Limbaugh pulls a Nixon

The Wall Street Journal--no surprise--gave over some space to Rush Limbaugh so he could cry about how he's not a racist. Much of Limbaugh's defense in his piece is centered around the one quote falsely attributed to him that suggested that he had supported, in the abstract, slavery. He didn't say it, plain and simple. But he has said many other racially charged things in the past, from calling then Senator Obama a "halfrican" to comparing black athletes to gang members just for starters. But the second I saw the swerve Limbagh was trying to put on this story, I knew I'd seen something similar--from Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.

You didn't have to attack to attack. Better, much better, to give up something to the mark: make him feel he has one up on you. Let him pounce on your "mistake." That makes him look unduly aggressive. Then you sprang the trap, garnering the pity by making the enemy look like a self-righteous and hyper-intellectual enemy of common sense. You attacked jujitsu-style, positioning yourself as you attacked, inspiring a strange sort of protective love among voters whose wounded resentments grow alongside your performance of being wounded. Your enemies appear only to have died of their own hand. Which makes you stronger.
It's not a perfect analogy, but it's close. Limbaugh is trying to spring the trap by arguing (correctly) that he didn't say the racist thing he was accused of saying and thus (incorrectly) all things that his enemies are saying are false. He's doing a bit of the "my accusers are shitbags" dance as well.

But the big thing he's doing--and with a moderate degree of success, it seems to me--is stoking resentment among his fans, and even among people who might not otherwise give Limbaugh a second's thought, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. He's claiming the mantle of the common man; Rush Limbaugh, the highest paid radio host in the history of the world, so wealthy he broadcasts from his Palm Beach compound, so wealthy he can afford to be part of an NFL franchise ownership group, is playing the common man card. And doing it well, I might add.

Funny thing is that Limbaugh probably should be an NFL owner. He meets all the criteria--he hates higher taxes on the wealthy, he loves corporate welfare, he hates unions. How is he not qualified to own a team?

Limbaugh is doing one other smart thing here--he's not attacking the people who are responsible for denying him his dream. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't force Dave Checketts to toss Limbaugh out of the ownership group. Neither did DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA leader. Neither did any of the players who said they wouldn't play for a team Limbaugh owned. Nope. The other owners, many of whom share Limbaugh's positions on taxes and unions and the like, didn't want him around. But he can't attack them, not if he's hoping, like Nixon, to be able to make a comeback, perhaps as part of another ownership group one day.

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