Emails, responses to PolitiFact Texas, Mark Strama, Sept. 7, 2012
Sept. 7, 2012
Your question is how did I reach the conclusion that he would prefer to see the country fail than the president succeed. I believe the answer is self-evident from the quotes you've already found. Unless you believe that policy has no consequence to the well being of our people and our country, it is logically impossible to hope a President's policies fail while hoping the best for our country. And Limbaugh can hardly claim that policy has no consequence, when he spends all his time talking about policy and how important it is. So if you believe policy has consequences for Americans and America, and you are rooting for the President's policies to fail, you are rooting against America.
It is relevant that Limbaugh delivered this diatribe on January 16, 2009, three days before Obama was even inaugurated. That means whatever consequences would attach to the failure Limbaugh wished on Obama's policies would be suffered by the American people for a full four years. It is impossible to reconcile this view with wishing our country well, notwithstanding the subsequent qualifications you cited (which, in my review of the Media Matters website, appear to be far more rare in his rhetoric than his continuing, sustained insistence that he wanted Obama to fail). Further, it is worth noting that those qualifications were only elicited under direct questioning, where his only alternative would have been to directly say "I hope the country fails," which even Rush Limbaugh wouldn't say. That's why I've always been careful to say he "made it clear...", not that he explicitly said it. Even Rush Limbaugh wouldn't say that, of course.
And the precise reason he said he hoped Obama failed speaks to the larger point I was making (which, in my opinion, is the more important contention you should be fact checking) that since new and first-time voters turned out to elect Obama in 2008, there has been a systematic and deliberate effort to prevent it from ever happening again. In that same January 2009 polemic Limbaugh said the following:
I'm happy to be the last man standing. I'm honored to be the last man standing. Yeah, I'm the true maverick. I can do more than four words. I could say I hope he fails and I could do a brief explanation of why. You know, I want to win. If my party doesn't, I do. If my party has sacrificed the whole concept of victory, sorry, I'm now the Republican in name only, and they are the sellouts. I'm serious about this.
How incredibly crass; how intolerably cynical. But Limbaugh was wrong in believing that the rest of the Republican party was wishing the President success. They didn't. See Robert Draper's book "Do Not Ask What Good We Do" - Draper is a respected Wash Post journalist whose account of the political motivations behind Republican obstructionism has not, to my knowledge, been discredited or even disavowed. The only difference between those Republican congressional leaders and Rush Limbaugh was that they knew it would be impolitic to admit that they hoped the President failed, and that they were going to do everything they could to prevent him from succeeding. Until, of course, two years later, when Mitch McConnell declared the top priority of Senate Republicans was the President's defeat in the next election.
Many, many people in my party disagreed with George Bush's policy in Iraq. And Democrats were aware that as things went badly in Iraq - as more American soldiers tragically lost their lives there - Bush became more unpopular and Democrats' political prospects in '06 and '08 improved. But as much as we disagreed with the policy, I don't believe any of us who opposed it were rooting for it to fail and for more American soldiers to lose their lives. I would certainly hope not.
On January 16, 2009, the Dow had just lost almost 4,000 points (and would lose 2,000 more). Over 2.2 million Americans had lost their jobs in 3 months. The country was in a free fall, one that could possibly have deepened to the level of full-blown depression, with all its tragic consequences. Limbaugh's remarks must be judged in this context. It is one thing to disagree with the President's policies. It is another thing altogether to root for the failure of those policies - with all the associated misery that such failure would cause - so that your party can win an election that is four years away. If a Democrat had hoped Bush's Iraq policy failed, with the consequences such failure would hold for our troops, it would be reprehensible, almost treasonous. Given the economic conditions in January 2009, hoping for the failure of the American government's policies at that time was also reprehensible and almost treasonous.
Sept. 7, 2012
The one additional point I wanted to clarify after our phone call is that I do not believe you have to support a policy you actually oppose to demonstrate a good faith desire for the President or the country to succeed. You can oppose the policy, as many Democrats opposed Bush’s policies in Iraq, but once the policy is executed, as an American who cares more about your country’s success than about being proven right or about winning the next election, you should want what is best for your country, which is the success of the policy you opposed. You are certainly entitled to vote against it, you almost certainly would not expect that it would be successful, but if you are rooting for it to fail (and in Limbaugh’s case, he was doing so explicitly to improve Republicans’ chances in the next election), you are putting your political prospects above those of America and Americans.
I gave the example of the Perry/Sharp tax proposals of 2006, which were intended to prevent the court from shutting down the school system, as the court had explicitly threatened to do. I mentioned that I had voted for that proposal, even though it was not the proposal I would have written if I had unilateral policymaking power. I judged it a reasonable compromise that did more good than harm relative to the status quo at that time, and that it needed my support to pass, so I supported it.
But my point is not that you had to vote for it to prove you want what is best for your state. My point is that once it became our state’s policy, what was best for Texas was that the policy succeed, and to hope that it failed in order to weaken Rick Perry’s political prospects is elevating politics above the public good. I do not begrudge any Republican for opposing an Obama policy with which they disagree. The need for politicians to find ways to compromise on proposals where they do not get everything they want is a separate, though worthy, topic of discussion.
My point here is a simpler one: whether you oppose it or not, once it is our policy, you can continue to believe it is wrongheaded, you can continue to expect that it will fail, but if you hope that it fails to improve your prospects in the next election, you are rooting against America and Americans. That is why it is fair to say that Limbaugh, in his own words, has made it clear that he would rather see the country fail than see this President succeed.
Put it this way (again): how would you describe a politician who opposed President Bush's surge strategy in Iraq, and then woke up each morning actively hoping for headlines of increased American casualties after the surge in order to weaken Bush's presidency? Wouldn't you say that politician, who was perfectly within his rights to oppose the policy, had lost his moral compass by caring more about the political implications of the policy than about the implications for those troops? Wouldn't you say such a politician cared more about political success than the country's success?
One final point: when I asked you if there was a scenario in which the President’s policies could fail without doing harm to the country, you said sure, we could change policies. But for the policy to fail, the country would have to suffer harm. That failure might result in an eventual change of policy, but at the expense of harm to the country. Yes, when interviewers attempted to protect Limbaugh from the logical conclusions of his own rhetoric by asking him to clarify whether he wanted the country to fail, he said no. But he continued to maintain, adamantly, that he wanted the policies intended to improve the economy to fail – which means he wanted the economy to fail. No one ever asked him the follow up question that would dispose of this issue: “Given the choice between Obama’s policies succeeding in growing the economy and reducing unemployment, improving Obama’s political prospects, or those policies failing and the economy contracting and unemployment increasing, weakening Obama’s political prospects, which would you choose?” That question was never asked, but since he maintains that he wants the policies to fail, and has only indicated that he would wish him success if his policies were policies Limbaugh approves, one can only conclude that he wants the policies to fail, as he has said time and again.
He is welcome to oppose them. But to hope that they fail, for explicitly crass political reasons (“I want to win”), is placing politics above public good.