Who picked a fight?

WHO PICKED A FIGHT?…. On Fox News this morning, John McCain was asked about President Obama having mentioned Rush Limbaugh by name, encouraging congressional Republicans not to take marching orders from the right-wing host.

“I don’t know why [Obama] would do that,” McCain said. “Mr. Limbaugh is the voice of a significant portion of the Conservative movement in America. He has a very wide viewing audience. He is entitled to his views. People listen very carefully to him. I don’t know why the President would take him on. He’s part of the political landscape and he plays a role.”

Similarly, Kathleen Parker’s column today argued that the president had been “baited by none other than the Master Fisherman.” She urged Obama to remember some simple rules:

Never start a land war with Asia. Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel (or who owns the patent on the microchip). Never let rabble-rousers get under your skin — especially those whose popularity in some circles compares favorably with your own and whose earnings make bailed-out bank presidents envious.

While we’re at it, tread very carefully around the implication that conservatives cling to their talk-show hosts out of anger and frustration.

That may be true, but the backfire Obama felt in West Virginia was a gentle zephyr compared to the blowback that can be bellowed by El Rushbo.

I think there are a few angles to this. First, it’s certainly possible that the White House (and Democrats in general) find it useful to make a right-wing loudmouth/drug-addict the public face of the Republican Party in 2009. The GOP is facing a leadership vacuum, and it seems plausible to me that Democrats want to fill it with a far-right clown who’s publicly rooting for the nation’s leadership to fail.

Second, like DougJ, I’m skeptical that Limbaugh’s bellowing blowback is as severe as advertised. He has a large audience of conservative followers, and he can make some House Republicans perform like trained seals, but his electoral power, as a practical matter, is quite limited. As I recall, Limbaugh invested quite a bit of energy criticizing John McCain a year ago, imploring GOP voters not to give him the party’s presidential nomination. How’d that work out?

And third, this notion that Obama “went after” Limbaugh has been wildly exaggerated. The president, speaking to Republican lawmakers behind closed doors, apparently said, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” The point wasn’t to go after Limbaugh specifically, but rather to note that if the White House is going to have a productive, cooperative working relationship with the minority party in Congress, it’s better for everyone if GOP lawmakers don’t rely on right-wing shock-jocks for wisdom and legislative strategies.

That’s not picking a fight; that’s just good advice.

Update: Amanda Terkel has the video of McCain’s comments, and notes how odd they are.