Rush-Whacked:

On his radio show on Thursday, Rush Limbaugh went ballistic about my recent American Prospect Online article "The Secret War on Tom Daschle." Apparently the piece really touched a nerve: Limbaugh read most of the article on the air and pronounced it "fascinating" (needless to say, not in a positive sense).


Limbaugh interpreted the article as being all about him: He even suggested that in parentheses at the end of the title I should have added "Led by Rush Limbaugh." Though I did discuss Limbaugh quite a bit in the piece, I didn't see him as being in any way central to my claim -- which was made in an admittedly tentative way -- that there appears to be a burgeoning right wing project to smear Tom Daschle.


Rush predictably pooh-poohed the notion of any collusion among conservatives to discredit Daschle, but nothing that he said challenged any of the evidence I had already gathered. Indeed, Rush even provided some new evidence of this so-called "war" -- evidence that I didn't even have yet. Here are some examples taken from his show:



This article attempts to say that there is coordination, that there is collusion, between those of us on the right as we gin up attacks on our opponents on the left. For the record, I have never spoken to Rich Lowry [of the National Review] about any of this. I have never spoken to Rich Lowry about strategy. I don't speak to anybody about strategy . . . (pause) . . . in the sense that it is being described here. Never.


My question to Rush: In what sense do you speak about strategy? And to whom?


Limbaugh continued:



I just want to say, Mr. Mooney, and The American Prospect: I am an independent contractor, so to speak, here. While I know Rich Lowry, and John Fund [of the Wall Street Journal] who also comes under your knife in this piece -- I know all these people -- but never, never have I sat down with them to coordinate strategy on how to defeat, or get rid of, or destroy anybody. We do talk in generics, about how best to respond to these insane liberal attacks, like starving kids, and all that sort of thing. But believe me Mr. Mooney, my attention focused on Senator Daschle is mine and mine alone.


Limbaugh says he doesn't "coordinate strategy," but he does get together with John Fund and Rich Lowry and perhaps others to "talk in generics, about how best to respond to these insane liberal attacks." Is this not strategizing, or am I missing something? Or -- to borrow a favorite conservative line -- does it depend on what the meaning of "coordinate" is?


Consider a William F. Buckley op-ed from last year, which I cited in my original article, in which Buckley mentioned attending an "off-the-record meeting of 20 right-wing editors, writers and diverse others . . . to inquire how enthusiastically should American conservatives labor for the election of George W. Bush." Is this not strategizing? Is this not coordination?


Furthermore, nothing Limbaugh said undermined any of the evidence of a conservative war on the Majority Leader. The points remain:


1. As the website Spinsanity.com has pointed out, the conservative Washington Times recently ran an article by Dave Boyer, citing GOP sources, which observed that, "Congressional Republicans are waging a concerted attack on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, highlighting his inexperience at the helm in part to undermine any presidential aspirations he entertains." The article later adds, "Republicans acknowledge privately that the effort is coordinated and serves two purposes: to highlight their priorities by focusing on one Democratic 'bogeyman' and to bruise the political career of a media-savvy opponent with few glaring weaknesses yet for 2004." Given this reporting by the Washington Times -- which, let me reiterate, is a very conservative newspaper -- I hardly think it's alarmist or conspiracy-mongering to suggest that there is indeed a "Secret War on Tom Daschle."


2. Virulent right wingers who surf websites like FreeRepublic.com and Newsmax.com are hungry for Daschle scandals and are going around looking for them, already assuming, a priori, that there must be something out there to be found. I object to this "seek and ye shall find" approach, which has all the intellectual integrity of a witch-hunt. As scientists like to say, "garbage in, garbage out." If Daschle is already assumed to be a dirty dealer, then anything from his past can be made to look scandalous. And many conservatives are clearly making that assumption. One of the many nasty e-mails I received after Rush read my article on the air shows the illogical leap: "Rest assured Senator Daschle's destruction will come about through his own lies and deceptions," wrote one L.B. Daniel.


3. There are some fairly striking similarities in the things that writers in the conservative media have been saying about Daschle, down to the very adjectives they have been using. I list some of them in my article, particularly the repeated use of the word "partisan." While critiquing my article, Limbaugh provided yet another example, observing of Daschle: "I think the man's the most partisan man in Washington, and he was mentored by the previous most partisan man in Washington, George Mitchell." This is very close to what The Wall Street Journal's John Fund -- who Limbaugh admits to talking with, "in generics…about how best to respond" to liberals -- wrote in a symposium on the National Review Online, and which I quoted in my article. Granted, this may be just a coincidence. But at the very least, it suggests they are reinforcing each other's talking points.


Finally, let me add that there is at least one thing in my article as it was posted on our website -- not as it was represented by Limbaugh -- that I actually do regret. Discussing the attack by Rich Lowry on Tom Daschle for "poisoning the nation's children," I wrote:


If Lowry knows what's best for his party, he might want to abandon this line of attack; it's President Bush who is associated with arsenic poisoning in the public's mind, and no amount of spin will undo that.


This sentence has an aspect of gloating to it, for which I apologize, and I don't blame Limbaugh for seizing on it.

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