Ethics Dunces: Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners

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.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners

  1. Too pessimistic by half, Jack. There’s a lot a President can do from the bully pulpit. In this case some people will have heard both Obama and Limbaugh and will heed Obama. And that’ll be a move, even if small, toward the civility that Niebuhr said was so important to our society.

  2. Obama asked us to be civil. He directly condemned all uncivil voices without blaming them for this event. Wasn’t that the central theme of his speech? The headline looks spot on to me.

    • No. “Blame-casting” and “point scoring” are not what most people think of as civility. Empathy, rationality, prudence and fairness are not what most NYT readers think of as civility, though they can be. Civility was the word used by the Times to go after Sarah Palin. It is self-serving, in that paper’s use.
      It should have said, “President calls on Americans not to engage in blood libel.” : )

      • I think you typed to fast for your mind there. I’m not sure what you think most people are thinking of as civility. From the “No,” I suspect I disagree with you, but I’m not sure how to respond.

        The President should call on American to not engage in blood libel. I support that, so long as he uses different words. I think we established that the definition and connotations of blood libel are not particularly well known by even the intelligentsia, and Obama does have a tendency to use terms that are technically correct, but easy to misunderstand.

        • It’s possible.
          Time’s headline,”Obama Seeks Unity Over Divisive Rhetoric”, was accurate and non partisan. I think the NYT was intentionally framing the speech to support its editorial position blaming the shootings on “incivilty.” That was how I read it. It may be that I am so disgusted with the Times’ conduct in this that I’m too biased to be objective.

  3. I have to agree with tgt on that point. I’d need to see more proof of “deception” to condemn the headline. On it’s face, if that’s the only thing that is read, it stands on it’s feet.

  4. So for me the question is: how does one engage in a civil discussion about subjects such as these when engaging with individuals who do not have much invested in fact, fairness or intellectual honesty? Or as was alluded to in your article, when one has not one whit of trust in the sincerity of the other? To me this is the epitome of demonization, and it is this chronic condition that has settled like a pall over our country: once one is demonized, they become less than human and more easily dismissed, ridiculed and ultimately reviled as a (pick your favorite epithet). It is this that the polarity has led, and it seems a formidable challenge to undo this kind of damage. It seems that there should be some apologies and some forgiveness in order to move past this period, but we are in short supply of both. If South Africa can do it, I should think America could.

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