Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh recently launched an extended tirade of invective against President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in response to an article in The New York Times saying that Obama’s re-election campaign was not going to try to win white working-class voters.
Limbaugh begins with this:
“[T]he Democrat Party and the Obama coalition is saying, “If you work, we don’t want you. If you work, we know you don’t want us. If you work, you’re the targets. If you work, you are the people we are gunning for. If you work, we are coming after you to make sure that the other elements of our constituency are able to eat.” … They are saying they’re not interested in voters who work.”
That’s not what Democrats are saying. The New York Times article that Limbaugh cites only says that Obama’s reelection campaign is focusing on some demographic groups rather than others, which is common practice. Campaigns frequently make decisions about where to allocate their limited resources. Not campaigning for a demographic is not saying you don’t want their support, it’s just making the calculation that what little money you have for your campaign isn’t well-spent going after people who are inclined to vote against you. That’s why Republicans don’t put much money into Massachusetts for presidential elections, and Democrats don’t put much money into Montana. Instead, they put their resources into “swing states” that they have a shot at winning.
Moreover, the article never says that Obama’s campaign is giving up on the demographic of people who work. To the contrary, it explicitly states that his campaign is courting any number of professions, including editors, lawyers, social workers, and so forth. These are all people with jobs, not people who are unemployed. So it’s bluntly false for Limbaugh to describe the Obama campaign as only wooing those who don’t work.
Limbaugh is engaging in the same sort of demonizing as when people say that Republicans don’t want the votes of Latinos or African-Americans. And saying that Democrats don’t care for people who work is like saying that Republicans don’t like the poor, it’s just name-calling.
But Limbaugh isn’t done. He adds:
“This is also why Obama wants to continue the bad economy. … he needs more dependent people; he needs even more people in pain; he needs more people on the receiving end of government goodies; he needs more votes to buy.”
Saying that Obama actually wants the economy to be bad is just more demonizing. It’s standard to caricature your opponents as being either evil or stupid, as either wanting to do the wrong thing or being too dumb to figure out what the right thing is. Limbaugh, here, is adopting the former caricature.
But that’s all it is: caricature. This is just as unfair as the claim (often made by Obama and Democrats) that GOP only cares about wealthy or “the 1%” and wants to buy their votes with tax cuts. Or the claim that Republicans want the economy to fail so that they can benefit politically.
Limbaugh goes on to define what the Democratic Party as a whole is:
“[T]his is a truth a lot of people don’t want to face, that there’s an actual political party that has now transformed itself in such a way that its enemy is constitutional government. … this is where the Democrat Party’s headed, this is who they are because they’re liberals and they’re socialists.”
I’ve already talked about the “socialist” accusation (the term is ambiguous, and once defined, loses its sting), and the rest of what he says is still more demonizing, saying that Democrats are opposed to constitutional government, similar to the claims that Republicans or supporters of the Patriot Act are opposed to constitutional government.
Limbaugh then laments that many people refuse to accept what Obama ‘really’ wants for America:
“[A] very large percentage of Americans do not see Barack Obama as someone who despises the United States. They just see him as wrong, policies are bad, wrong, ’cause people don’t want to look at their president that way. People don’t want to think that a man who despises the country has actually been elected president of it. … He doesn’t have one policy that’s designed to grow the economy. Every policy he has is designed to grow government and shrink the economy.”
This, of course, is precisely the sort of thing that’s often said about Limbaugh and Republicans. Columnist Paul Krugman, for instance, frequently says that, in our two-party system, one party (the GOP) is evil and stupid (Krugman opts for a double-barreled caricature). Krugman says that people should stop resisting that conclusion, and stop portraying Democrats and Republicans as two equally moral, sensible groups that simply have differences of opinion. Krugman and Limbaugh both tend to describe their opponents as knowingly and intentionally doing the wrong thing.
Finally, Limbaugh describes the Democrats as seeking to create a permanent underclass:
“The Democrat Party has made the calculation here, they want to perpetuate unemployment, they want to expand it, not just get the votes from these people today. … They’re not about fixing the underclass. They’re not about reducing the number of people unemployed or that are on food stamps. They want to expand it. That is their route to power.”
Again, this is just more of the same demonizing (Limbaugh often accuses Democrats of wanting to destroy the private sector). Naturally, if this sort of invective is leveled against Limbaugh or Republicans (and it frequently is), he will decry it and denounce it. But he won’t stop himself from resorting to name-calling when it comes to describing his opponents.
And this is why civility doesn’t gain traction. People focus on how they are victims of wrongdoing rather than perpetrators of it. (For instance, when asked to denounce Democrats calling the Tea Party “terrorists”, rather than address the matter, Obama instantly brought up how people have called him a “socialist”.) What we need is leadership, people who will point out who the perpetrators of name-calling are, even if it’s people in their own party. Even if it’s they themselves.