Talk radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh has a much bigger obsession than President Obama. That obsession is race. He just can't seem to stay away from it. In between his ritual tirade against liberals, the drive by media, Democrats, feminists, environmentalists, and Nancy Pelosi, the Limbaugh road always leads back to race. This was the case on a recent show when he took yet another swipe at the black family. The Limbaugh hand spank to blacks is by now well known. Stay married, stop making out of wedlock babies, get some morals and values, and all problems will be solved.
It was race that put Limbaugh on the talk radio map more than three decades when as a relatively obscure local yokel right side wing nut gabber and DJ on a Pittsburgh radio station, he shouted at a black caller to take the bone out of your nose. Limbaugh's been called out on this a few times over the years and he's never admitted that he said it. But he didn't deny it either.
In the years since the bone in the nose slur Limbaugh has piled up a litany of race zingers. He's managed to tout slavery ("it had it's merits"), praise MLK assassin James Earl Ray ("a posthumous medal of honor"), brand the predominantly black player dominated NFL a thug league ("looks like a game between the Crips and the Bloods"), slander Jesse Jackson ("pictures of wanted criminals look like him") and ridicule the NAACP ("get a liquor store and practice robberies").
Limbaugh's crude radio race baiting is not done to shock, out of ignorance, to disinform, or to backdoor tweak President Obama. And it's certainly not done because he's a racist. There is a cunning calculus to Limbaugh's racial obsession that goes beyond even race. His use of race, always the nation's oldest, deepest, and touchiest issue, is a studied and calculated brick and mortar marketing tool. The object is to cement his political influence, personal prestige, notoriety, and, of course, wealth. Limbaugh has marvelously succeeded on all fronts. Even though his always nebulous listener numbers have dropped in recent months, he's still the biggest act on the talk airwaves. He's a household name. He's got every Republican's knees knocking. He rakes in nearly a half billion in his eight year radio deal.
Limbaugh quickly sniffed the vital role race could play in building the Limbaugh political and media empire when word came down a couple decades ago courtesy of then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that there were a lot of white guys out there who were mad as hell at the feds for dumping a bloated, overblown big government on them. Lurking underneath their frustration was the finger point at minorities for the government bloat. That turned into the artful twist of hidden race animus into slogans such as "law and order," "crime in the streets," "welfare cheats," and "absentee fathers." President Bush's John Wayne frontier brashness, and get tough, bring em' on rhetoric in talking about Iraq and the war against terrorism was geared to appeal to supposed white male toughness.
Limbaugh also sensed something else that could make sloganeering and race baiting work even better. Many blue collar white males were losing ground to minorities and women in the workplace, schools, and in society. The trend toward white male poverty and alienation actually first became evident in the early 1980s when nearly 10 million Americans were added to the poverty rolls and more than half were from white, male-headed families. Two decades later, the number of white men in poverty or among lower income wage earners continued to expand. The estimate was that more one in five white males who voted in 2004 presidential election made less than $45,000 in household income.
The main culprit was always the big, intrusive federal government that tilted unfairly in spending priorities toward social programs that benefited minorities at the expense of hard working white males. That's exactly how Limbaugh crafts the reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward government. This of course translates out to even more fear, rage and distrust of minorities.
The vintage Limbaugh mix of race, anti-Democratic Party, anti-government politics, and top ratings was on textbook display in a classic rambling monologue after last year's Democratic convention. Limbaugh strung words such as an unqualified Obama, liberal Democrats, a black guy, guilt, history, affirmative action, and liberal policies together. He covered all the male rage bases and only mentioned race once.
Limbaugh begins and ends every racial tirade with his trademark disclaimer that none of this has anything to do with race and that he believes in total equality. But with him it's not about equality or even race. It's about ratings and political dominance, namely his. Limbaugh's racial obsession makes perfectly good sense.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com