No, Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners isn’t a new singing group. It is a chorus, however, of graceless, cynical or malicious commentators who are determined to re-cast the President’s well-chosen, non-partisan and healing words in Tucson into something they can use as ammunition in exactly the kind of destructive wars of rhetoric that Obama properly condemned.
For more than 30 minutes this afternoon, Rush Limbaugh tried to make the case that Obama’s call to unity, mutual respect and civility was a sham, laying the foundation of a coordinated Democratic and media effort to silence conservative criticism. In order to do this, Limbaugh had to misrepresent the speech; he said that while Obama “appeared” to be denying that conservative rhetoric had sparked the massacre in Tucson, “he didn’t directly say it.” But he did; he said it here:
“…let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy (it did not), but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation…”
“It did not.” This was a direct and clear refutation of the drum beats of blame coming from the media and others that a lack of civility, specifically from the Right, did have a causal relationship to the killings. Limbaugh then reached the height of cynicism, arguing that the President was insincere when he said,
“…what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together…”
“Too late,” said Rush. “They are doing it already. That was the plan” Limbaugh’s interpretation: the President’s words were a wink to his supporters, wilfully ignoring the unconscionable attacks they had leveled against, among others, Limbaugh himself, as partially responsible for Jared Loughner’s hateful state of mind, while simultaneously stifling the ability of the victims of the accusations to respond in kind. This is where virulent lack of trust inevitably leads, to an inability to process information objectively and fairly. The President was saying to all who seek to capitalize on tragedy by assigning blame based on assumptions of ill will: “Stop it! Stop it now.”
Meanwhile, the members of the media who did exactly what the President said was inappropriate, tried to interpret his remarks as bolstering their disgraceful conduct rather than condemning it. “Obama Calls for a New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics,” was how the New York Times headlined his address, which made the speech seem to be a rebuke of the uncivil Republicans and radio talk show hosts the Times and others tried to call accessories to murder. The headline conveniently and misleadingly left out the President’s equally strong call to avoid “pointing fingers,” “assigning blame,”
“the usual plane of politics,” “point scoring,” and “pettiness”—in other words, exactly what the Times, Paul Krugman, Bob Hebert, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Brian Williams, Katie Couric, Sheriff Dupnik, Ed Schultz, and the rest had been intensely engaged in for days.
President Obama carried off a remarkable feat, stepping into a politically-charged ethics train wreck and sending an inspiring and non-partisan message of reconciliation, reason, fairness, mutual respect and trust that the whole nation desperately needed to hear.
Then the two warring partisan camps set about distorting the message to fit their agendas.
There isn’t much good a President can do from his “bully pulpit” if his real words and meaning can be twisted by Rush and the Spinners.