President Obama is calling out Fox News and Rush Limbaugh by name for creating a toxic environment that makes bipartisanship impossible.
In an interview with The New Republic, Obama brought up the role of right wing media in killing bipartisanship,
One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it.
I think John Boehner genuinely wanted to get a deal done, but it was hard to do in part because his caucus is more conservative probably than most Republican leaders are, and partly because he is vulnerable to attack for compromising Republican principles and working with Obama.
The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side. I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this—are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done.
The odds of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh not punishing Republicans who work with Obama are exactly zero, because Fox and Rush make their money by keeping a large segment of the Republican base outraged. They have a financial incentive to keep the partisanship high, and the national discourse toxic.
What the president didn’t discuss was the fact that congressional Republicans have empowered Limbaugh and Fox News to punish them. Conservative media only has as much power as the Republican congressional caucus is willing to give it. Congressional Republicans are paying the price for the decision to allow the most powerful members of the right wing media establishment to fill their party’s leadership vacuum. It doesn’t seem to matter to these Republicans that Limbaugh and Fox News have little impact on elections. They are afraid of the wrath of Rush and Fox, so many of the members of the Republican majority in the House rigidly toe the conservative media line.
A secondary issue is that much like their base many congressional Republicans are grossly misinformed because they rely on Fox News, talk radio, and right wing websites for their information. It is nearly impossible to forge a bipartisan consensus on any issue when a segment of the legislative branch is getting their information from an alternate universe where any and all facts that are not partisan talking points are questioned.
The president was dead on about the difference between liberal and conservative media. The vast majority of the left understands compromise. There is a segment of the left that like the right makes their living off of fanning the flames of perpetual outrage, but the difference is that the professionally outraged left isn’t running the Democratic Party. (In fact, one of the reasons why they have gotten so angry is that many of the white male progressives who used to be viewed as the voices of the left have been replaced by less white and less male Obama Democrats.)
Obama’s remarks explain why it is a mistake to ignore what Limbaugh and Fox are up to. They are the guiding forces in the Republican Party right now. Pretending that they don’t exist would be the equivalent of ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away.
The president avoided false media equivalencies and understands that our national dialogue will continue to be poisoned as long as Republicans continue to empower their right wing media complex.
Until Republicans stop following Fox News and Rush Limbaugh off the cliff, there is little hope that our toxic political environment will be cleaned up.
Obama and the Democrats get it, which is why they keep winning elections.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association