Limbaugh and Beck’s strange patriotism

Last Friday, the International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Summer Olympics, a wise choice by the Olympic movement as these will be the first games ever held in South America. Anyone who knows anything about Olympic decision-making knows the IOC is among the most mysterious and byzantine organizations in the world. Like the Vatican, it operates in a virtual vacuum and is nearly immune to outside pressures. Given this, Barack Obama’s appearance in Copenhagen to push Chicago’s bid was hardly guaranteed to make it a fait accompli. If anything, it may have been counterproductive. That said, it would have been difficult for Obama to turn down the opportunity when other heads of state, like Brazil’s Lula and Spain’s King Juan Carlos, were scheduled to attend.

Granted, it was not a banner day for the American president. But the elation of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and a congregation of observers associated with the Weekly Standard at the news of Chicago’s failure to land the Games suggests their obsession with seeing Obama fail at any cost has reached new heights. With over 80% of Americans supporting the lone U.S. bid, one has to wonder about their strange interpretation of patriotism.

No one has ever really questioned the far right’s patriotism when it comes to touting American achievements, the righteousness of the American way of life and the security of the nation. Sometimes their tone is too shrill; other times it is menacing. But they all want America to come out on top. So imagine how stunning it can appear to the average American citizen to see Limbaugh and co.’s applause at Chicago’s failure and their haste to interpret it as a rejection of Obama. Recall that around inauguration day, Limbaugh publicly stated that he “hopes Obama fails.” When challenged, he kept his rant at the level of policy and ideology, but it is now spilling over into a more personal battle that affects ordinary Americans. Everyone wanted the Games because they create employment and economic opportunities, as well as boost civic pride. Based on their celebrations, I assume Beck, Limbaugh and the others care little about a city located in their own country.

The churlishness directed at Obama may deliver unexpected benefits to the more moderate voices of the conservative movement and mainstream Republicanism. Some recent developments suggest as much. Take Minority Leader John Boehner’s reaction, for example. Although Boehner was openly critical of Obama for going to Copenhagen to support Chicago’s bid, he was strangely silent upon the president’s return. He no doubt realized that being a representative from Ohio prohibited any gloating at Obama’s failure to secure a gain for a Midwest city. In another case, conservative columnist David Brooks openly endorsed the president’s effort. And Republican pundits such as Mike Murphy and Mary Matlin kept their distance from the Limbaugh-Beck axis on this issue.

In recent days, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham has been openly critical of the Limbaugh-Beck axis . His close friend and titular head of the GOP, John McCain, is now actively supporting moderate and pragmatic conservative candidates in Republican primaries. Brooks and Murphy have also openly stated that Limbaugh and Beck are mere entertainers that provoke the base for ratings with little effect on moderate Republican voters and independent voters, while McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, has said choosing Sarah Palin as the 2016 nominee would have catastrophic results. Taken together, these events represent a marked shift that will soon be tested by the pro-Palin types who will no doubt feel empowered now that their principal advocate will be publishing her book. However, it appears the Republican establishment will have none of it. They see an opportunity to make gains in the 2010 midterms and these latest antics by the far right may have crossed the line.