Blaming the White House for the Limbaugh flap?

BLAMING THE WHITE HOUSE FOR THE LIMBAUGH FLAP?…. Time‘s Michael Scherer has a provocative piece today, arguing that the White House is not only wrong to criticize Rush Limbaugh, it’s also largely responsible for the recent controversy surrounding the right-wing radio host.

President Obama won the presidency by promising to be a different, more substantive, less gimmicky leader. He said he would not waste our time on “phony outrage,” like fulminations on the meaning of “lipstick on a pig,” or silly characters like “Joe The Plumber,” a guy who was actually named Samuel and was not even a licensed plumber. No, Obama said he was going to solve problems instead. Now that he is in the White House, he still makes this case, almost every day. On Wednesday morning, during an address about contracting reforms, he referred dismissively to the “chatter on the cable stations.”

But what is the chatter on the cable stations? For most of this week, and for much of the last month, it has been about Rush Limbaugh. Hour after hour, daytime pundits are asked a litany of banal Rush questions: Does Rush really run the Republican Party? Why did RNC chair Michael Steele apologize to Rush? What does it mean that Rush addressed conservatives last weekend? As Jonathan Martin makes clear in the Politico today, this entire controversy has been cooked up and force fed to the American people by Obama’s advisers. In other words, it’s not the kind of change you can believe in.

I think Scherer’s mistaken for a few reasons here. First, it’s true that President Obama hopes to elevate the discourse, but I don’t think the Limbaugh discussion is evidence to the contrary. Indeed, while the White House has an interest in undermining the president’s critics, Obama and his aides have invested very little energy into this.

Second, it’s also true that Limbaugh has been a major topic of conversation, but Scherer pointing the finger at the president doesn’t make sense. Obama doesn’t decide what becomes cable fodder, has nothing to do with the remarks uttered at CPAC, and he certainly doesn’t dictate the intra-party disputes among conservative Republicans. (If the president orchestrated the Steele-Rush back and forth, Obama is far more talented than I give him credit for.)

Third, Scherer points to a Politico article as proof that the broader Limbaugh story has been “cooked up” by “Obama’s advisors.” I read the Politico article, and found that the initiative to make Limbaugh the face of the GOP has been driven by Paul Begala, James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and officials in the DCCC — none of whom is an advisor to Obama.

Reasonable people can disagree about the strategy of making Limbaugh the de facto leader of the Republican Party. I happen to think it’s a good idea; your mileage may vary. Either way, I don’t see why the larger controversy is President Obama’s fault. He didn’t push GOP officials to apologize to Limbaugh; he didn’t encourage Limbaugh to hope for failure; he didn’t vet Limbaugh’s CPAC speech; and he’s certainly not keeping the story alive by arranging for the RNC chairman to go on the “Today” show to talk about it some more.

Obama, as far as I can tell, is focused heavily on policy matters right now. Are some of his aides thinking about political considerations and taunting Limbaugh? Maybe a little, but the White House isn’t driving this controversy. If we’re looking for someone to blame, I’d recommend Limbaugh (who’s loving the attention and promotion) and Republicans (who can’t figure out what to do with Limbaugh’s influence over the party’s base).

And for good measure, there’s the media itself, which seems to be enjoying this, with or without cues from anybody else.