In a few words, Rush Limbaugh has lost it. Not only did he show up at CPAC last weekend to rile up the conservative GOP base, but he challenged the president of the United States to a debate on his show. Is this guy for real?
As for my friend and fellow Republican Michael Steele, who recently apologized to Limbaugh for calling him an "entertainer" with an "incendiary" show, he needs to take a step back and regroup. His apology was ill-considered, and his RNC political advisers are not serving him well.
Poor Michael. He is stuck in a party gone rogue, and we all know it. Caught between the conservative right and the moderate centrist American political temperament, Mr. Steele has to walk a fine line.
Let me be clear. As someone who wrestles daily with her affiliation in the GOP, Mr. Chairman, your job as the leader of the GOP is not to kiss up to Rush Limbaugh or to late-night political pundits. Your job is to build the party at the grassroots level and expand the party to become more diverse, open and focused on important policy matters like the economy. You missed a golden opportunity on D.L. Hughley’s CNN show when Rush Limbaugh’s name came up. Yes, you are the head of the Republican Party, but you made a bad fumble when you apologized to Limbaugh for simply stating the obvious.
Where is your heart? Why would you and others like Rep. Phil Gingrey apologize to a man who proudly proclaims that he [Limbaugh] is “talent on loan from God”?
Limbaugh may have 20 million listeners, but he is the “de facto leader” of nothing. He is a radio shock jock with a $400 million contract, who in the last several years has said some of the most offensive things about black people and our new president.
For example, on Jan. 16, 2007, Limbaugh called then-candidate Obama “half minority.” Earlier in 2006, when a caller on his show referred to Obama as the “Donovan McNabb of the U.S. Senate,” Limbaugh in a self-congratulatory burst declared that he "kind of like[d]" it. The statement was an apparent reference to Limbaugh's controversial comments in 2003 about McNabb, a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Limbaugh, then an ESPN commentator, said that "[t]he media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well" and, therefore, McNabb "got a lot of credit for the performance of this team [the Eagles] that he didn't deserve."
In January 2009, in an extensive interview with Fox News, Limbaugh was proudly quoted as saying, “And he's not black, he's not from Mars, he's not—he's our president, he's a human being. We're a country comprised of human beings that the Democratic Party and the left have attempted to arrange into groups of victims, and that's who he appeals to, and the victims are the people waiting around for some grievance to be resolved.”
Later, in that same interview, Limbaugh took it a step further, “We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.”
If you and the GOP want to be credible in the black community, then you have to call out this kind of garbage and state emphatically that the GOP does not agree with nor will it or stand for Limbaugh’s inflammatory and divisive rhetoric.
Here is the bottom line, Michael Steele. We have been in the same fight for years, a fight to broaden and truly open up our grand old party to all Americans. As leader of the GOP, your primary role is to infuse optimism and energy into a party that is battered and broken. Stand your ground. Stop worrying about radio personalities and lead the GOP away from extremists like Rush Limbaugh.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.