Rush Limbaugh

There has been much discussion among political pundits this week regarding whether Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s decision not to run for re-election is a symptom of a broken U.S. Senate.

Perhaps it is. After all, compared to the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate has been an epic failure. But it is also possible that Bayh – who is only a two-term senator, not a lifetime member of Congress – just wants to do other things, like run for president or make a lot more money somewhere in the private sector. Regardless of Bayh’s motive, the discussion about the U.S. Senate’s ineffectiveness is a needed one. The increasing ineffectiveness of a bipartisan approach to politics also needs to be part of the same discussion. After all, it seems as if the politicians who don’t fit squarely in the peg holes drilled by their party lines are the ones who are more likely not to seek re-election.

One of the major selling points of an Obama presidency was the promise of bipartisanship. Yet in the Senate, the simple threat of a filibuster by a 40-vote minority is enough to grind the lawmaking machinery to a standstill. (Yes, I know it is a 41-vote minority now, but this problem was happening well before Scott Brown was elected to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.)

I’m not pinning the ineffectiveness problem solely on the standing Republican threat to filibuster. I’m positive that at least several Republican senators would be more willing to reach across the political aisle if they didn’t have to worry about the severe backlash they would get from conservative pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, not the mention the whole TEA Party movement.

You see, the Republicans who plan to stay in office are worried about losing support of the far right wing of their party. And now it seems that same worry is spilling over to the Democratic side, because Bayh reportedly told aides he is frustrated with the far left wing of his party, including leftist bloggers who have been blasting him for not agreeing with every single thing the Obama administration has proposed.

The “us and them” mentality has never been so apparent in Congress. Whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats, politicians are clearly scared of what partisan pundits and vocal citizens publicly say about them, more than they ever seemed to worry about them before.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to criticize politicians – they absolutely do, and I do my fair share of it – but to distill everything into black and white – or red and blue, if you prefer – does a disservice to the issues Congress needs to address.

And I’m convinced the partisan pundits – the ones who are quick to call politicians who don’t toe their party lines un-American – are really the ones undermining our political process, and they don’t care if they do, as long as they make plenty of money while doing it.

This needs to change. Unfortunately, it increasingly seems we’re past the point of no return.

This column was originally published in the Feb. 18 edition of Ottawa Delivered.


I generally try to ignore what Dick Cheney says these days, but I took notice Sunday when the former vice president said Colin Powell is no longer a Republican.

Here’s the gist of the matter, as reported on CNN’s Web site:

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Cheney was asked about a dispute between Powell — who was secretary of state in the Bush-Cheney administration — and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh over the role each plays in the GOP.

“My take on it was Colin had already left the party,” Cheney said. “I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”

The former vice president noted that Powell endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama in last year’s presidential race. “I assume that that’s some indication of his loyalty and his interests,” Cheney said.

Powell, in a speech last week, said “the Republican Party is in deep trouble” and said the GOP would be better off without Limbaugh, according to a report by the National Journal.

Limbaugh fired back on his program Wednesday, saying, “What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party.”

So Cheney and Limbaugh consider Powell a Democrat because he endorsed Obama for president? Does that mean they consider Joe Lieberman a Republican because he endorsed John McCain for president?

Interestingly, Cheney wants to boot Powell from the GOP but claims “there is room for moderates in the Republican Party” :

But, he added, “I don’t think the party ought to move dramatically to the left, for example, in order to try to redefine its base. We are what we are. We’re Republicans. We have certain things we believe in. And maintaining our loyalty and commitment to those principles is vital to our success.”

The next journalist who interviews Cheney needs to ask him for some examples of acceptable GOP moderates, because I’m curious who would be on that list.

Just as both major political parties have done when down in the past, the Republican Party will regain prominence — but first Republican leaders need to embrace moderate voices within their party. Unfortunately for them, tolerance of GOP moderates is hard to envision when vocal partisans like Cheney and Limbaugh are quick to expel any Republican who dares to disagree with them. The Republican Party needs vocal leaders who are more tolerant of true GOP moderates, and those vocal leaders must be able to out-shout Limbaugh and company. Until that time comes, it is likely the GOP will continue to struggle for relevancy on a national level.

Newspapers and magazines aren’t the only ones who must adapt or die these days. Politicians sometimes find themselves in a similar situation, as did U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced today he is defecting from the Republican Party to the Democratic side of the political aisle.

“As the Republican Party has moved farther and father to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party,” Specter, 79, said during a press conference.

There is truth in what Specter said, as he was a moderate member of the Republican caucus. He was one of only three Republican senators to vote in favor of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. But make no mistake, he switched political parties because there was a real chance he would lose the upcoming Republican primary for his U.S. Senate seat. Now he will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“The bottom line is the Republican Party has become inhospitable to moderates,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CNN. “It was just very uncomfortable for Arlen Specter. He was being challenged on the right. When he did what he thought was principled, he was scorned by the overwhelming base of his party.”

As has been shown time and again since Barack Obama won the presidency last November, no one has been a bigger Republican base rallier than talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He said this about the Specter defection: “A lot of people said, well Specter, take McCain with you, and his daughter. Take McCain and his daughter with you.”

Way to prove Specter’s point about the Republican Party being less inclusive, Limbaugh. Rip another moderate Republican senator, John McCain, and his outspoken daughter, Meghan McCain — who dares to call for a dialogue about the future of the Republican Party — while you’re angry about Specter. If the Republican Party continues to listen to the likes of Limbaugh, it deserves to fall apart.

With that said, I am slightly concerned about the 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority the Democrats will have in the U.S. Senate if and when Al Franken is seated as Minnesota’s junior U.S. senator. I normally don’t think it is good for a single political party to be in charge of the White House and both congressional chambers. I suspect most people feel that way, and the Republicans will rise again as a result. But this may be a rare time when it is palatable for one political party to have control of both reins of the federal government. Desperate times demand clear, decisive leadership, and the GOP’s current modus operandi appears to be simple: oppose anything and everything suggested by Democrats. Things need to get done NOW to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse.

Incidentally, Specter said he “will not be an automatic 60th vote.” Good. I don’t want 60 rubber stamps running the U.S. Senate. Nor do the American people as a whole. But we do want consensus to be reached so things get done — not stonewalling tactics and opposition just for the sake of opposition. The stakes are too high to screw around.

FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly was named one of the “Worst Persons in the World” on Monday’s edition of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” This is not shocking or unexpected, as Olbermann often tweaks O’Reilly that way. However, this time stood out to me because of the unbelievable O’Reilly quote Olbermann used against his talk-show rival.

“Look,” O’Reilly said Friday, “by all accounts, the Bush administration defeated Al Qaeda, all right? Al Qaeda was marginalized, been downgraded as a threat to the world. So we won the terror war. We won the war in Iraq, at great cost, no doubt. No doubt. But we won.”

Just to make sure Olbermann hadn’t used an O’Reilly quote out of context, I found a FOX News transcript of Friday’s “O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly definitely credited the Bush administration with defeating Al Qaeda and winning the so-called “war on terror.”

O’Reilly uttered the quote during a segment called “Is Obama administration’s attack on Rush Limbaugh a distraction from more serious issues?” Ironically, the “conversation” between O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and former federal prosecutor John Flannery was all over the map and didn’t address the topic until the segment was halfway over. (Click here to read the transcript.)

O’Reilly made the comment in response to Flannery saying he applauds the Bush administration and Karl Rove for finally agreeing to let Rove testify before the House Judiciary Committee investigating whether there was corruption in the Justice Department during Bush’s presidency. It was an odd, off-topic response from O’Reilly.

As for the question posed in the segment’s title, O’Reilly and Coulter agreed that the Obama administration is attacking Limbaugh to distract the American people from more pressing issues like the economy. However, they didn’t expound on their answers, just agreeing on them before the segment ended.

In my opinion, of course the Limbaugh attacks are a distraction, but the reason they still have legs is because (1) they resonate with a large number of people and (2) a lot of Republicans are falling into the trap by trying to distance themselves from Limbaugh and then apologizing to him the next day. Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves for looking like they aren’t allowed to have an opinion contrary to what Limbaugh says. It will be interesting to see how long they carry on like this before they are able to change the subject in the news cycle.

The presidential election is over, which means “Saturday Night Live” sucks again.

Tonight’s episode was intolerable, as SNL tends to be when it isn’t satirizing something political. It even fell flat with its opening skit about Joe Biden’s tendency to commit verbal gaffes. I started to watch several other skits throughout the next 45 minutes, but ended up turning off my television before each one was finished.

The only part of the show worth watching was the usually funny Weekend Update, which ended on a low note with a bit involving Justin Timberlake. Probably the funniest part of Weekend Update was when an actor portraying Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss (an effeminate pink lion) commented on the recent passage of Proposition 8, which amends California’s constitution to eliminate the right for same-sex couples to marry. Snagglepuss came out of the closet and revealed his lover is the Great Gazoo (of “Flintstones” fame).

Seth Meyers also delivered this fine joke during Weekend Update: “Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Rush Limbaugh are among Barbara Walters’ ’10 Most Fascinating People of 2008,’ which proves, if nothing else, that Barbara Walters is easily fascinated.”

I guess I’ll tune back into “Saturday Night Live” four years from now.