Liberals had a good week last week, not because they won any arguments, but because they think two conservatives suffered damage to their credibility.
A lot of liberals think their relentless and over-the-top invective against President Bush is starting to pay off because his formerly high approval ratings have declined. They think they have him hooked into a potential political scandal because someone in government leaked the name of a covert CIA employee. However, they will be kicking themselves next year at election time when it will be proved, once again, how dangerous it is to underestimate George W. Bush.
Their other "victory" was the tabloid outing of radio talk show king, Rush Limbaugh. The National Enquirer published a story that cited a former worker in the Limbaugh household alleging that Limbaugh has abused prescription painkillers. Although Limbaugh has not been charged with any offense, he has hired a top criminal defense attorney, Roy Black, who defended William Kennedy Smith against rape charges, a case Limbaugh regularly lampooned on his radio show.
Liberals have been frustrated that their ideological domination of the media has declined, largely because of Limbaugh and now Fox News Channel (where I have a weekly show). Knocking him off the air would launch a thousand celebrations from Manhattan's Upper East Side to Beverly Hills and Malibu.
What happened after Limbaugh said on ESPN that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb gets a break from the media because he is black, and they and the National Football League want a black quarterback to succeed, amounted to censorship. It also reflects the prevailing double standard about race and racial conversation.
Instead of sacking Limbaugh (he "resigned"), ESPN should have brought in someone the following week to debate him. Not only would ratings have set a record (the network's stated intention for hiring Limbaugh), ESPN would be demonstrating the highest principles of pluralism, tolerance and ideological diversity. Black politicians can say virtually anything about whites (such as equating President Bush and Republicans with the Taliban and "canines," as NAACP Chairman Julian Bond did in July, 2001) and suffer no political or personal consequences. Whites are limited in what they can say about blacks. ESPN bowed to political correctness that says any perceived criticism of an African-American by a white person is, by definition, racist.
We've seen this before. In an effort to promote policies even many blacks oppose, black "leaders" are quick to tar anyone with the "racist" label should they fail to toe the liberal line. Many blacks in the 1970s opposed busing to achieve arbitrary racial "balance" because it meant sending their children out of the neighborhood over long distances. That the white politicians who supported busing could afford to send their children to private schools didn't matter, because their intentions were "noble." If you were white and opposed busing, you were branded a racist and silenced by the charge alone. Whether busing was good social policy (as it proved not to be) could not be debated at the time.
When Limbaugh emerged on the national scene, he provided a forum in which such ideas could not only be debated but certain liberal doctrines ridiculed. Conservative blacks frequently call the show and are treated with respect and admiration by Limbaugh. The callers tell him they oppose the politics of the liberal black establishment. Rarely are such voices heard in the mainstream media, whose guest bookers always seem to call the same people, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
I have listened to Rush Limbaugh for 10 years. He doesn't tell me what to think. He simply expresses what I and millions of Americans already believe. Limbaugh reflects views conservatives held before he came along. He has won their allegiance because he respects their ideas, unlike the mainstream media. And he is funny. He is also shy and, yes, humble. Anyone who regularly listens to the show knows of his gratitude for the success he has enjoyed. He worked hard to gain it. If he erred in judgment about prescription pain pills, that does not dilute (as so many liberals wish it would) the power of his arguments.
Just as soon as he is legally able, Limbaugh should come clean about whether or not he has a drug problem. If he does, he should admit it and seek help. That's often difficult for one at the top of his profession, but confession, healing and restoration are more satisfying than silence and a high-priced lawyer.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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