Why Is Peter Daou Empowering Rush Limbaugh?

As an aside to my previous post on the leadership role of Rush Limbaugh in the Republican Party, I must also note a dissenting view to the current Democratic strategy from Peter Daou. Many Democratic leaders, including the Obama administration,  have joined  bloggers in making Limbaugh the new face of the Republican Party. Daou asks, Why on Earth Are Democrats Legitimizing and Empowering Rush Limbaugh? I hardly think this is the case, and for reasons I’ll get to later it is really Peter who is empowering Limbaugh.

Peter writes, “Empowering Limbaugh in the hopes of a bank-shot against Republicans will yield the opposite result: Limbaugh will become more powerful, Republicans will relish his increased influence and allow him to do their dirty work.” Sure some Republicans will relish this, but having him do more of their dirty work is exactly what Obama’s people want. There are some more moderate Republicans out there who just might be able to shake free of the GOP’s current reputation and perhaps even challenge Obama in 2012, especially if the economy has not recovered yet. If voters think Republicans are like Rush Limbaugh, Obama has an easy reelection.

It looks like Obama’s political advisers are outsmarting Daou on this, just as they did when he was working for Hillary Clinton in the primary battle. It is no surprise that Peter would fail to understand the potential dynamics of the 2012 race when he shows he still does not get why his candidate lost in 2008. He wrote:

The reality was that the 2008 election was the age-old battle of character-building and character-destruction. Obama’s team won that battle against Hillary Clinton not just because of Obama’s abundant positive traits but because people like Rush Limbaugh gave him a 15-year head start against her.

No, Rush Limbaugh did not beat Hillary Clinton, and there is no reason to empower him in this manner. Sure, Limbaugh was able to get conservative Republicans to hate Hillary Clinton but these people were never going to vote for her anyways. These are certainly not the people who voted in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Hillary Clinton went into the 2008 nomination battle with all the advantages. Rush Limbaugh did not beat Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton beat Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton decided to run a campaign as dirty as that of any Republican. I’ve already went over multiple specifics throughout the primary campaign so rather than rehashing that battle I’ll refer anyone who wants more detail to the blog archives, or check out these arguments from Lawrence Lessig. Peter reveals their fundamental problem here. The campaign was not won based upon character-destruction. Obama won because so many voters were thoroughly disgusted with the politics of character-destruction, along with her many other dishonest tactics. Many voters rejected Clinton when they saw her engage in this.

Early in the campaign, before he realized there was no longer any point in seeking my support, Peter would send me their campaign’s arguments against Obama. More than once I pointed out that they were dishonest attacks and such attacks would undoubtedly backfire. They never figured out how their Limbaugh-style campaign played right into Obama’s hands.

This is a second way in which Peter empowers and even legitimizes the politics of Rush Limbaugh. He empowers Limbaugh when he incorrectly credits Limbaugh for beating Clinton, and he empowers Limbaugh when he supports Limbaugh’s brand of politics of personal destruction, whether practiced by Rush Limbaugh, Republican candidates, or practiced by Hillary Clinton.

Other commentary:

Sean Quinn at FiveThirtyEight.com has a similar take, both with regards to Daou’s assessment of why Clinton lost as well as with regards to Limbaugh:

Today, veteran Democratic messaging strategist Peter Daou panned the Limbaugh strategy, arguing that while it may seem like a good idea today due to irrational Democratic exuberance in the afterglow of the election, in the long term elevating Limbaugh is a mistake because his toxic effect on political debate will ultimately hurt Democrats. Daou, who worked for Hillary Clinton, also mocks the idea of Obama’s powerful campaign as pure myth, instead suggesting that Obama beat Clinton because Limbaugh tore her down for 15 years.

Daou is completely wrong about why Obama won, but that’s incidental. He’s wrong about Limbaugh because Limbaugh is already a tested brand, and the verdict has been rendered. Muhammad Ali, he is not. Independents aren’t going to suddenly start listening to Rush somewhere down the road, just as they aren’t going to suddenly start appreciating Al Sharpton, who also has a brand.

Mike Pence writes:

The point is that Rush is entirely unpopular with the vast majority of the country, who don’t listen to his show. Limbaugh cost the Republicans the US Senate in 2006 when his Michael J. Fox bashing elevated Claire McCaskill. It’s a proven strategy, and Republicans talking about Limbaugh means they’re not talking about anything appealing to the country at large. I fully agree that Obama and the Democrats will be assessed on whether or not they can bring the country out of this economic death spiral; we’re always judged on cleaning up the mess, they’re never judged on making it. But there’s no reason that Republicans shouldn’t have to run in circles and be forced to reconcile the hateful extremism of their de facto leader in the meantime. “I hope he fails” is a great tombstone for these guys.

Matt Browner Hamlin writes:

I look at the Limbaugh question in a similar way to how I think about people like Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal. The Republican Party is hemorraging support now. It lacks ideological direction that appeals to people outside the geographic south, the super rich, or religious conservatives. It is moving quickly towards being a regional political party. They are without a rudder now and that gives Democrats and more specifically liberal bloggers and talking heads the opportunity to define the GOP for the public and for the media. In this case, picking an objectionable character, known for regularly and repeatedly offending vast swaths makes sense. Likewise picking inept liars like Jindal or clueless not ready for primte time players like Palin also makes sense.

Limbaugh is a cipher for how we can define the GOP. Coincidentally he actually is becoming their party’s biggest spokesman. I love a situation where the choice between Democrats and Republicans is between Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh precisely because Limbaugh cannot play at Obama’s level. Does it give him more profile than he deserves? Yes, I would love to see him marginalized entirely, but I think elevating him in the short run may lead to that in the longer run.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog writes:

It’s simply bizarre that the guy who started Salon’s old Blog Report (which was once called the Daou Report) would say something like this. So much of what we bloggers were doing when Daou was aggregating our posts was to expose the toxic things being said by right-wingers, including Limbaugh and the others he names.

Why was this worth doing? Because, prior to the rise of lefty blogs and Media Matters and Think Progress and, eventually, Stewart and Colbert and then Olbermann and Maddow, hardly anyone was paying attention to the toxic things these people said except people who approved of them. The mainstream press wasn’t paying attention. Most non-right-wingers weren’t paying attention.

These people were saying vile things — but most of the people who would have thought the utterances were vile didn’t know that. Therefore, much of America just had a vague sense that Limbaugh et al. were “irreverent” and “politically correct” — not nasty and poisonous.

These assessments are correct from a strategic partisan Democratic point of view. Personally I would prefer that the Republicans repudiate Rush Limbaugh. This would give them a better shot of challenging the Democrats in future elections, but would also increase the chances of restoring a viable two party system in which both parties have something to offer. This is why my primary interest in Limbaugh controversy has been to encourage the rare conservatives such as  John Derbyshire and Rob Dreher who actually do realize how much damage Limbaugh is doing to the conservative movement. These two goals are actually compatible as exposing Limbaugh’s views does not empower him within the Republican Party. Only the Republicans can empower him in that manner, if they are so foolish.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    nomoreGOP says:

    Articles/Opinions like this one are what keep me coming back to this site each day to actually use my brain in rational, constructive thought.. I think what I find funniest about ALL of this political ping-pong is the fact that people still feel they have to define EVERYONE as either a liberal or a conservative.. a democrat or  republican.. these ridiculous generalizations have a ton to do with any of this even being an issue..

  2. 2
    nomoreGOP says:

    also.. great Obama/Limbaugh comparison:

    http://newmajority.com/ShowScroll.aspx?ID=d22fe4c9-6f8c-4c0d-93af-aed79ad3b467

    …and look at the bashing he gets by his usual bloggers

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