Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
The Wingnut of the Week segment got a great response in its opening edition. There were comments from all over the Web, including defenders of respective wingnut Representatives Bachman or McKinney who applauded one selection while condemning the other. We’re encouraging these debates and centrists are used to such complaints – liberals think we’re conservative and conservatives think we’re liberal. Independents don’t walk in lockstep with any party-line; they make up their own mind.
Others sought to clarify the terminology – saying that “wingnut” should refer only to folks on the far-right, while “moonbat” properly refers to the loony-left. I appreciate the efforts at Noah Webster-like netroot accuracy, but for me and many others in the moderate majority, a wingnut on one side equals a wingnut on the other.
After looking at your suggestions about this week’s selections, two names stood out as obvious: Wanda Sykes and Rush Limbaugh.
Even with a generous discount for edgy comedy, Wanda Sykes went over the edge with her routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The now infamous standout lines: “I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight… He hopes the country fails. I hope his kidneys fail.”
If a conservative comedian made the same jokes about some left-wing bloviator, liberals would have been offended. And rightly so – the attacks of September 11th should be self-evidently off limits for humor, especially with the President of the United States an arm’s length away. Americans who disagree with you politically are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, let alone the 20th hijacker. Hitting someone’s struggle with substance abuse – or saying you hope their kidneys fail – to a room full of laughter and applause, is at best unkind and at worst an unusually personal political attack. It’s an illustration of how the extremes encourage each other because partisan politics follows the lines of physics – every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.
Remember how just a few lines ago, I wrote that Americans who disagree with you politically are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers? Well, you might guess what’s coming next. On Thursday’s show, Rush Limbaugh characterized ‘fundamental elements of the left” as believing that “terrorists are the good guys, we shouldn't be capturing them, we are the reason they are terrorists.” And then he entered into a fantasy sequence about water-boarding Nancy Pelosi.
But all this is standard operating procedure in that neighborhood in Crazytown known as Limbaugh-land. A standard Rush riff during the '08 campaign was that al Qaeda members were reading Democratic talking points. Now he has believers sold on the idea that “Obama wishes he could press a button and socialize the country.” Fear is an apparently effective but unruly recruiting tool. When one caller recently described the president as a “dictator,” Rush tried to talk her down by saying that a better fit might be words like “Marxist, statist, fascist, incompetent, conniver… but when you use these words, the objective is to persuade people who don’t yet see this and if you start by calling him a dictator they’re just going to tune you out.” In other words, the dictator argument needs to be worked toward, not just thrown out on the table.
Rush has earned the Wingnut of the Week not just for lifetime achievement but the way in which the most prominent new ditto-head, Dick Cheney elevated him over Colin Powell as a leader for the future of the Republican Party on this Sunday’s "Face The Nation," saying: “If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh. My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.” Limbaugh has only tried to accelerate the shrinking of the GOP in recent weeks by calling for the expulsion of John McCain and his daughter Meghan after the defection of Arlen Specter. If Republicans want a future, the choice between Colin Powell and Limbaugh shouldn’t be even close – if they don’t build a bigger tent all that’s going to be left is the circus.
Keep sending in your comments and suggestions for next week’s selections. Activist Randall Terry has an early lead in the open round skirmishes surrounding President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame this weekend, saying it is like “inviting Pilate to speak after he ordered Jesus to be crucified” and describing the president as “the premier promoter of child-killing in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps the world.” Nice.
Remember, send in your thoughts and suggestions – if you’re an independent or a member of the common sense center who feels like they are between the extremes, this segment is your advocate. The center may be under attack, but we’re going to fight back.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.