May 10, 2003

The GOP attack machine
All who are not Bushies are evil

SHORTLY AFTER 2 p.m. last Friday, right-wing radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh was orating his way through a few news briefs. After dispensing with the first Democratic presidential debate, which was to be held two days hence, Limbaugh turned to a story that had nothing to do with politics — or so one would have thought.

He began by reading a wire story about Aron Ralston, the 27-year-old mountain climber who cut off his arm with a pocket knife after he’d been trapped by a boulder for several days while hiking in Utah. Bleeding profusely, Ralston rappelled down the side of a cliff and walked to safety.

"Can you imagine the pain, having the presence of mind to do all this? It is amazing," said Limbaugh, briefly sounding like a normal human being. And then he started riffing, coming to a conclusion that was almost as "amazing" as Ralston’s tale of survival.

"You know, this is one of these stories, this is one of these acts of human courage, that people are going to strive to associate themselves with," Limbaugh intoned. "Such as Democratic presidential candidates. This is the kind of story — you know, you might have this guy in the audience and claim he’s one of your supporters or whatever. We might even hear from John F. Kerry, for example, that his Jewish grandfather was a mountain climber, and this story has reminded him that his Jewish grandfather was a mountain climber, and therefore he knows the rigors of this engagement, this enterprise, and can relate to what this Colorado climber went through. I mean, they’ll stop at nothing to build bridges of relatability to these acts of courage. They can’t cite many of their own." Heavy, theatrical throat-clearing. Commercial break.

In a sense, it was the perfect storm of demented reasoning: 1) attack the Democrats for cowardice and exploitative behavior, even though said behavior exists only in Limbaugh’s own fevered imagination; 2) aim the brunt of the attack at Kerry, the one Democrat who is a decorated war hero; 3) stick in a snide reference to Kerry’s late discovery of his ethnic and religious background. Nor did Rush neglect the opportunity to say "Jewish" twice, even though he had to repeat himself nearly word for word in order to do so.

But if the bizarro nature of Limbaugh’s attack was sui generis, the sheer viciousness — the implication that Democrats, liberals, and anyone else who gets in the way of the conservative juggernaut is cowardly, unscrupulous, and unpatriotic — has become a staple of the modern Republican Party.

Indeed, the Republican Attack Machine is now such an entrenched part of the political landscape that it no longer seems remarkable — until you stop and think about the corrosive effect it has on our political discourse. And few have benefited from its toxic rhetoric as much as George W. Bush.
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