President Barack Obama needs to take a deep breath, and then a long look in the mirror, and repeat to himself that Rush Limbaugh can’t hurt me, and anything that I try to do with Congress. Limbaugh has fast become a fringe, self-marginalized non entity. He’s got as much chance to wreck Obama’s legislative agenda as disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, maybe even less. The only person who can change that is Obama. He came close to doing that when in what was either a calculated move, or an over exuberant slip he evoked in vain the name of conservative talk radio’s numero uno gabber. Obama allegedly admonished wary GOP congresspersons to stop listening to Limbaugh if they want to get things done; meaning that Limbaugh is the stumbling block to them getting on board with his program.
There was absolutely no need to toss out Limbaugh’s name to make that point. But by doing that, it did several things. It boosts his talk show ratings. It feeds his Grand Canyon size ego. It gives him a mountain of fodder to further puff himself up as “The I am somebody of talk radio”; the guy who can make or break politicians, including Obama. It puts a little steel in the spine of a handful of sore loser, obstructionist bent GOP house members and made them more likely to dig in their heels and take pot shots at anything Obama sends up to Capitol Hill. The most obvious is his economic stimulus plan.
This isn’t the first time that a team Obama member created and then flailed at a GOP straw man target. When Republican rival John McCain plopped Sarah Palin on his ticket, a top Team Obama member reflexively hammered Palin. Obama quickly realized that was a colossal mistake. He did the smart thing and simply congratulated her on being picked as McCain’s VP candidate and then went back to talking about the issues. He knew not to make her the issue.
A candidate who spends inordinate time and energy trying to tar their opponent runs the same risk as an attorney or a prosecutor in a courtroom. They avoid at all costs being seen as too overly aggressive with a witness. It's called witness badgering and that's even more dangerous when the witness is a middle or working class mother as Palin is. Bullying her can stir juror sympathy, even anger toward the attorney or the prosecutor, and it could cost them their case.
The Limbaugh quip is no different. He will use Obama’s reference to his name to further whip up the pack to nit pick, blow up any and every alleged slip or misstep by Obama, and concoct even more outrageous tales of supposed deceit about the Obama administration. By making Limbaugh bigger than life in American politics, it gives steam to his inflammatory campaign of rumors, half truths, distortions, and flat out lies about Obama, liberals, and just about any other issue he bloviates on.
Obama doesn’t need to create straw man Limbaugh for another reason. He already has kissed the ring of Republican leaders in Congress and made the requisite nod toward substantial tax cuts, and putting limits on spending, in his stimulus plan. This virtually assures him a near working majority in Congress behind the plan. This includes a significant number of Republicans. It also insures that he’ll get politically painless approval of his cabinet appointees.Limbaugh is irrelevant to any of this. The message to Obama, drop his name from your Rolodex.Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).