When you listen to Rush Limbaugh (something his most vociferous critics almost never do), you usually get one of five things: 1) reliably ideological and sardonically phrased criticisms of progressive and Democrat positions, statements and acts, many of them richly deserving of it, 2) welcome and cheeky tweaking of favorite targets like the “drive-by media” and Hollywood, 3) over-the-top and pointedly politically-incorrect ridicule of progressive icons and illusions, specifically crafted to make people’s heads explode, 4) off-topic self-indulgent (and boring) discourse about football, cigars and 5) feigned egomania mixed with genuine egomania in such a way that it is almost impossible to guess when Rush’s tongue is in his cheek and when he really is in the midst of delusions of grandeur. All of these are delivered with relentless cheeriness, and with the skill of a marvelously gifted improvisational radio professional—and anyone who denies that really hasn’t listened to him, or hates him so much that objectivity is impossible.
Every now and then, however, Rush is brutally unfair to the point of deception, and when he is, it does terrible damage. He is by far the most listened-to human being on the dial, and when he passes on bad information to so many people who trust him, it triggers millions of e-mails, thousands of blog posts and mass indignation and anger over falsehood. Limbaugh’s negligence, in short, is more harmful than other media figures’ negligence, and he therefore has a special obligation to be careful. Yesterday he was reckless, and dishonest to his listeners.
“TIME Magazine: ‘Last year, a federal program paid out $1.6 billion to cover free cell phones and the monthly bills of 12.5 million wireless accounts. The program, overseen by the FCC and intended to help low-income Americans, is popular for obvious reasons, with participation rising steeply since 2008, when the government paid $772 million for phones and monthly bills.’ Can I give you the numbers here again? In 2008, the federal government paid $772 million for phones and monthly bills. Since 2008, since Obama, $772 million has become $1.6 billion. It’s more than doubled….
“So all of us are paying $1.6 billion in our phone bills to cover free phones and accounts for 12.5 million people. Well, I guess you could probably apply to get you a government phone with your government mortgage payout. Yeah, you should go for it. You don’t even have to be underwater. You can apply. Some of these people have more than two phones, more than two accounts. That’s the thing. Obama’s stash. What else is in there?
“What else is gonna be made available to people before November of this year? What other goodies are people going to be able to have just for asking or just for being an American or just for being one of the 99%? Or just for being screwed by the rest of the country, just for being screwed by this unfair Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is how we’re gonna make it up to you for all of the rotten treatment you’ve had since this country was founded, $1.6 billion, free cell phones and the monthly bills, one and a half million wireless accounts, that’s up from $772 million”
Rush intentionally left the impression that this was an Obama-inspired hand-out to buy votes for re-election. That’s a lie, and Rush knows its a lie, because his research is very thorough and this program is not difficult to research. Here, for example, is Snopes on the program’s rationale and operation:
“The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress recognize that telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, government services, and surrounding communities. Telephone service is considered a necessity for daily modern life. Yet the cost of starting and maintaining such service may be too high for some consumers. Under Congressional mandate, the federal Universal Service Fund (USF) supports the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America programs. These programs provide discounts on basic monthly service and initial installation or activation fees for telephone service at the primary residence to income-eligible consumers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with the help of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), administers the USF.
The USF subsidizes telephone/telecommunications services to low-income residents and other entities through a number or programs, one of which is the Lifeline/Link-Up program, which “provides discounts on monthly service and initial telephone installation or activation fees for primary residences to income-eligible consumers”…Lifeline Assistance provides discounts on basic monthly service at the primary residence for qualified telephone subscribers. These discounts can be up to $10.00 per month, depending on your state. Link-Up America helps income-eligible consumers initiate telephone service.
This program pays one-half (up to a maximum of $30) of the initial installation fee for a traditional, wireline telephone or activation fee for a wireless telephone for a primary residence. It also allows participants to pay the remaining amount they owe on a deferred schedule, interest-free. (In some cases cellular service is cheaper than landlines, and the latter is not a viable option for persons without fixed residential addresses.)
The intent of these programs is to help ensure that everyone, regardless of income, has access to basic telephone services in order to be able to keep in touch with family members, make medical appointments, contact emergency services, be reachable by telephone themselves, etc. …Lifeline/Link-Up discounts are not available only to “welfare recipients” — these programs are implemented at both the state and federal levels, so qualification criteria can vary from state to state, but in general participants must have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines, or take part in at least one of the following federal assistance programs:
- Medicaid Food Stamps Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
- The National School Lunch Program’s Free Lunch Program
Now, one can legitimately question the wisdom of this program, which seems to me to be one of those well-intentioned efforts that are wonderful for a country that is rolling in surpluses, but profligate for a nation drowning in red ink. And lo and behold, the program is the product of surpluses: it’s a Clinton era program that seemed like a good idea at the time. As such, it may be argued that it is a prime example of how modest programs grow uncontrollably and contribute to the U.S. deficit problem. The program is abused, people get benefits they don’t deserve, taxpayer money is wasted—this is true of all government programs, because that is the nature of government programs. The costs have doubled since 2008? Well, of course they have: more people are on government assistance than ever, but that doesn’t mean Obama has directed that more free phones should be handed out.
Read the law (here). I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama hasn’t read it and doesn’t know it exists. But plenty of GOP Congresses and the last Republican president had opportunities to reform or repeal the act long before Barack Obama came on the scene, and didn’t think it was worth their time. Calling the phones “Obamaphones” —Rush didn’t invent the term, but he just gave it wide-exposure—is pure misinformation. It would be more accurate to call them Clintonphones or Gingrichphones, or even more accurately, just one more well-intentioned government program that seemed like a good and affordable idea at the time. To label the program an Obama vote-buying scheme is an outrageous and indefensible lie, and intentional deception by Rush Limbaugh.
There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of President Obama and his administration. Making false accusations like this just makes it easy for media flacks and Kool-Aid drinkers to discredit all critics and all critiques.