Calvin Freiburger

Politicizing Tragedy: Fine for Me, But Not for Thee

Posted on January 15 2010 4:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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Playing politics with a tragedy by falsely accusing your opponents of playing politics with a tragedy: it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and today’s culprit is The Daily Beast’s John Avalon, who has a new column about “the Wingnut fringe, who can’t understand the suffering of those outside their tribe.”  The object of his ire: comments made by Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh regarding the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

There’s no defending Robertson’s callous speculation that Haiti had it coming, but as Kathy Shaidle pointed out yesterday, Robertson hardly has the influence among conservatives that liberals would have you believe (also, not all of Robertson’s views qualify as conservative or religious).  What’s more interesting is Avalon’s attack on Limbaugh, somebody who actually does have substantial pull on the Right:

El Rushbo couldn’t resist the partisan impulses with Haiti, either: “This will play right into Obama’s hands—humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.” Whether he was echoing or mocking Harry Reid’s clueless racial comments, Rush couldn’t help but stay classy.

Don’t bother trying to donate to relief efforts. “We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax,” he bloviated. “It is a simple matter of self-reliance—nobody takes that approach down there because this has always been a country run by dictators, incompetent ones…” (Got to appreciate his distinction between the value of competent and incompetent dictators—I wonder where he would place Saddam?) And, of course, those who disagree with Rush must prepare to be demonized, now with extra misogyny, as when he told a caller who complained about his Haiti comments that she had “tampons in [her] ears.”

Rush has already addressed the media uproar over his comments, replaying what he originally said, then explaining it further:

RUSH ARCHIVE:  Before this week is out, I will be the one who uttered the words “light-skinned” and “doesn’t speak the Negro dialect when he doesn’t want to.” I’ll be the one that said it.  Before the week is out I’ll be the one that said it, not Harry Reid, and they’ll be asking, “Why have you not condemned Rush Limbaugh for what he said (in repeating what Harry Reid said)?” and Harry Reid will condemn me from the Senate floor!

RUSH:  And then I proceeded to suggest that Obama is going to be giving aid to both light-skinned and dark-skinned Negroes in Haiti, just designed to get the reaction I got — and it worked.  The people that listen to this program laugh and chuckle every day at this stuff, because we’re just needling the media. They talk about me all the time and I can create it any time I want.  It’s made you mad, and you believe things they take out of context that don’t completely say what I fully said, and you get mad.

CALLER:  Okay, so you’re basically evading the second part of my question. You’re not going to tell me why you decided to go around saying something, like, a tragedy that’s happened to hundreds of thousands of people, who are suffering.

RUSH:  No, I’m not evading it at all.  If I said it I meant to say it, and I do believe that everything is political to this president. Everything this president sees is a political opportunity, including Haiti, and he will use it to burnish his credentials with minorities in this country and around the world, and to accuse Republicans of having no compassion.

More than anything, this debacle reflects not on Rush’s insensitivity, but on the media’s utter lack of self control: they hate him so much that he can put out stale bread as bait and they’ll fall for it as if it were T-bone steak.  As for Obama’s reaction, his ego most likely had something to do with why Haiti gets a more prompt and passionate response than, say, the murder of US servicemen (the guy has gotten a Newsweek cover story out of the earthquake, after all), but he admittedly has yet to turn it into a partisan issue.  Time will tell if Rush’s prediction comes to pass on that front; politicizing things that should be non-partisan isn’t exactly unprecedented for The One.

Nothing approaching “Don’t bother trying to donate to relief efforts” appears in Rush’s remarks, either.  As El Rushbo explains:

I mean you call here and ask, “Where do I get off suggesting that we don’t donate to Haiti because we do in the income tax?” and I tell you I said that, but I also said private donations are going to be much better than a government donation.  They’re all going, go to the Red Cross, do other things, don’t go through the government. It’s just going to go through hands and bureaucracies and a dollar is going to end up being 30 cents by the time they get through with it.  I did not say, “Don’t make donations.”

Lazily sneering at legitimate concerns over where donations go is bad enough (apparently Avalon was asleep during the Oil for Food fiasco, or the scandal over 9/11 relief efforts), but the last straw is Avalon’s slanderous characterization of Limbaugh as a misogynist who’ll demonize anyone for simply disagreeing with him.  The transcript shows that the “tampon” crack came after the caller in question repeatedly disregarded his explanations of what he really did say.  Say what you will about the decorum of Rush’s humor, but please spare us the lie that dissent alone spurs him to demonize someone.

Amusingly, the tampon quote comes from the broadcast in which Rush responds to his critics, which means that either Avalon knew what he really said but chose to slander him anyway, or whatever hack media outlet he got it from did.  Regardless of whether or not malice or laziness is to blame, this latest attack on Rush Limbaugh is hardly something for the Left, or the Daily Beast, to be proud of.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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