Despite Obama appeals, left-right war still rages

The shock troops of conservative talk radio and liberal activism have yet to get President Barack Obama’s memo appealing for a ceasefire to America’s political wars.

As Obama’s gargantuan economic stimulus plan struggles through Congress, a dogfight has broken out on the airwaves between right-wing king of controversy Rush Limbaugh and a coalition of left-of-centre pressure groups.

On Tuesday, liberal organisations grouped under the banner “Americans United for Change” mounted a $600 000 advertising blitz targeting 13 Senate Republicans who are opposed to the stimulus package.

“We can understand why an extreme partisan like Rush Limbaugh wants President Obama’s jobs programme to fail,” one radio ad called “Rush to Failure” said.

“But the members of Congress elected to represent the citizens in their districts? That’s another matter,” it said, encouraging voters to call their senator and “tell him he represents you—not Rush Limbaugh”.

Obama himself has been drawn into the fray, reportedly warning Republicans in Washington they should rise above Limbaugh’s polemics to get things done.

Limbaugh, whose nationally syndicated radio show attracts 13 million to 14 million listeners a week, had fired the opening shots two weeks week ago when he summarised his aspirations for the Obama administration: “I hope he fails!”

Eagerly stoking a national firestorm over the remark, Limbaugh has since dripped scorn on his opponents via his broadcasts and the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

“I don’t believe his is a ‘stimulus plan’ at all—I don’t think it stimulates anything but the Democratic Party,” he said in an opinion piece last week.

“This ‘porkulus’ bill is designed to repair the Democratic Party’s power losses from the 1990s forward, and to cement the party’s majority power for decades,” said Limbaugh, who is taking a break from his show this week.

Americans United for Change (AUFC), comprising trades unions and pressure groups such as the five-million-strong MoveOn.org, denies it is feeding the impressive publicity machine of America’s highest-paid radio star.

AUFC spokesperson Jeremy Funk said the ads were upping the pressure on Republicans in Congress to get in line with Obama’s near $900-billion stimulus plan.

“It’s clear that President Obama is doing everything in his power to extend his hand in good faith. But they’ve bitten his hand.
What have they given him? Nothing,” Funk said.

“Now struggling American families are looking to Senate Republicans not to follow Rush over the political abyss,” he said, after the stimulus Bill passed the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote in support.

“And incidentally, the majority of stations we chose [to run the radio ad] air Rush Limbaugh.”

The spat appears to have settled one question: what role would talk radio have in the national debate after Obama’s historic election as America’s first black president?

A steady diet of acidic humour, trenchant commentary and liberal baiting has kept conservative listeners tuning in, as Limbaugh and his legion of imitators inject a heavy dose of cynicism into Obama’s “post-partisan” appeal.

Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of the industry magazine Talkers, said the back-and-forth in the stimulus debate underlined Limbaugh’s enduring relevance for a large swathe of the US public.

“In my opinion it elevates Limbaugh’s position as an entertainer and broadcaster. And it has diminished the people who should have a high position as politicians,” he told AFP.

“Limbaugh and his ilk have taken over the position as the most influential voices in the Republican right, because of the vacuum of leadership by the party itself.”—Sapa-AFP

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