Friday, September 08, 2006

Parsing Rush Limbaugh

Just because it's a fun thing to do, and because learning to parse one wingnut helps us in parsing all of them. And because it's fun. Oops. I just said that.

Rush Limbaugh spoke to Katie Couric in her new series "Free Speech". I'm going to use his speech as the stuff dreams are made out of, at least dreams of parsing, which means that I'm going to give you a few lines of Rush and then my masterful (mistressful?) interpretation of the problems his speech contains. And so on.

Here's the beginning of Rush:

LIMBAUGH: My friends, it's time to face a hard, cold fact: Militant Islam wants to kill us just because we're alive and don't believe as they do. They've been killing us for decades. So it's time to stop pretending these terrorist incidents are mere episodic events and face the reality that our way of life is in grave danger. Now, this threat is not just going to go away because we choose to ignore it.

I've bolded the bits I'm going to rip apart here. First, note the "just because", combined with the earlier word "fact". Limbaugh is telling us that the militant Islamic terrorists have no other reasons for their hatred than the fact that we are alive and disbelievers, and he's telling this as a fact. Most educated observers know that the "just because" is not true, that there are many reasons for the American unpopularity in Islamic countries, and that many of these reasons have to do with the foreign politics of the United States. The problem here is not that Rush isn't partially right. He is, in that there indeed are some terrorists who would hate the non-Muslim world whatever else might be going on. But the numbers would be much fewer if the United States had a different foreign policy with respect to the Middle East. The problem is that Rush argues for the totality of his opinion as the only correct explanation for terrorism.

Now comes the really fascinating transition: Rush moves from Militant Islam (an ideology) to "they" (people). Who are "they"? He never defines this nebulous and frightening group, but I'd assume he means the terrorists. This is an important point, because later on he talks about "diplomacy" as if it was something the critics of the Bush administration advocate as the tool for coping with, say, bin Laden. This is pure hogwash, of course.

Then the third bolded bit: about the needs to stop pretending that these terrorist events are episodic and can be ignored. Who pretends this? It's a strawman Rush is building here, or at least something I've never heard of.

And finally, the fourth bolded bit: That "we" (who are these we?) choose to ignore the threat of terrorism doesn't mean that it will go away. I don't know who chooses to ignore the threat of terrorism. The liberal and progressive criticisms of the Bush administration policies are not because these critics want to pretend that terrorism doesn't exist. They are because these critics believe that the approach to fighting terrorism Bush has selected (make the terrorists into warriors by calling terrorism a war, rather than treating the terrorists as the slimy ratass criminals they really are and thus removing the halo of heroism from them) is wrong-headed.

Are you bored yet? Some people actually love sentence parsing. I'm going to continue a little longer, just in case you're one of them. Here's the rest of Rush's first paragraph:

Some say we should try diplomacy. Yeah, well, tell me, how do we negotiate with people whose starting point is our death? Ask them to wait for 10 years before they kill us? When good negotiates with evil, evil will always win, and peace follows victory, not words issued by diplomats.

Only two points concerning these sentences. First, when "some say we should try diplomacy", those "some" are not talking about trying diplomacy with bin Laden and other such terrorists. They're talking about matters between countries, mostly. Second, once we introduce "good and evil" we introduce both a religious approach to looking at these conflicts (something bin Laden does, too) and the impossibility of distinguishing that "good" and "evil" must be defined. Is it good to torture people? Or does it matter if it's the "good" who are doing the torturing? And notice the obvious reversal already pregnant in Rush's argument: If the terrorists define good and evil in similar moral terms, they clearly think that it's the United States who would win in any diplomatic negotiations.

And then the rest of Rush's comments (though I deleted his bye-bye bit):

But some Americans, sadly, not interested in victory, and yet they want us to believe that their behavior is patriotic. Well, it's not. When the critics are more interested in punishing this country over a few incidents of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay than they are in defeating those who want to kill us, when they seek to destroy a foreign surveillance program which is designed to identify those who want to kill us and how they intend to do it, when they want to grant those who want to kill us U.S. constitutional rights, I don't call that patriotic. Patriotism is rallying behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat Islamofascism. Patriotism is supporting our troops in the battlefield, not undermining the mission and morale.

Check out the first sentence I bolded. Rush is taking giant leaps here (I don't like the visual image that provided). He's referring to "some Americans" but he never tells us who these people are. He's telling us that these "some Americans" are not interested in victory (left undefined) and that this makes them bad patriots.

It's hard to address a sentence like that, because there's no "there" there. Sorta. What Rush is really saying is that there is only one way to be patriotic, and that is to support George Bush. Anything else is more like treason. If you don't support Bush you are not for victory, it seems. So according to Bush I want bin Laden to win and to take over this country and to put me into a burqa. Very funny.

The long sentence I bolded is essentially a rerun of the same argument. We must criticize nothing the government does, nothing. Because if we do it means we are not patriotic. Later, Rush argues that everybody should rally behind the country, regardless of party affiliation, to defeat what he so quaintly calls Islamofascism. This might not apply to Rush himself, of course, given the horrible things he said about Bill Clinton earlier on. And I'm really wondering how Rush would rally behind a Democratic president in a similar situation, at least without having a knife in his hand.

To finish off this post, I couldn't stop thinking that when Rush says that "patriotims is supporting our troops in the battlefield" he might have used that definition of support tongue-in-cheek. For what is it that Americans are asked to do to support the troops in the battlefield? To put some "Made in China" stickers on their SUVs? To go and shop? And what about the support the troops need once they come home? Like medical benefits for the permanently disabled?

That was fun, but I went on too long.

Have a good weekend. Olvlzl will be driving this blog for the next two days while I go cavorting.