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The Audacity of Rush Limbaugh's Hope: Standing Up to the Hubris of a Bully

03/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When GOP defenders said that the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about sex was not about sex, you pretty much knew it was about sex. When the same folks say that Rush Limbaugh's despicable line -- "We are being told 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" -- is not about race or homophobia, well, you know.

But let's be fair -- it't not just about race and homophobia. It's about a bully who is afraid of being ignored. The give-away is Limbaugh's statement that he "hopes" President Obama will fail. Not, "I expect he will fail." Not, "I predict he will fail." Not even, "He will fail." Rather, Rush Limbaugh wants Obama to fail. Why? Because people might stop paying attention to Rush Limbaugh.

In saying that he hopes the President fails, Limbaugh is simultaneously saying two things. First, he hopes Obama fails to achieve the objectives that the president is pursuing on behalf of the American people. He hopes Obama will not start credit flowing. He hopes Obama will not reverse unemployment. He hopes Obama will not turn the stock market around. That's what failure would mean; that is what Limbaugh hopes for. Second, the suffering of the American people is an acceptable price for vindicating Rush Limbaugh as a seer of political truth. What else would we get by having the president fail?

To see this point, just ask yourself: If Obama succeeds, who will be made worse off? Not the homeowners who could now afford their mortgages. Not the drivers traveling renovated bridges or the rural residents who would now have Internet access over new broadband networks. Not workers who would see value returning to their retirement portfolios. Nope, the only ones who would suffer if President Obama succeeds are the "Limbaughs" -- those who have made a living pushing the ideological insanity that drove the Bush 43 Administration.

In case we didn't get this, Limbaugh has even made it clear that there is no difference, in his mind, between his wanting President Obama to fail and Obama's presumable hope that Limbaugh is a failure: "I think Obama wants me to fail, there's no question, Obama didn't use the words, but . . . he has said that he wants me to fail." Let's see if I can spot a difference. If President Obama fails, America's economic nightmare persists. if Rush Limbaugh fails, it means more Americans have turned away from the venomous expression of his extreme ideology. That really doesn't seem like the same kind of hope to me.

What Republicans have seemed to ignore over the past decades is that their influence over national policy has not reflected Americans' warmth towards Rush Limbaugh. It has reflected the disproportionate influence the GOP right-wing has enjoyed because of the malapportionment of the Senate and of the electoral college. Because every state, no matter how small, gets two seats in the Senate and at least three in the electoral college, Republican victories in safe rural areas gave them more heft than their national support would warrant. After the 2002 election, the GOP held 51 Senate seats, but represented only 44.4 percent of the United States. If you deduct the two electoral votes that each state gets for its Senators, the electoral count in the 2000 election would have been 225 for Gore to 211 for Bush, rather than 271 for Bush and 266 for Gore.

The problem with this strategy, however, is that Democrats are now making inroads on safe GOP areas, and Americans are profoundly unhappy with how Republicans used their national power. Those who rode the right-wing tide into power and the media celebrities who coached them don't want to move in the direction of the American people. They persist -- led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh -- in maintaining that they failed only to live up to their ideology with sufficient fervor.

A cynical Democratic strategist might well hope that Limbaugh succeeds, that he manages, that is, to cement the allegiance of congressional Republicans to a losing strategy that just ignores what America wants. Maybe Democrats can get 60+ Senate seats in 2010. But the President has urged Republicans to steer a different course. He recognizes Limbaugh for the bully that he is and told GOP leaders, "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

I hope the President succeeds.