As the world watched Nelson Mandela put to rest today, a number of Americans have twisted their memorial remembrances into stories about people and events in the United States of America. On the left, MSNBC personality Al Sharpton stayed true to his polemicist (some might say, opportunistic) roots by insisting that the focus should be on America’s failure to openly support Mandela. In doing so, Sharpton shifts the focus from the life and accomplishments of a globally remarkable man, to issues that have little relevance in the context of a eulogy. However, right-wing media titan and political shock-jock, Rush Limbaugh, made a statement that—at first glance—seems like one of the “joke” tweets that have been falsely attributed to Kanye West and Paris Hilton.
On his December 6 show, Limbaugh said, “Mandela had much more in common with Clarence Thomas, and a lot of conservatives, than he has with Obama but the left doesn’t care.” Yet, rather than offer specific examples of why he believes this, he simply says, “These are the kind of things, by the way, I love saying, because this just ticks the left off, ‘cause they hate Clarence Thomas.” This thinking is a clear indicator of Limbaugh’s continued popularity—his listeners require little substance or context, and are instead simply pleased by his liberal antagonism.
In another part of his show, Limbaugh focuses on an article from The New York Times in which the author says that “Without Nelson Mandela, there might never have been a President Obama.” Limbaugh tells his listeners that this is a “crock” saying, “It would be no different than if they said, ‘Without Barack Obama, there would never have been a Nelson Mandela.” Which of course makes as much sense as saying without the Sun there wouldn’t be life on Earth is the same as saying without life on Earth, there wouldn’t be a Sun.
The Times article does make some attempt at a relevant comparison between to the two leaders, at least inasmuch as President Obama has done his best to follow a kind of Mandela-inspired example. In a sense this is the same sort of US navel-gazing for which I criticized Sharpton. Limbaugh, however, doesn’t even attempt to tie his statements to any sort of logical train of thought beyond “Liberals are the enemy, everything is about ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”
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Of course the inherent irony of criticizing President Obama for trying to attach himself to the, in the words of a Limbaugh caller, “reflected glory of Nelson Mandela,” and then in the same breath compare him to Clarence Thomas and “other conservatives” is lost on Limbaugh. Rush has somehow maintained his stature as a political voice when in fact he is more of a radio opportunist than Opie & Anthony, Howard Stern, and other so-called radio “shock jocks” ever were. At least with Opie & Anthony, they have always self-identified as a comedy show that goes out of its way to push the edges of taste. Limbaugh has devolved from a political commentator into a red-faced bloviator that says “outrageous” things because that is the only way he can get his name in the news anymore. Congratulations Rush, it’s still working.