by the way the right has used them to smear and destroy. Remember the GOP crusade to link Sen. Max Cleland -- who lost three limbs in Vietnam -- with Osama bin Laden, because Cleland wouldn't oppose unionization for Department of Homeland Security workers (shades of Sen. Jim DeMint holding up the TSA chief appointment for the same reason)? Remember Bush flack Ari Fleischer warning Bill Maher and others that people should "watch what they say" after 9/11? Remember Karl Rove's instructing Republicans to run hard on the terror issue in the 2002 midterms, depicting those who voted against the Iraq war authorization as people who didn't want to keep us safe?

I thought it was clear that in calling Cheney and his cabal of Obama-underminers "traitorous" and "un-American," I was using the right's own rhetoric against it. And really, if any kind of dissent could fairly be called un-American, it would be the way Cheney and his allies have crusaded, almost since the day Obama was elected, to depict the new president, falsely, as sympathetic to terrorists, soft on our enemies and ashamed of his country. I wasn't attacking the occasional extremist remark by hard-right wingnuts; I was talking about a cabal of right-wing leaders that has used lies and smears to destroy the duly elected president since before he took office. Cheney's status as our last vice-president makes his hysterical and false remarks particularly harmful to the president.

And since no American vice-president, in 233 years, has ever attacked his successor's administration so brutally so quickly, I think it's technically accurate to call Cheney's behavior un-American. "Traitorous" may be going too far; I'll write it off to being incensed on live television.

On a related issue, I wrote a post, "Get Well, Rush Limbaugh," in which I noted that there is no liberal Limbaugh, because there is no mass-market liberal audience for an entertainer who traffics in anti-conservative lies and cruelty. I used the example of the controversy over Rep. Alan Grayson's saying the GOP health plan amounted to telling sick people to "die quickly," and calling the 44,000 deaths each year attributable to lack of health insurance a "Holocaust." I certainly wasn't comparing Grayson to Limbaugh; my point was that even some on the left, including MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, took issue with Grayson's hyperbole, especially the Holocaust comparison. Liberals just don't seem to have the same collective stomach for gruesome slander.

Of course some lefties in my letters thread disagreed with me – and some righties used such posts as evidence that I was wrong: The left is as cruel as the right. That wasn't my point: There are probably individuals on the left who are as cruel and destructive as Limbaugh, but they haven't become wealthy providing talking points to millions of lefty dittoheads to savage Republicans. Again, there's no mass market for liberal savagery masking as entertainment or commentary.

Finally: Vanity Fair should be ashamed of itself. The Thug Life photo of Tiger Woods that graces the magazine's February cover will go down in history with Time's "darkened" O.J. Simpson cover and Vogue's portrait of a brutish LeBron James carrying off a blond princess two years ago. I've always defended Woods' freedom to call himself Cablinasian, as befitting his mixed heritage. But Vanity Fair just proved the arguments of black people who dislike what they see as Woods' racial dodge. He'll always be black, but especially after he gets in trouble. 

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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Dick Cheney Rush Limbaugh Tiger Woods