Thu, 05 Mar 2009 17:04:01 +0000 – By Peter Roff Senior Fellow, Institute for Liberty/former Senior Political Writer, United Press International
So much has been written over the last few days about radio commentator Rush Limbaugh that additional commentary might be considered piling on. It is certainly true that both the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement which, it must be restated, are separate entities, are suffering a crisis of leadership. And, as is all too typical of both institutions, the debate over their vision and direction is being carried on in public.
It is true that Limbaugh's daily radio show carries considerable weight with the great majority of American conservatives. He is an articulate spokesman for the center-right coalition and, given the size of his audience, he is someone whom liberals fear.
He, like few others who occupy positions of intellectual leadership on the right, can move large numbers of people to action. Hence the efforts of the Obama White House to exploit the divisions among its opponents, seizing the opportunity to divide and conquer and to distract from their agenda to tax, spend, borrow and regulate the American people into submission. Nevertheless, the whole discussion -- and the actions of the White House are included in this -- creates cause for concern because of a story appearing on the Politico, a Washington-based Web site.
According to Martin, an unidentified "senior White House aide" has been given the responsibility of "helping to guide the Limbaugh strategy," a very scary thing indeed.
A political operative, based inside the White House, employed by the president of the United States and receiving a salary from the American taxpayer, goes to work every day to help direct a strategy against a broadcaster whose opinions are supposed to be covered by every protection the First Amendment can provide. To quote Shakespeare, "Something is rotten."
The business of dealing with media criticism is a thorny one for the White House. And the corridors of power lead directly to a tendency to overreach, as was the case with Nixon's "Enemies List" and also as the George W. Bush White House after former Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Time critical of the administration's claim that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium in quantity from Niger. The line between appropriate and inappropriate methods of response can be a fine one indeed. For the White House to employ an operative whose responsibility is, fundamentally, to direct a political strategy aimed, not at shaping is response to criticism but to take down a single media figure goes well beyond of the pale of an acceptable response.
The American people have a right to know who this person is, what their duties are and how much they are paid. And the White House press corps has the responsibility to ask the questions that will get us the answers to these questions. This is not a matter of idle curiosity; it is a question of power, and tax dollars, being abused.
It would be one thing if a senior aide with such a job description were employed by a private organization with ties to the White House, like the Democratic National Committee. It is another thing entirely for that person to be an employee of the United States government.
Rush Limbaugh has the right to speak his mind. Millions of people tune in to his program to hear him do it every day. And we should all acknowledge that he should be able to do what he does free from fear, fear the White House may manipulate the vast resources at its disposal to make his life, in a word, difficult.