By now you've probably heard the infamous rant Rush Limbaugh did last week on his radio show explaining that he hopes President Obama fails. It's the most rank and vicious kind of partisanship you will ever hear and very much out of sync with the direction most Americans are moving. Unfortunately, more than a few Republican members of Congress are more in sync with Limbaugh than they are with the American people, not just the die-hard extremists like Jim DeMint (R-SC), David Diapers Vitter (R-LA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) but even more mainstream conservatives for whom the tug of bareknuckled partisanship-- and a preference that America actually fail rather than seeing Obama succeed-- is irresistible.
Today Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who has always had a special relationship with Republicans, is meeting with mainstream conservatives on behalf of President Obama to remind them that we are, after all, all Americans and all in the same boat. He invited a gaggle of them over to the White House to discuss the Stimulus bill.
Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., said the invitation to the White House from the newly minted chief of staff sets a new tone. "That hasn't been done as much in the most recent Bush administration," Petri said.
Petri is among the Republicans who has yet to decide which way he will vote on a package that combines $550 billion in spending on education, infrastructure improvements, health insurance, unemployment benefits and other administration priorities with $275 billion in tax cuts.
"I'm trying to get a better sense of how this all fits into the greater scheme of things," said Petri, who would like to see more spending on infrastructure projects and get a better explanation of how the package fits together with a $700 billion financial recovery package and other items on the agenda. "I'm still basically looking at it."
Though Emanuel's tough-guy theatrics and spicy speech have helped him build a reputation as a relentless partisan, he quietly cultivated working relationships with Republicans throughout his three terms as a representative from Chicago.
Yes, we noticed. Some might say that in 2006, when Emanuel was head of the DCCC, he was responsible for getting more supporters of the Republican agenda elected than the NRCC, not just an actual Republican like Tim Mahoney (FL) but nearly a dozen new Democrats who have proven to be dependable votes for GOP policy-- Joe Donnelly (IN), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Heath Shuler (NC), Jason Altmire (PA), Chris Carney (PA), Harry Mitchell (AZ), Zack Space (OH), Gabby Giffords (AZ), each of whom has voted more frequently with the GOP than with fellow Dems on the tough substantive issues that have divided the House along partisan lines. I don't doubt that Emanuel will razzle and dazzle them, as he's razzled and dazzled Blue Dogs, with proof of how the Obama team is including ineffective-- even counter-effective-- Republican ideas as part of the Stimulus Package, ideas that Obama economists had already panned.
At least $23.8 billion in corporate tax breaks have been included in the $825 billion economic recovery package in order to win backing from key business groups and their Congressional allies, even though the team that put the legislation together believes the breaks have little value in stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
Top beneficiaries include banks, telecommunication companies, railroads and oil, hotels, casinos, and both commercial and residential real estate firms.
"Everyone knows these provisions are not going to do much, but some members of Congress need to be able to say 'the bill has a business tax cut.' So we put them in," said an Obama transition team architect, adding that the corporate breaks were carefully written to be temporary so that the drain on the treasury will be brief. According to another source: "This is just one of those things that you do to get a bill passed. It may not be pretty. We are talking about billions, but in reality it's only a tiny fraction of the whole bill."
But even these efforts won't do a thing for Republicans acting in bad faith, the Limbaugh-Coulter-Hannity Axis of Evil, that just want to see Obama fail. Over the last few days I reached out to a few dozen Democratic members of Congress to ask them what they made out of Limbaugh's poisonous rant on the radio last week. Most of them refused to comment on the record, explaining that Limbaugh is just a clown craving attention and they didn't want to encourage him.
Yesterday even fellow GOP propagandist, Bill Bennett rebuked Limbaugh for his psychosis. "The locution 'I want him to fail' is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated," expounded Bennett. The members of Congress I was able to coax into commenting didn't just talk about Limbaugh locution. Alan Grayson, the outspoken member from Orlando, as usual, wasn't mincing words: "Rush Limbaugh is a has-been hypocrite loser, who craves attention. His right-wing lunacy sounds like Mikhail Gorbachev, extolling the virtues of communism. Limbaugh actually was more lucid when he was a drug addict. If America ever did 1% of what he wanted us to do, then we'd all need pain killers."
That reminded me to go to the two declared candidates for 2010 races who we've already endorsed; both are also from Florida. Doug Tudor, who spent most of his adult life serving the country in the military, seemed very offended by Limbaugh. "I think the newly elected junior senator from Minnesota said it best: Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat idiot. It speaks volumes that Rush continues as the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, even as the party implodes into electoral insignificance in most parts of the country. It also reveals the true values of the GOP in that this convicted drug addict, serial racist, gay-bashing closet case, and insulter of our troops, continues to have such a messianic hold on the party rank-and-file. Screw Rush Limbaugh and the dittoheads he continues to ride in on."
You may have noticed that today's big political news is that state Senator Dan Gelber has announced that he's running for the U.S. Senate seat being abandoned by Mel Martinez. Yesterday, Gelber rolled his eyes at Limbaugh as though he were dealing with a naughty child. "Rush Limbaugh is as extreme as can be-- like Ann Coulter and others-- and it's unpatriotic to say that. I would never in my worst moment want a Republican administration to fail if it meant wishing for failure on the American people. And that's what he's doing. He's an extremist and his voice shouldn't have legitimate and responsible currency in the marketplace of ideas. They're partisan ideologues who have absolutely no interest in the betterment of the country and seem to have more interest in advancing some extreme or shocking view."
Earlier Maryland congressman and chair of the DCCC, Chris Van Hollen, actually released an official statement on the DCCC website about Limbaugh's remarks.
"Rush Limbaugh's reprehensible remark that he 'hopes' President Obama fails to meet the extraordinary economic challenges Americans face has no place in the public discourse.
"Mr. Limbaugh's comments politicize the economic struggle of millions of hard working Americans. With the unemployment rate over seven percent, today's news that 62,000 more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, and millions of Americans struggling to keep their health care and homes, all Americans, regardless of their ideology, hope that President Obama succeeds in getting people back to work and turning our economy around."
Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, another outspoken progressive, seemed as offended by Limbaugh as most members of Congress and he was willing to go on record: "President Obama has received the highest post-inaugural approval rating of any president since JFK. At a time of great challenges, Americans have a President who they believe in and who gives them hope. What Rush Limbaugh said was very un-American at its core. To wish a President to fail is to wish our nation to fail. President Obama has made a point of reaching out across the aisle and across the country. His policy of inclusion gives us a chance to come together as a nation to weather these difficult times. Why would anyone ever hope for a President to fail? You may disagree with policies but to actually say the words, 'I want him to fail' is uninspiring and mean-spirited. We don't need that. We need people with ideas, not just naysayers."
But I think of all the men and women I did speak to about Limbaugh's hateful comments, no one was more abashed and even saddened than Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA). Rep. Sestak, remember, served as an admiral in the U.S. Navy before being elected to Congress. He fought in our wars and defended our country. He took Limbaugh's nasty remarks very seriously.
"The future of America is about all Americans succeeding. In a time of crisis, no patriotic American wanted President Roosevelt to fail; in the Cuban Missile crisis, no patriotic American wanted President Kennedy to fail; in Afghanistan, no patriot wanted President Bush to fail. How can anyone who cares about America want President Obama to fail? Should our Commander-in-Chief fail, our nation fails. My constituents are struggling to pay their mortgages, keep their businesses afloat, save for their children's education, and pay for their medical care and insurance as a result of a perversion of our economic system, a wrong that must be righted. It is outrageous to think that anyone would want our nation to fail at this particular time in our history.
"The success of America in our two wars overseas, as well as our economic war at home, is not about one man, and most definitely not about one party, but it is about striving, exhorting all Americans and their leaders to succeed by rising above individual interests and partisanship-- while debating about the right course to take-- wanting the course finally chosen to be a successful one for all of us in terms of peace and prosperity for Americans and the world."