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Rush to Judgement

By Brian | January 16, 2010 | Share on Facebook

I hate it when this happens. I hate it when everyone gets all over someone who I fundamentally disagree with on most things, but does so in a disingenuous way. Because disingenuity, particularly in the form of partisan spin, is more repulsive to me than political disagreement. And so I find myself wanting to defend someone I don’t like.

Here, word for word, is what Rush Limbaugh said about Haiti (the audio, in case you don’t believe me, is here):

Rush Limbaugh: OK, back to the phones or to the phones. We’re going to start in Raleigh, NC. Justin, you’re first today. Great to have you with us. Hello.

Justin: Mega-Rush, baby, ditto. My question is, why did Obama, in the soundbyte you played earlier, when he’s talking about if you want to donate some money, you can go to whitehouse.gov to be directed…you know, to direct you how to do so. Why would…if I want to donate money to the Red Cross, why do I need to go to the whitehouse.gov page and . . .

RL: Exactly. Exactly. Would you trust that the money is going to go to Haiti?

J: No.

RL: But would you trust that your name is going to end up on a mailing list for the Obama people to start asking you for campaign donations for him and other causes?

J: Absolutely.

RL: Absolutely right.

J: That’s the point.

RL: Besides, we’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. Income Tax.

J: Rush, my mother was going to be on a missionary trip. She was gonna leave at 4:30 this morning to go to Haiti from our church.

RL: That’s another point too. Churches…

J: No government money, Rush.

RL: There are people – exactly right. There are people who do charitable work every day in Haiti. It’s not as though…like Debbie Wasserman Schultz – “It’s our fault.” Like Reverend Wright – “It’s our fault. There’s no excuse for such poverty when there’s a nation as rich as we are so close.” There are people that have been trying to save Haiti just as we’re trying to save Africa. You just can’t keep throwing money at it because the dictatorships there just take it all. They don’t spread it around. And even if they did, you’re not creating a permanent system where people can provide for themselves. It’s a simple matter of self-reliance. Nobody takes that approach down there because this has always been a country run by dictators – incompetent ones…

Now, call me crazy if you wish, but nothing in this exchange suggests to me that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think private individuals like you and I should donate to Haiti. In fact, it seems pretty clear to me that the opinion he’s expressing is that people, like the caller’s mother, who go to Haiti and help the people directly, are being more effective than our government is being by sending our tax dollars to their government. He’s suggesting that the foreign aid the United States provides to Haiti doesn’t make it to the people who are suffering, and so the Haitian people are better served by private individuals, churches, and the so forth donating time (and, presumably, supplies?) directly to the people who need it.

Now, I have no idea if he’s right about that, and I certainly wouldn’t take Rush Limbaugh at his word about anything. But I think it’s quite a leap to go from the above quote to “Rush Limbaugh [says] Don’t Donate to Haiti Victims,” which is the headline of the above-linked article.

Sadly, though, the public zeitgeist has been poured and hardened: Rush Limbaugh thinks we should just let the people of Haiti suffer. And, thanks to Pat Robertson’s preaching about “pacts with the devil” on the same day, the two men are now inextricably linked in every news article, suggesting that Limbaugh believes that Haitians are devil worshipers as well. To dispute this storyline is as foolhardy as spitting into the wind.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash my face…

Topics: Political Rantings | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “Rush to Judgement”

  1. Janet says at January 16th, 2010 at 7:56 am :
    I could get distracted by things like Mr. Limbaugh suggesting to the caller that his distrust of the White House posting links to humanitarian organizations is correct – that going to whitehouse.gov in order follow likes to, say, the Red Cross, could mean that your donation did not go the Red Cross at all, and that instead your personal information would be added to an Obama fund-raising list. Or that according to Nick Kristoff in the NYT, the US per capita governmental aid to Haiti is much lower than most Americans probably think, or than Limbaugh seems to me to be suggesting (less than the retail cost of a Happy Meal per person). But I won’t.

    Instead, I will explain why I think it is very clear that Mr. Limbaugh is discouraging private financial donations to Haiti. The key is the word “besides,” as in “Besides, we’ve already donated to Haiti.” I find it difficult to read that in any way other than “so we don’t need to donate any more money.” He then continues, as you say, to suggest that different kind of non-governmental support would be better – the caller’s mother’s trip organized by her church. Because “you just can’t keep throwing money at it because the dictatorships take it all. They don’t spread it around.” And that also wasn’t a suggestion of anything to do now – if I’m reading the exchange correctly, the caller’s mother is now not going to Haiti, because (I assume) of the earthquake. So if you can’t give, and you can’t go, it sounds like there is nothing for “private individuals like you and” me to do.

    So, no, I don’t think he means that Haitians are devil-worshippers and therefore deserve what happened to them. I do think these implications are clear from what he says:

    If you give money, it probably won’t go where you want it to (whether it goes to political leaders in the US or in Haiti, it won’t get to the people).

    “Besides,” you already give money when you pay your taxes in the US, and that’s sufficient.

    Even if the money did get to the people you want it to go to, it won’t help because it won’t change the system (which of course doesn’t address the issue of the quake at all – that’s just a general statement about the poverty in Haiti – the caller’s mother wasn’t going to Haiti because of the damage caused by the quake, she was going because Haiti was in great need BEFORE the quake. So he’s changed the subject here – now it’s not about disaster relief, but about poverty relief in Haiti under what were previously unfortunately normal circumstances.)

    And, it’s OK not to respond to this humanitarian crisis in a tangible way because it’s clearly not “our fault” and “it’s a simple matter of self-reliance.”

    Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I still don’t think the quake is “our fault.” But by then, Limbaugh wasn’t talking about the quake – he was talking about Haiti generally. And that was the most insidious part of what he did – to shift from humanitarian relief in response to a specific crisis to humanitarian relief in response to an endemic situation. And on the basis of his reading of that endemic situation, he suggested to his vast audience that financial donations in response to the specific crisis were not going to help – and besides, you already gave at the office.

    I have, as you know, grouped Limbaugh and Robertson together. But not as people who believe that Haitians worship the devil. I think they demonstrate quite different reprehensible reactions. For me, this is not about religious faith (or lack thereof) or political effectiveness (or lack thereof). It’s about human beings suffering greatly, right now. It is not about an endemic situation – that’s another conversation worth having, but it’s not this one – it’s about how that endemic situation has been made acute by natural disaster.

    To not give resources in response to such acute suffering – no matter what its “cause” – is inhumane. Maybe even inhuman.

  2. Lisa says at January 16th, 2010 at 9:47 am :
    FYI…I thought the same thing when I heard it. Why on earth do we go to whitehouse.gov to donate?? in a million, billion, trillion years I would never go to the government to donate money for a charity. Unless, of course, the government gets a guidestar rating that I trust. but since our government is so woefully inefficient, i think i’ll send my money to the clinton foundation (clintonfoundation.org) which has a 4 star rating from guidestar and spends 95.5% of its funds directly on its programs.

  3. Suzanne says at January 16th, 2010 at 11:57 am :
    At the risk of pointing out what should be obvious… the Whitehouse website is NOT collecting donations or personal information. They’re providing direct links to the organizations that are collecting money, like the Clinton Foundation and the Red Cross, along with other information about the situation in Haiti.

    I don’t know what Limbaugh’s intentions were, but it’s clear that the net effect is fear of the Whitehouse website and the impression that donating money to Haiti is somehow unnecessary or redundant. If a Whitehouse clearing house for vital information is a bad thing, I give up.

  4. Brian says at January 16th, 2010 at 1:23 pm :
    Janet @ #1 says:

    The key is the word “besides,” as in “Besides, we’ve already donated to Haiti.” I find it difficult to read that in any way other than “so we don’t need to donate any more money.”

    Interesting. I did read it a different way. I read it as, “Besides, [the United States of America] already donated to Haiti.” I assumed (although I can’t prove it because I don’t have the transcripts from just before the call) that this was in reference to President Obama’s announcement yesterday that the U.S. will give Haiti $100 million in additional aid, specifically for earthquake relief. Limbaugh was, I assumed, decrying additional U.S. aid specficially for the earthquake because, “we already donated to Haiti [through] the U.S. Income Tax.”

    The caller seems to have interpreted it that way I did, because he makes the point about his mother’s church and then says, “No government money, Rush.” Limbaugh then continues on in that vein by discussing the ineffectiveness of all U.S. aid to Haiti, based on his allegations of corruption in the Haitian government.

    Now, I agree with you that he’s changing the subject here. If he believes that government aid isn’t an effective way to help, he could spend his time telling his sizeable audience about ways they could help, rather than carping about Haitian corruption. But it’s his show, not mine. And not talking about better ways to help is a long, long way from proclaiming that we shouldn’t help.

    At any rate, I can at least see, now, how some would interpret his statements as a “call to inaction,” so I thank you for that perspective.

    As for Lisa @ #2 and Suzanne @ #3, I’m firmly on Suzanne’s side on this one. The federal government has always acted as a clearing house for information, and the links on whitehouse.gov take you directly to the websites of various charities. A Guidestar rating for whitehouse.gov would be completely out of context here, since they are not collecting nor distributing money in this case. Not to align myself entirely with Rush Limbaugh again, but when the government gives money to someone, they’re giving our tax dollars, not our donations.

    All of that said, I will allow that we don’t know for sure that whitehouse.gov is not collecting personal information on people who click through. In fact, since many websites do this to some extent, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were. But unless they’re falsly claiming that they’re not doing so, I don’t see it as a sinister thing.

  5. Janet says at January 16th, 2010 at 6:02 pm :
    Brian, I don’t think I’m disagreeing that Limbaugh was referring to government aid from the US, which is, of course, our tax dollars. Whether he meant the ongoing aid we’ve given for some time or the recent Obama announcement of extraordinary humanitarian relief funds because of the earthquake, I don’t know, but I also don’t see that it makes a difference – either way it’s government (i.e., our) money. Maybe I should have said the key word was “already” – I gave already, via my income tax. That means I don’t need to give more, doesn’t it? When you say “I gave already” that’s a reason why you aren’t giving now (just like “I exercised already” or “I ate already” or “I’ve seen/read/heard it already”). So it’s still about not giving more. (On a tangentially-related note, such further individual charitable donations are, for many of us, tax deductible.)

    It’s his show not yours – certainly, and I wouldn’t bother trying to have anything resembling a serious conversation with him. I don’t think he necessarily has to suggest what would work better in Haiti than what has already been tried; it might be helpful, it might not, and as you say, it’s his show. But it is still true – and still slimy – that he is conflating two things: ongoing aid to one of the poorest nations in the world, and aid in direct response to natural disaster. He slides from the latter to the former without acknowledging that he is, and uses the former to at least appear to justify not doing anything further about the latter. They are simply not the same.

    And whitehouse.gov may or may not collect standard information about who clicks through them, I don’t know, but I agree with you that it’s no more sinister than if the same thing is happening other places that have acted as central locations for direct links to different charitable organizations – all of the news websites, many politicians (and would-be politicians – I got an e-mail that included Haiti relief links from Ned Lamont today), I’m sure numerous houses of worship of many faiths, websites of celebrities, etc. If anyone is collecting information on people who click through, specifically for the purposes of future fundraising appeals, without informing the user, that’s illegal. Particularly if it were the White House, given that they aren’t allowed to use government resources for campaign-related activities. But I don’t for a second think they are doing it, so I’m with you there. However, I think it is reprehensible for RL to have suggested otherwise. That’s scoring cheap political points at the potential costs of human lives.

  6. Janet says at January 16th, 2010 at 7:21 pm :
    Recently posted in a discussion on “Providence, Rhode Island”‘s FB page:

    and i understand people are donating and willing to donate, but they should just remember, our government is giving our tax money, or will be, to help them already… which means I already donated.


  7. Brian says at January 17th, 2010 at 12:40 am :
    Maybe I should have said the key word was “already” – I gave already, via my income tax. That means I don’t need to give more, doesn’t it?

    I now see what you’re saying, although I still think I’m right about his intent. After all, he didn’t say “I gave already,” he said “we gave already.” And by “we,” I think he meant the federal government.

    My point of view would make his entire diatribe about federal aid to Haiti – both ongoing aid and specific, earthquake-related aid – which actually is the same thing.

    Your point of view is what’s being widely reported in the media, and is consistent with the (rather depressing) quote you shared from the Providence, Rhode Island Facebook page. My question is this: did what Rush Limbaugh said really precipitate that attitude, or did it come from all of the pundits who jumped out of their chairs to catalog Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson together in the “don’t care about Haiti” camp?

    If anyone is collecting information on people who click through, specifically for the purposes of future fundraising appeals, without informing the user, that’s illegal.

    That’s simply not true, Janet. Most websites have posted privacy policies, and most privacy policies allow the proprietors to correspond with anyone who’s bought something (or, in this case, donated) from the site. Ironically, charities are among the most agressive in this regard. I get e-mail all the time from groups like the American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Hospital, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association – all because I made a donation to them once (in some cases, several years ago).

    Particularly if it were the White House, given that they aren’t allowed to use government resources for campaign-related activities. But I don’t for a second think they are doing it, so I’m with you there. However, I think it is reprehensible for RL to have suggested otherwise. That’s scoring cheap political points at the potential costs of human lives.

    I have no idea if the servers that host whitehouse.gov are considered government resources. And even if they are, President Obama certainly used an electronic mailing list of supporters to his extreme advantage during the campaign, even when he wasn’t asking for money. Limbaugh’s discussion on this point is nothing more than standard, partisan rumor mongering. And is typically the case with rumor mongering, I’m guessing he didn’t change the minds of anyone who didn’t already agree with him to begin with.

  8. Janet says at January 17th, 2010 at 9:48 am :
    We can argue about intent all we want without getting anywhere, because it is something we can’t know. Given Limbaugh’s history, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt; he’s said lots of inhumane things before. I haven’t heard about any responses to the brouhaha from him – has he tried to say that he’s been misunderstood, that he wasn’t suggesting that people shouldn’t make (further) donations to Haiti? If he hasn’t, even if your argument about his original intent is correct, then it would seem that he is content with my interpretation, as that’s certainly the one that’s been widely reported. Even if he has made some statement, he certainly hasn’t used the bully pulpit available to him to make it a big issue – “stupid liberal press getting things wrong again” – because if so, I’d probably have heard something. But as I said, I don’t even know if he’s tried.

    Then, to clarify what I meant about collecting information for the purposes of fundraising. I got lots of those e-mails too. They are entirely legal, and certainly how things are done, from organizations with whom you have a “relationship,” and a donation (even years ago) is absolutely a relationship. I was talking about sites that are only being used as conduits. If I went to npr.org because they were one of the places that gathered both humanitarian links and links to organizations that rate charities, and from their page clicked through to, say, Doctors without Borders, and made a donation, it would be illegal for NPR to add me to a fundraising list unless they had told me they were going to. Doctors without Borders certainly can, and would. The question was about whether if you went to the whitehouse.gov clearinghouse and clicked through to give to the Red Cross, whether you’d start getting mail, including fundraising appeals, from Obama. The Red Cross can put you on the list; it is illegal for the White House to do so from that transaction.

    President Obama, as candidate Senator Obama, undoubtedly used electronic mailing lists in extraordinarily effective ways, both financial and informational. However, President Obama is not legally permitted to use the federal resources of the office to campaign (which is, indeed, about more than money). So, as he ramps up his reelection campaign, I’m sure there will be lots and lots more of that electronic communication with potential supporters, but it will be paid for – servers, programmers, everything – and explicitly come from “Reelect the President” or some such, NOT the White House, or it will be illegal. They aren’t even allowed to use the phones for that stuff – there are all sorts of special rules about what the president has to do when making calls to big donors, etc, to keep it officially separate from the office of the president. Which is as it should be – my tax dollars should support the office of the president, whether or not I support or supported that particular candidate. They should not, however, support his (or some day, maybe her) reelection campaign. I don’t know, but would assume, that the resources that support the official White House webpage – and that’s not just the servers, but the people creating content, maintaining, editing, etc – are federal resources. They should be – it’s the website of the White House, not of its current occupant. It would therefore be illegal to use information gathered there for any campaign purposes.

    So Limbaugh’s argument was more than “standard, partisan rumor mongering.” It was standard, partisan rumor mongering at the potential cost of lost donations to people who desperately need help as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. And while generally I would agree with you that Limbaugh doesn’t change many minds, as most people who listen to him are a very self-selected audience, I do think it is possibly different here. Donations to Haiti in response to the earthquake, prior to Limbaugh’s widely-reported statements, were not being talked about generally in a partisan manner (I’m sure there were exceptions, but they weren’t getting much play). He, with his vast audience (of both supporters and critics), changed that. Now donating to help get food, water, and medical supplies to Haiti RIGHT NOW became about whether our tax dollars had been or were being properly used. So that a critique that he certainly has the right to offer about the use of federal funding became a justification not to donate to private humanitarian organizations (whatever their guidestar ratings). I quoted that one post from the Providence thread because it was so very much what we were talking about, but there were lots of others, too. The two dominant themes were that Katrina was a mess and handled horribly so that justified not giving to Haiti (I found it hard to follow the logic of that one) and that we shouldn’t give abroad when so many were in need at home (that one, I just don’t like the xenophobic logic, even though I understand it). Personally, I don’t see them as choices; my donations to MSF have not replaced my donations to our local No Freeze Shelter. As I said to someone else, just because your car suddenly needs new brakes doesn’t mean you get to stop paying for gas. As I see it, Haiti is an extraordinary expense, one that I have to cover in addition to (rather than instead of) what I define as my regular expenses.


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