That great sage of Republican wisdom and virtue, Rush Limbaugh, has once again weighed in with his mighty opinion. This time it is former Secretary of State Colin Powell who is the target of Mr. Limbaugh’s righteous, right-wing spleen. As members of the ‘unofficial’ Republican Party – those people who were elected by their constituents – strive to drag their party back from the margins into which the Sarah Palins of the world have so ingloriously shoved it, the ‘official’ spokesman – Mr. Limbaugh – suggests that Mr. Powell leave the embrace of its white, conservative arms. “What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party,” proclaimed Mr. Limbaugh.
What, one wonders, did Mr. Powell say or do to cause the GOP ‘leader’ to all but fire him from the party? What inflammatory, inappropriate, leftist remark did the former Secretary of State make that caused Mr. Limbaugh to react as he did? Here are the offending words: “The Republican Party is in deep trouble,” said Mr. Powell. Further: “I think what Rush (Limbaugh) does as an entertainer diminishes the Party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without”.
Mr. Limbaugh then personalized Mr. Powell’s ‘attack’ on him and the Republican Party. “He’s just mad at me because I’m the one person in the country who had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama. It was purely and solely based on race.”
One hesitates to point out to Mr. Limbaugh just a couple of other conservative Republican reactions to that endorsement. Pat Buchanan, in his typically eloquent manner, said this: “Alright, we gotta ask a question; look, would Colin Powell be endorsing Obama if he were a white liberal Democrat?” Conservative columnist George Will was, perhaps, somewhat more thoughtful, although somewhat less direct, in his response: “And I think this adds to my calculation — this is very hard to measure — but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we’d find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he’s black for every one he loses because he’s black because so much of this country is so eager, a, to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson game of political rhetoric.” So, based solely on limited anecdotal evidence, Mr. Limbaugh was not the ‘one person in the country’ to accuse Mr. Powell of endorsing Mr. Obama solely on the basis of race.
And to add insult to injury, Mr. Powell referred to Mr. Limbaugh as an entertainer. Surely, a statesman such as Mr. Limbaugh is justified in taking great umbrage at such an affront. When one has a highly rated television program on which one castigates everyone and everything that in any way disagrees with one’s own opinions and statements, is this not statesmanship? It is certainly a stretch to call it entertainment.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Michael Steele, back in March, also dared to paint Mr. Limbaugh with the demeaning brush of ‘entertainer’. After CNN’s D.L. Hughley said that Mr. Limbaugh was ‘the de facto leader of the Republican party”, Mr. Steele responded thusly: “Rush Limbaugh, his whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it’s incendiary. Yes, it’s ugly.” He then declared that he himself was the ‘de facto’ leader of the party.
Yet unlike Mr. Powell to date (let’s all wait and see), Mr. Steele quickly saw the error of his ways. Within days he made his public apology: “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” So much for Mr. Steele being the ‘de facto’ leader of the GOP.
The Republican Party, battered under the so-called leadership of George Bush, then further diminished and self-marginalized by the peculiar selection of Alaska Governor Palin as Sen. John McCain’s running mate last year, is embarking on a series of town-hall type meetings to interact with the people around the nation who so soundly rejected them in 2006 and 2008. There seems to the party to be a series of mysteries to be solved:
Why did the voters select candidates who wanted to end wars rather than start them? What possessed those going to the polls to choose candidates who seemed to be aware of the existence of those voting for them? Why choose men and women who would recognize a woman’s right to choose, or who are willing to consider that, perhaps, gay people should have rights, too? Why vote for a candidate who actually practices ‘family values’, rather than a serial adulterer who pays lip service to them?
It will be interesting to see if these mysteries are solved for the Republicans. Their choices of audience will help determine whether or not that is likely.
Mr. Powell’s careful words do not seem, to the casual observer, to be quite as provocative as Mr. Limbaugh found them to be. But the Republican party should be careful about who it parades around as its heroes. Although Mr. Powell has long been a darling of the GOP, his sullied history dates back as far, at least, to his role in covering up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968. And his cheerleading for the obscene invasion of Iraq, and his part in the lies that led to it, must not be forgotten.
For those who look with skepticism at the GOP’s current attempt at reform, they receive no comfort when the party faithful bow and scrap to the likes of Mr. Limbaugh. No amount of reform is going to solve the problem when those in charge cannot stand up to television entertainers, and when Governor Palin’s efforts to position herself as the 2012 standard-bearer are seen as anything more than fodder for Tina Fey. Unless and until those in real leadership roles within the Republican Party are willing to face the realities of twenty-first century America and the world, the GOP will continue to lose both elections and influence.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.