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Limbaugh's Attack a Gift to Democrats & Obama

Limbaugh's Attack a Gift to Democrats & Obama

By Carl M. Cannon - March 6, 2012

Is Rush Limbaugh the Democrats' secret weapon in 2012? Well, the radio talker with his huge ratings and legions of loyal followers -- Rush's "dittoheads" -- is not a hidden liability any longer.

Not after changing the conversation from the over-reach of Obamacare to the inappropriateness of a 61-year-old man calling a female law student he’s never met a “prostitute” and a “slut” and telling his audience of millions that he wants to watch a video of her having sex.

Not after Barack Obama, using the shillelagh handed to him by the talk radio king, telephoned the self-same law student to commiserate with her over Limbaugh’s crudeness.

Not after liberals, led by two California Democratic congresswomen, launched a counter-assault on him that included not only censuring Limbaugh but calling on advertisers to boycott his show.

Face with that threat, Limbaugh apologized, after a fashion, but several questions remain: Despite strong ratings, is he now a liability to his own team? Did he provide cover for the president on health care? Has he galvanized the opposition party and given liberals the same kinds of passions about 2012 that movement conservatives have been exhibiting?

The answer to all of those questions appears to be yes, which leads to a couple of others: Have the Democrats overplayed their hand? And will any of this still matter in November?

Before grappling with all that, let’s recap the events of the past week.

This year, Democratic Party candidates up for election, including the incumbent president of the United States, have an unwelcome running mate -- the unpopular law that Republicans simply call Obamacare. The 2010 statute’s most detested (and perhaps least constitutional) feature is its mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance under penalty of being fined -- and, one supposes, for those who refuse to pay the fines, eventual imprisonment.

There are other dubious provisions of this law buried in the fine print. They range from requiring large group carriers to pay out 85 percent of all premiums in health care claims and giving the secretary of Health and Human Services veto power over proposed rate increases, to requiring insurers to accept new patients who are gravely ill without raising premiums. Taken together, these features have convinced conservatives that the real goal here was a government takeover of the health care system.

In recent weeks, the provision that fired conservatives’ imaginations was the one requiring all health plans to offer contraceptives such as condoms, birth control pills, and diaphragms -- for free. This seems absurd on its face. Only in Washington would policy-makers reason that, because a commodity is popular, nobody should have to pay for it. Who do they think is footing the bill, ultimately?

Will it be passed on to the consumer or employer? Mostly likely. But if it ever becomes a government-run health plan, then we know what happens. Here’s a clue: On Dec. 8, 2003, when George W. Bush signed into law a sweeping unfunded mandate called the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, the federal debt was $10 trillion. It is now $15.5 trillion. The drug benefit is not the only reason for the exploding annual deficits, but it is one of them.

Regarding Obamacare, one matter arose early in the process about whether Roman Catholic hospitals and schools would be required to pay for pharmaceutical devices the church teaches should not be used by women of their faith. When this question was posed while the legislation was still being debated, the Obama administration said no. Later, when the regulations were being implemented, it said yes. Finally, in response to a firestorm of criticism, the president concocted a recent compromise on the conscience clause best described as “kinda-sorta.”

This requirement hardly rises to the Democratic Party “war on religion” social conservatives keep complaining about. If anything, it’s more like a war on free market capitalism. Nor is the countervailing “Republican war on women” over contraception actually anything more than an obnoxious Democratic Party talking point.

What actually should be taking place is a momentous argument over federalism -- and how to most efficiently deliver health care to the greatest number of people without trampling on Americans’ civil rights. Perhaps this discussion would have taken place, except that Rush Limbaugh -- a man who already had a target on his back -- decided to goose the conversation by calling a young woman a whore.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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