I thought I was done with the Rush Limbaugh thing. But after reading Jeff Goldstein at Hot Air yesterday, and listening to him at Breitbart.tv, I finally see an area of common ground where all conservatives can agree on an important aspect of how we interpret Rush’s comments. (If you’re not interested, that’s fine; there’s always the next post.)
(By the way, Jeff and I have agreed to put the bad blood behind us.)
Jeff’s insight yesterday, I thought, was best expressed in the Breitbart.tv segment, where he said:
Why are we allowing them to frame it as an ugly statement?
That’s the key. No matter what Rush meant in the specifics, I think it’s clear that he never meant this as an ugly statement.
We can all agree on that.
Now, for us to go out and defend Rush and explain why his statement is not ugly, it would be ideal to be able to explain exactly why. And that’s where Rush failed, because he didn’t make it clear that he did not hope for the failure of the policies once enacted. This is the old ground that needn’t be retread, except to the extent necessary to briefly respond to Jeff’s Hot Air piece.
(Understand that it’s not “parsing” or “trivial” to talk about the specific interpretation in terms of what Rush hoped for (if anything) once the policies are enacted. Because that lies at the heart of the controversy: many Americans are out of work, and they want the economy to get better, and they resent anyone who sounds like he doesn’t want that for America.)
Jeff begins his post by giving the context for the initial iteration of the “I hope he fails” rhetoric. Goldstein concludes:
From the context, it is clear what Limbaugh is on about, specifically, Obama’s “plans [...] “as he stated them,” and his desire to see those plans fail.
My point has always been: failure in what sense? Here’s the part of the quoted context that always intrigued me. It’s the part that told me that, arguments about extemporaneous speaking aside, Rush had carefully thought this through and premeditated it:
So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.” (interruption) What are you laughing at? See, here’s the point. Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. Look, even my staff, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Why not?
If “I hope he fails” meant only “I hope his left-wing agenda is not enacted” — with no room for any other interpretation — I don’t see the possible controversy. The fact that people were telling him it was controversial, even though that may be part of his shtick, indicates that he must have known there was another possible meaning. That possible meaning was set forth well by Ace:
I am honestly telling you that I’ve read Rush’s fuller quote and I *still* think the statement can fairly be read as “I hope Obama fails, and the economy doesn’t recover [in the near term], because it’s THAT important that liberty be preserved.”
I have added “in the near term” to that language because any fair reading of Rush’s language understands that he wishes the best for America in the long run. But it’s certainly reasonable to interpret his comments as saying that he wished economic failure in the short term. The President’s “failure” in these difficult economic times is naturally and reasonably associated with a continued slide into depression — with concomitant job losses and an continued implosion of the stock market. In fact, Obama certainly appears to be “failing” right now by those obvious measures, doesn’t he?
As we have discussed here previously, in an admittedly unscientific survey I took here, many conservatives agreed with Ace.
That Rush made the statement on January 16th, in advance of any of these plans going into effect, makes hypothetical questions (and unscientific polls dedicated to interpreting them) about whether or not Mr Limbaugh wants to see the economy tank and America disintegrate into socialist hell if indeed those plans go into effect moot
I disagree that the questions were hypothetical; failure could mean failure of enactment (unlikely with a Democrat Congress) or failure of the policies once enacted. Even before enactment, this is a reasonable interpretation.
And it’s even more reasonable after the enactment of the stimulus passage. In his piece, Goldstein refers exclusively to Rush’s comments on the radio, but Rush doubled down on the “I hope he fails” rhetoric in a CPAC speech made after the stimulus was passed.
Enough of that. Jeff’s main point in the piece is about language and interpretation, and I have a theory about that which I believe is different from Jeff’s. I don’t have time to discuss that this morning, but perhaps we can discuss it in coming days — and that discussion need not center around Rush Limbaugh. It’s a discussion about communication, and I look forward to it.
In this piece I mainly wanted to a) identify the common ground, and b) explain why it was hard to identify that before and defend Rush on that basis — because he failed to eliminate an ambiguity leading to a reasonable (and controversial) interpretation of his comments.