You heard me: Rush Limbaugh is “a racist troll”

Mediaite and Politico think my saying that is news. Have they missed his 40 years of shameful racial stereotyping?

Published September 10, 2013 12:45PM (EDT)

Politico and Mediaite are aghast that I called Rush Limbaugh a “racist troll” on “Politics Nation” with Al Sharpton on MSNBC Monday night. The immediate cause of my diagnosis was Limbaugh terming President Obama’s pitch for military intervention in Syria “Operation Shuck and Jive.” Or as Limbaugh said: “Bush had ‘Shock and Awe.’ We’re looking at ‘Shuck and Jive’ here. That’s what I’m going to name this. The Obama operation in Syria — ‘Operation: Shuck and Jive’ — because that’s what this is."

Politico’s Dylan Byers was quick to point out that during the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton supporter Andrew Cuomo said Obama "can't shuck and jive at a press conference.  All those moves you can make with the press don't work when you're in someone's living room." Cuomo, it should be noted, was widely hammered for his strange turn of phrase -- "shuck and jive" is an old slur associated with lying or deceptive behavior by black people --  but I would also note that I didn’t call Limbaugh racist simply because he used the term “shuck and jive:” it's his long history of depicting African-Americans in crude stereotypes, most having to do with violence, savagery and stupidity.  The point of both pieces seemed to be that I had gone beyond the pale in calling Limbaugh racist. I was a little shocked, because I didn’t think anyone would notice what I said, since I was just stating the truth.

Limbaugh is not just racist but proud of his racism. He’s made a career out of stereotyping African-Americans as violent savages and criminals. As early as the '70s he told a black caller to his radio show: "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back." In the '90s, he mused: "Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?"  In 2004 he suggested that the NBA be renamed “the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call 'em gangs. “ Just three years later he complained  that the NFL “all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.”

Most famously, in the realm of sports, he slammed Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb as a mediocre affirmative action beneficiary on ESPN in 2003 and later resigned over the controversy. "Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go," Limbaugh said. "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve."

Since the election of President Obama, though, Limbaugh has gone into a full-fledged racial panic, starting with his blurting out on inauguration eve: “We are being told that we have to hope [Obama] succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.” Limbaugh is apparently obsessed with grabbing his ankles and specifically with "anal poisoning" – Salon counted roughly 20 references by 2009 – and many involved black perpetrators.

As Salon’s Gabriel Winant wrote at the time, Limbaugh lamented that President Obama would likely get away with destroying the economy, because “he’s being followed around by a bunch of sycophants who are going to die of anal poisoning.” Winant laid out other racially tinged anal poisoning jokes:

  • When gay activists called for a boycott of Colorado in the early 1990s, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb came to New York to seek the support of his fellow African-American city chief, Mayor David Dinkins. Limbaugh saw Dinkins being pulled in two directions: “And the question is should he bend over forward and grab the ankles for this narrow special interest group or should he remain in solidarity with his black bro?”
  • When Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman sought to court African-American votes by apologizing for his party’s past, Limbaugh grumbled, “Republicans are going to go bend over and grab the ankles.”
  • Three years later, he accused Democrats of being submissive to black and gay voters. “Democrats will bend over, grab the ankles, and say, ‘Have your way with me,’ for 10 percent and 2 percent of the population?”

Anal poisoning “jokes” aside, racial grievance has become a staple of Limbaugh’s show since Obama’s political fortunes began to rise. In 2008 he insisted the first term Illinois senator who “has trouble articulating” was only in the running because he was black. “When he goes off the teleprompter, he is a different guy. He does not come off as the messiah, he doesn't come off as this great unifier. He has trouble articulating with a bunch of stutters and pauses and so forth. So -- but my point in telling you this is that there must be real animosity toward the Clintons at high levels of this party. To go with a veritable rookie whose only chance of winning is that he's black.”

After the election, in June 2009, he warned, “The days of them [minorities] not having any power are over, and they are angry. And they want to use their power as a means of retribution.” Like Matt Drudge, he obsesses over reports of black criminals with white victims, blaming it on Obama. “Obama's America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now,” he whined in September 2009. “I mean, you put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety. But in Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, "Yay! Right on, right on, right on, right on." He routinely terms Obama’s policies “reparations,” complaining in 2009, “Obama's entire economic program is reparations. Everything in the stimulus plan, every plan he's got is reparations."

Limbaugh had a field day with the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates by a white Cambridge police officer outside his home. When Obama said the police department "acted stupidly," Limbaugh went ballistic. “Here you have a black president trying to destroy a white policeman,” the radio bully huffed.  “I do believe [Obama is] an angry black guy!”

He regularly calls the president “uppity,” an old code word for a black man who didn’t know his place, even though Obama’s place is in the White House. He employs racial stereotypes in his rants about other black leaders, suggesting in 2010 that when Rep. Jim Clyburn reportedly complained about not having an official car, that he could serve as Nancy Pelosi’s driver. “The way this could all be worked out, Clyburn's new position: Driving Miss Nancy. He gets to keep the car. He gets to go everywhere she goes.”

More recently, during the George Zimmerman trial, he delighted in being able to say “nigga with an a” because Rachel Jeantel said so. After the trial he went on a tear about slavery, insisting, “If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery it’s Caucasians. The White race has probably had fewer slaves and for a briefer period of time than any other in the history of the world. [...] Yet white guilt about slavery is still one of the dominating factors in American politics.”

Time does not permit me to track down every racist Limbaugh utterance, even the many I've documented in the past myself. Life is short. But if Politico and Mediaite are shocked at my calling Limbaugh racist, it means they haven't been paying attention.

By Joan Walsh