Catfight on the Right

Conservative bickering remains in the metaphorical junior high locker room, write Eric Alterman and Mickey Ehrlich.

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Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham confer while walking out of a meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama about immigration reform.
<br /> (AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham confer while walking out of a meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama about immigration reform.
(AP/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

What do conservatives fight about? Judging by the recent on-air spat between Joe Scarborough and Rush Limbaugh, the answer is both plenty and nothing at all. This was a debate characterized by a remarkable lack of depth, even by these gentlemen’s considerable standards.

It began with Joe Scarborough expressing regret at Obama’s failed bid for the Chicago Olympics in a blog on the Huffington Post. Scarborough took issue with the tone of conservative cheers for the loss of the Olympics:

“The fact President Obama failed makes me respect him more for taking the chance, and the fact many right-wing figures opposed the president’s mission shows just how narrow-minded partisanship makes us all.”

The post is basically an innocuous bit of relativism, with Scarborough attempting to equate the right’s rage directed toward Obama to that directed toward previous presidents. All we need to do, he insists, is talk with each other instead of at each other. In spite of his choice of an utterly inconsequential issue to burnish his moderate credentials, Scarborough somehow attracted Limbaugh’s scorn when, on “Morning Joe,” he cited the radio host, specifically, as being guilty of the “stupid” “rhetoric” he had referred to in his piece.

Even this soupcon of sensitivity proved too much for Rush to swallow. He bellowed that Scarborough “was doing his best impression of a neutered chickified moderate.” In response, Scarborough, who had up to this point been posing as the man above the fray, began talking about Limbaugh’s testicles being held in trust for eight years by the Bush administration.

Scarborough, who many believe might be planning a presidential run in 2012, decided the time had come to take on Rush. The tone in this particular debate was predictably mock macho. Rush continued along the same lines by pointing out to Scarborough that Limbaugh had come up with the idea of the “testicle lockbox,” but that it belonged to Hillary and not to George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, while conservatives are fighting about their balls, the debate on health care among conservatives is nonexistent. They are against it. On the other hand, when it comes to climate change, at least one respectable right winger, Lindsey Graham, went on record with John Kerry in support of legislation addressing the problem. Of course his view, which is politically controversial but scientifically unimpeachable, led to loud heckling at a town hall meeting in his home state of South Carolina. Naturally, the fact he supported sensible science left Graham open to the charge by conservatives that he was in fact a homosexual.

Graham, who scored a full 100 percent rating from Americans for Tax Reform in 2007, is also under attack because he voted for Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and recently insisted that “birthers” are crazy. Graham then went on "Fox News Sunday" and made the mistake of saying that he didn’t believe that Glenn Beck represented the Republican Party. Graham implied that Beck believed that the “country’s best days are behind us.” On his radio show, Beck played the clip of Graham on Fox and then railed against the South Carolina senator, lumping him in with other enemies:

“Yeah, the best days. The best days are behind for Lindsey Graham, you bet. David Brooks, Lindsey Graham , all of these people. Nancy Pelosi, all on both sides. On both sides. Katie Couric, Brian Williams, all of them. All of them. Anybody who’s playing this game, your best days are behind you.”

In only a week Graham has become a central target for the group called RINO Hunters that protested his appearance in Greenville. For those new to intraconservative sectarian warfare, RINO stands for Republicans In Name Only. A member of the RINO Hunter organization is featured in the video of the Lindsey Graham event. A man sets up a RINO Hunter sign on his pickup truck along with a mannequin head first in an actual toilet to simulate a swirly. The man says that it represents the way he would like to punish those he considers RINOs.

In the video of Graham’s appearance, Graham tries to defend himself on the issues. When that doesn’t work he starts to reel off his conservative credentials. Then, exasperated, he tells his audience that “we’re going to move this party, and this country forward, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.”

Good luck with that. During an interview on "Good Morning America," Rush Limbaugh emphasized that he loves to “tweak” people in the media. (His latest jihad includes personal and potential legal attacks on those who opposed his entry into NFL ownership.) As the de facto leader of the conservative movement in America, Limbaugh is doing more than just tweaking. He is simultaneously laying down the law for potential political candidates and ensuring that America’s debate remains in the metaphorical junior high locker room, where he displays not only his gift for gab but the “cojones” of which he is so comically proud. Let’s hope for all concerned it’s a drug-free zone.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer and an English teacher at Kingsborough Community College.

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Eric Alterman

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