Rush Limbaugh’s “Obamaphone” Smear

No, this isn’t what Rush Limbaugh was talking about (these phones are from Kenya). Or rather, this isn’t what Rush was lying about…

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.

Rush went ballistic over a Time magazine report about so-called “Obamaphones,” which Limbaugh had just read about in Time Magazine. He said in part..

“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.

13 thoughts on “Rush Limbaugh’s “Obamaphone” Smear

  1. I listen to Limbaugh… partly because he amuses me and partly because he provides information that other news networks do not.

    However, in the case of the “Obama-phone” he is disingenuous at least, and deceitful at best.

    So, as with all “commentators,” one must listen with a jaundiced ‘ear.’

    Shame on him. Guess his complaint about having to wear real radio headphones (due in part to his own drug activity that affected his hearing) has also affected his moral code.

  2. While I have no doubt that there is most likely too much waste and abuse in this program, I think it is one that is absolutely VITAL. Without the ability to dial 911 and get emergency services – quickly – in time of need – because you can’t afford what I consider to be a basic necessity (access to a phone line) is inexcusable in this land of plenty. Even in these tough economic times. And even with the waste and abuse, the funds are bare-bones for installation and monthly services. It’s not like the government is paying for welfare slacks who choose not to work to run up hundreds of dollars per month in phone charges then pay the bill each month.

    Karla – your comment implies that everyone seeking and receiving aid 1 – has a computer and television and that somehow that means they 2 – aren’t in need of assistance is wrong and mean spirited. Some seek aid who shouldn’t. Others seek aid after they’ve lost jobs and are actively seeking employment and need temporary assistance for their families to tide them over. Should we make it more difficult for their children to do well in school by insisting they sell the old family computer before we give them food stamps or take a 15-year-old TV out of the home of an invalid senior in poor health who is housebound before giving her assistance paying for her medical care? After all – if they she has a TV she can afford her medication. Really? Have we really sunk that low? Why not send people in to check on everyone who applies for assistance and make sure that no one in their church donated any household furnishings to a family who just had their home burn down before the government kicks in any benefits to help them find alternate housing? How much can they need if someone already gave them an old couch. They MUST be trying to scam the taxpayers! Enough already! Sure there are cheaters! When they’re found out there should be stiff penalties as deterrents to future would-be scammers. But lets stop all the hate-speak against EVERYONE receiving public assistance. There are record numbers of Americans out of work, looking for work, who don’t want to ask for help and feel humiliated enough to be forced to do so to feed their kids.

    As to Rush Limbaugh … at times I find him amusing, witty, and well-informed (even though I rarely agree with his point of view). I also think he’s far too openly bigoted and so far to the right of my political viewpoint to really care what he has to say, so I generally turn a deaf ear rather than allow him to get me riled up. But in this case he’s simply gone too far. To knowingly, wrongly, accuse an acting president – of ANY party – of buying votes is unethical. Period. There’s no excuse for it. There’s no way he can pretend ignorance.

    Unfortunately, I don’t really think it matters. His rabid fans already hate anyone who is anything short of far right, and moderates and the far left lost respect for him eons ago.

    • Well, unless the President IS buying votes. I have to say, when a President facing a tough race suddenly comes up with special, and expensive, bennies for veterans, women, homeowners and,students in an election year, the possibility does cross the mind.

      • I agree. I didn’t clearly express what I meant to say in my last paragraph. What I meant was that with regard to Limbaugh’s “Obamaphone” smear campaign, most far right rabid fans will believe anything he says so it doesn’t matter to them whether or not it’s true (because Rush Rules) and the moderates and far left are already so far beyond seeing him as credible in any way (because of his bigotry) that they probably won’t bother to get too riled up with righteous indignation over this one.

        But it should ALWAYS matter when/if a POS is acting in an unethical way.

        The problem, as I see it, is that there doesn’t seem to much credible UNBIASED media reporting anymore. So it’s difficult to know what to believe without researching everything oneself. And most of us don’t have a team of researchers to do that with/for us on every topic that’s important to us. So we tend to read/listen to the news reports we find most credible. And what we tend to find most credible, given the choices available, is generally what feels most comfortable to us based on our own political/religious/socio-economic background. The right gets a right-slant, the left gets a left slant and the middle – where I truly believe most people want this country to head – doesn’t have a voice.

        Maybe it’s time you ousted Rush et al and brought some sanity to the airwaves, Jack.

  3. Pingback: Now Available: Free “Obama” Phones [How will these free phones and internet be used at election time? One can only imagine.] | Tennesseans Watching Federal & State Government

  4. Did any of you actually look at the situation, other than to note it’s an FCC program, and where the law originated? No matter how it started, Obama’s forces are using the program for political gain. There are scads of Obama Phone websites which tell recipients they are getting the phone from Obama, because of Obama. Some of these sites are blatant political sites telling Obama Phone recipients to get their phone, and then vote for Obama.

    Can anybody discern why the program has gobbled up so much more money lately? Despite the fact that the cost of cell phones and service has dropped dramatically in that period?

    Has anybody any information about how much the Universal Service Administration Corporation takes out of that total in order to administer the program?

    When the government mandates a corporation pay for one of the government’s programs, it may not be called a tax, but it still is. Even if we like the idea of the program, providing service to those who can’t afford it, it doesn’t change the fact that the federal government is always, always, always, the least efficient, most costly, and most corruptible (as in always politicized) provider of a service.

    • Baloney.

      It’s a long-standing program, and the requirements haven’t changed. If the Feds are advertising it better, good. It’s a candidate for cutting for sure, but the President doesn’t end laws, he only signs them. That’s Congress’s call. The sites giving credit for the phones to Obama aren’t government funded, and it isn’t Obama’s fault if Americans don’t know how the country works. A President gets the blame for the economy and lots of other things that are beyond his control…so he gets credit for a government program that predates him. So what and big deal. If you don’t want the program, write your Congressman. You can’t blame Obama for programs he didn’t launch, websites he doesn’t own, and stupidity that he didn’t cause.

  5. Pingback: The ObamaPhone Election Strategy: Free Phones for Votes! A … | The Home Calling Cards Site

  6. I know I’m a bit late adding to the discussion but I am a Rush listener, too. Today, on his radio program, he played a clip of a lady in Detroit who was absolutely convinced that Obama had everything to do with her receiving a free phones and that was a reason why he should be re-elected.

  7. Another late entry here, but imagine this scenario for a moment: that Obama’s operatives are responsible for promoting web-sites that tell people their free phone is coming from Obama? Imagine they are promulgating the idea that Obama is responsible in some way, any way, for this bennie. Now, let us know if you think it’s a likely scenario, or an unlikely one?

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