It’s important that Mr. Obama not pander – but in today’s fractious media environment, he needs to appear on partisan conservative media outlets if he is to speak to those Americans directly, instead of filtered through the partisans themselves.
Senator Barack Obama should go on The Rush Limbaugh Show this Friday for an interview as long as Mr. Limbaugh will give him – preferably at least one year.
Mr. Obama’s speech his Tuesday was effective and moving. It was a nuanced and subtle plea for Americans to have perspective, and to focus on the important issues facing our nation instead of sideshows. But it did not succeed on two levels:
- It did not reach the conservatives who were only treated to small snippets of the speech in the midst of scathing reviews that entirely misrepresented Mr. Obama’s message. A great deal of Mr. Obama’s appeal is that he can speak to all Americans – but the partisan media outlets are not adequately representing his message, so he must speak to the people directly.
- It did not end the Reverend Wright story; many people were shaken by the fearful possibility raised by Mr. Obama’s association with Reverend Wright – and I have heard some of the unlikeliest people tell me of their fears of an angry black man becoming president.
What Mr. Obama needs to put this behind him is an interview with the least sympathetic person possible. To me, this seems to be Mr. Limbaugh. Mr. Obama needs an opportunity to face the toughest questions head-on – for someone to outright ask him if he hates America, to ask him if he is a secret Muslim, to ask him if he is just denouncing Reverend Wright’s statements out of political expediency. I believe Mr. Obama would be very convincing on each count – even to the unreceptive audience listening to Mr. Limbaugh’s show. More important, Mr. Obama has used this controversy to pivot to an innovative1 progressive message. This message has the virtue of being true, seemingly deeply felt, and appealing to many voters who traditionally do not vote Democratic – the message that as authentic, understandable, and deeply felt as the racial resentments may be in our country, they are essentially a distraction from achieving the change the middle class needs to in this globalizing and uncertain economy.
Mr. Obama would have an opportunity to speak to an audience which has never heard from him before – and most important, an audience that I believe would be very sympathetic to the substance of the message from his “More Perfect Union” speech. 2 Rush Limbaugh has been “demanding” all sorts of answers – and Mr. Obama should prepare responses to each one of his questions. But most important would be what Mr. Obama’s presence and manner would communicate to Mr. Limbaugh’s listeners.
The move would be brilliant political theater – and would enhance Mr. Obama’s appeal; it would demonstrate that he was running a different sort of campaign, and that he could reach out to voters that Ms. Clinton cannot. It is unlikely that Mr. Obama would win over many voters – but the interview would be spectacularly successful if it merely dampened the worst fears of the far right. Citizens are apt to do crazy things if they believe a secret Muslim, America-hating liberal terrorist-sympathizing extremist is about to become president. Mr. Obama cannot stop some people from believing it. But the vile rhetoric by many people on talk radio – including Mr. Limbaugh – that encourages this view should be dealt with head-on. Mr. Obama has often said that transparency is the best disinfectant – and by appearing on Mr. Limbaugh’s show, he would be putting himself out there to be examined by Mr. Limbaugh’s audience. My feeling is that the more attention they pay to Mr. Obama himself, the better they will think of him – because the caricature of him painted by the right wing smear machine is clearly at odds with the candidate himself.
N.B. For those who believe that Mr. Obama should not appear on Mr. Limbaugh’s show because it would only enhance Mr. Limbaugh’s stature: Mr. Obama has said that he would meet without conditions with Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Castro in his first year in office. That is the right decision because a strong leader has nothing to fear from meeting with his adversaries.
N.B.II. The most important thing to come from this interview would be the fact that it took place. The second most important thing would be the one or two sparring matches that would be endlessly replayed on cable news. Mr. Obama must be careful not to cede any ground to Mr. Limbaugh in one of these exchanges.
N.B. III. I’m sure Obama’s campaign has a specific strategy for dealing with these issues – specifically the rumors and fear-mongering of figures such as Mr. Limbaugh. I don’t know what it is. But to me, this seems the best method.
- But now new. [↩]
- Even if this audience has little chance of ever voting for him, it is important to speak to all Americans and quell their fears. Although most of Mr. Limbaugh’s audience would tend to favor conservative ideas at odds with Mr. Obama’s; although as many are partisans, they will dismiss what Mr. Obama says no matter what; it is essential to reach out to them, because then they will be able to see that Mr. Obama is more than the cardboard cut-out he is presented as. In addition, it might take out some of the energy in Operation Chaos. [↩]