by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers
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Last week, President Obama met with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss his economic recovery program, despite the GOP's apparent reluctance to compromise on the package. Obama told GOP members at the meeting that they need to stop listening to hate radio host Rush Limbaugh if Congress is to accomplish anything. "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done," Obama told Republican leaders. His scolding of the far right came days after Limbaugh notoriously declared, "I hope he fails," referring to Obama. Limbaugh fired back yesterday, stating, "I think Obama wants me to fail." The verbal tit-for-tat between Obama and Limbaugh carries a more significant meaning than what appears on the surface. In this time of crisis, the country needs a strong economic recovery package to be quickly shuttled through Congress and onto Obama's desk. Given that Limbaugh carries tremendous sway over congressional GOP, will they break away from him on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? Or will they continue to partake in Limbaugh's brand of "reflexive obstructionism?"
HOPING FOR FAILURE: Limbaugh's recent comment saying that he hopes Obama fails as president is deeply hypocritical. Conservatives long claimed that any criticism of President Bush's policies was evidence that liberals "want[ed] Bush to fail." For example, during the debate over Iraq, perhaps the most frequent right-wing talking point was that liberals wanted to "surrender." This straw man argument, of course, had no basis in reality. Yet today, with a progressive at the country's helm, Limbaugh is perfectly content saying that he wants the President to fail at reviving the economy. The comment also underscores just how radical Limbaugh is. Even fellow conservative talk radio host Bill Bennett hinted at disagreement, stating, "The locution 'I want him to fail' is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated." Limbaugh also remarked last week, "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."
FOLLOWING RUSH: Nevertheless, despite his radical and hateful views, Limbaugh has held considerable influence on the actions of the congressional GOP. His role in pulling the GOP away from immigration reform in 2007 was undeniable. His rants on the Fairness Doctrine culminated in legislation from Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN). Last year, when Limbaugh infamously referred to U.S. soldiers in Iraq who were critical of the war as "phony soldiers," the congressional GOP rushed to his defense. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), for example, introduced a resolution "commending Rush Hudson Limbaugh III for his ongoing public support of American troops serving both here and abroad." Furthermore, GOP members have long boasted about their close relationship with Rush. "I mean, there's nothing particularly inflammatory about anything Rush Limbaugh says," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in 2002. In 1994, former House speaker Newt Gingrich made Limbaugh an honorary member of the 104th Congress.
GOP OBSTRUCTIONISM: In recent weeks, Limbaugh has been mounting a fight against Obama's ambitious recovery package. "Obama's plan would buy votes for the Democrat Party, in the same way FDR's New Deal established majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule," he said last week. The question going forward is whether congressional conservatives will work with Obama to pass a strong recovery package or continue to buckle under Limbaugh's demands. Thus far, the signs are discouraging. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) -- who said this week that he will not vote for the recovery as it stands -- and Limbaugh have been marching in lockstep in harping on the inclusion of family planning funding in the legislation. Several other prominent conservatives are buckling to their right-wing base in publicly opposing the recovery. Limbaugh has also made Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner his punching bag in recent weeks, upping the pressure around the controversy over Geithner's taxes. Yesterday, Geithner was confirmed by a 60-34 Senate vote. "[C]onservative talk radio rallied a flood of calls to Capitol Hill on Monday opposing his nomination. A majority of Senate Republicans heeded those calls," observes Politico.