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May 15th, 2009
06:48 AM ET

Wingnuts of the Week

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.
[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (L) and comedian Wanda Sykes (R)."]

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.

Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Annie

    Sarah Palin should be dubbed the wingnut queen, really! She is crazy on so many fronts...what really gets me is that she is so transparent (her political motives for leaving Governor of Alaska post) but she treats the press, and the rest of the country, as if they (we are) stupid. It's almost sociopathic. My intelligence is constantly insulted by how stupid she expects the rest of us to be!

    July 7, 2009 at 9:42 am |
  2. chris

    There are right-wing comedians???

    May 26, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  3. hypocrites_are_everywhere

    Although Wanda delivered some bad ones, I'd take a comedian over Rush anytime!

    On a more serious note, shouldn't we focus on helping Pakistan expunge the Talibans off the face of the earth? Pakistan have cornered them in Swat Valley and the toughest job is mostly done. Let's provide Pakistanis the high-tech tools needed to finish the job & mop that town clean!

    May 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm |
  4. Mason Green

    More suggestions on the right:

    -Former UN ambassador and presidential candidate Alan Keyes (who was recently arrested and jailed at Notre Dame, and who also denies that Obama is really the president, instead referring to him as an "usurper" and encouraging soldiers to revolt against him).

    -Dick Cheney (who actually said he liked Rush Limbaugh more than Colin Powell!)

    -Representative Steve King, who claimed the federal hate crimes bill would provide special protection for pedophiles, or Representative Virginia Foxx, who claimed that the Matthew Shepard murder was a hoax.

    -MSNBC commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, who was recently discovered to be hosting a forum for Holocaust deniers on his website. He has also repeatedly appeared on the white-supremacist Political Cesspool show (see my above post at 5:44 PM May 17th).

    Suggestions on the left:

    -Nancy Pelosi (I used to like her, but I find her recent claims about the CIA to be somewhat hard to swallow; perhaps we should take her down a notch for that reason)

    -Perez Hilton (who called Carrie Prejean a b--, then said he wished he had called her a c-).

    -Michael Musto (who said that Carrie Prejean was originally a man named Harry Prejean and that the Miss California pageant had paid to remove her p-s).

    May 20, 2009 at 8:10 pm |
  5. Bernice

    Even with Obama, our country is just into "comedy" acts and thats all there is to it! Everything is just a joke right down to blaming his children for the theft of Airforce One and the flights above the Statue of Liberty in NYC! Blame our own childern as a joke that ended up costing the Americans over $350,000.00!! Oh boy! I m still laughing about that one! Our political mold in the USA has become nothing but a joke when McCain and Palin went on Sat. Night Live to begin with! A comedy stage, I feel, is not the proper place for a speaker to address his public in the first place. There should be a perfect time and place for everything, but I think that our govt. has already lost its place. We are nothing but a comedy act.. Laugh while our enemies are becoming infuriated with our comedy over it. If we keep it up, they just may end up getting the very last laugh, while we are too busy "playing" rock star comedians!!

    May 18, 2009 at 6:24 am |
  6. Brent

    They are both entertainers but with one small diffrence, Wanda is a comedian, she makes fun of people and stuff, its comedy! Rush is a commentator, he speeks about whats going on in the world, he adds his own personal political view. He isnt joking, he is mad and angry, he then insites others to be mad, angry and violent. If the stituation was that folks knew it wasnt news or wasnt the facts, then it wouldnt matter but these people really think he is telling the news and the truth when he speeks and thats a problem!

    Now we can debate all this crap that is said, but in reallity her joke about him dying was, just that a joke, but when he says he wants Obama to fail in turn the nation to fail or Fox is faking an illness, he is causing people to believe that and some act on those beliefs and cause problems!

    Anyhow yes we should be worried about much more important things and all this crap is just a distraction! Lets fix this mess, economy, then we can sit back and fight about stupid people saying stupid things!

    May 17, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  7. Mason Green

    Another suggestion (right wingnut only) is James Edwards, the host of the Political Cesspool radio talk show (which I mentioned in my above post.) You won't have to go very far on the Internet to find evidence of his wingnuttery, but here are some of James Edwards' more outrageous claims:

    1. "Black women want to kill white people for denying them the right to be seen as 'beautiful'".

    2. "As everyone knows white women are the most beautiful women, and black women are at the bottom of the totem pole."

    3. "For blacks in the Americas, slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Unfortunately, it's the worst thing that ever happened to white people".

    4. Edwards says "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" promotes "white genocide" through its depiction of an interracial romance.

    5. Edwards says David Irving (a notorious Holocaust denier) is a "real survivor of the Jewish Holocaust against free speech".

    6. He says Jews are "using pornography as a subversive weapon against us".

    He'd look great opposite Bill Ayers, too. Take your pick!

    May 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Mason Green

    My suggestions for next week are:

    Bill Ayers as the left wingnut.

    Ayers has reappeared in the media lately, promoting his new book, and he still doesn't apologize for his past actions. His new book advances various conspiracy theories including some kind of "invisible system" that prevents white kids from going to prison.',0,3330022.story

    Chuck Baldwin as the right wingnut. He was the far-right Constitution Party's 2008 nominee (Ron Paul endorsed him, too), and his outrageous statements include: the Republican Party is controlled by homosexuals (he even described the Republican elephant as pink instead of red!), that Obama is not constitutionally eligible to be president, the Department of Homeland Security classifies 75% of Americans as potential terrorists, that Henry Kissinger and the Obama administration plan to confiscate all privately owned firearms "by September", and that Martin Luther King Jr. was a fraud. He has also appeared as a guest on The Political Cesspool, a Memphis-based white supremacist talk radio show.


    Keep up the great work! I'm a Democrat and an Obama supporter, and I agree with your message of moderation. Right now it seems like the Democratic party is, hands down, the more moderate of the two major parties, but I recognize there are wingnuts on both sides.

    May 17, 2009 at 5:36 pm |
  9. Ekow Antwi

    I don't know why there is such an uproar about what Ms. Sykes said of Rush.

    If you remember, Rush was the one who said that Michael J. Fox was over exaggerating his illness.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:50 am |
  10. Bob

    Beyond the amusement factor, who really care what these people say. They are both comedians.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  11. Sean Anderson

    Is this a serious debate? I believe that, airing of those 911 calls are more damaging than helpful as anything other than a stratagem in any criminal situation. Is the only argument from the press that, reading a transcript is just not as dramatic as hearing it ?!? This should not be the justification for it's airing! it is economically transparent that those airings are mainly for shock value and any harm that may come from a retaliatory result, based upon the wrong person recognizing the voice of a caller, would serve only to bolster ratings, increase a company's economic standing (albeit minutely) and reinforce an errant broadcaster's mindshare. This is quite a sad comment on professional 'journalism'.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  12. Dan Nelson

    I don't really know Miss Sykes or Limbaugh for that matter but if we as a country make jokes about an American who might be a terrorist who would fly jets into buildings or wish their kidney's would fail and laugh at it we surly have lost a sense of care for one another! What has this country become? We started out as a country that cared for all people and now we only care for our own personal fame and fortune! I wish that when we made our constitution we put in a mention of living for one another as Christ would have us live! The reason that we are so polarized is that we care more for our own concerns than that of others!

    May 15, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  13. Purple Spider

    What a waste – we have severe problems in the country that Obama is trying to correct, left by the Bush Administration. Obama took over a lot of "dirty laundry". What he doesn't need is clowns, acting llike fools!
    You may not be satisfied with everything Obama is doing, but give him more time.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:18 am |
  14. clyde robinson

    Everybody suddenly seems to feel sorry for the GOP. They seem to have forgotten all the wonder 'gifts' they have left our country. Vice President Chenny is 'allowed' to walk around and talk about how he supported torture. The media seems to be doing their best to smear the left and make heroes out people like Rush and Chenny who are out for themselves and don't care about anybody else.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:15 am |
  15. michael armstrong sr.

    you know most people dont pay that much attention to rush any more but there is one thing i would like to know and that is what ever happened to the dress tie thing ?

    May 15, 2009 at 7:07 am |
  16. M.L.Welz

    People who sit on the fence (the centrist middle) poke holes in their logic.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:03 am |