Kicked to the curb, tossed to the wolves, twisting in the wind; we could go on and on with the checklist of hackneyed clichés that have been so overused, overworked, and over dramatized to make a political point or cut up political foes. Talk radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh tossed another one out there when he lambasted Democrats as racists for allegedly shoving South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn to the “back of the bus” for backing white House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and not him for Minority Whip. In the deal worked out Clyburn will hold a new, third ranking leadership post that will be created for him, a kind of “assistant to the leader” as one Democrat called it.
There are several things at work here in Limbaugh’s use of the racially loaded back of the bus analogy. Limbaugh and the GOP hit team take giddy delight in turning the racial tables and trashing, bashing and finger-pointing the Democrats for alleged racism while trying to take some of the much earned heat off the GOP for its very real racism. The back of the bus analogy is perfect verbal theater for that. It conjures up just the right racially smear image.
The back of the bus analogy got the widespread media play it did precisely because Limbaugh used it. It was race that put Limbaugh on the talk radio map more than three decades when as a relatively obscure local yokel right side wing nut gabber and DJ on a Pittsburgh radio station, he shouted at a black caller to take the bone out of your nose. Limbaugh’s been called out on this a few times over the years and he’s never admitted that he said it. But he didn’t deny it either.
WATCH ‘HARDBALL’ COVERAGE OF LIMBAUGH’S REMARKS:
In the years since the bone in the nose slur Limbaugh has piled up a litany of race zingers. He’s managed to brand the predominantly black player dominated NFL a thug league (“looks like a game between the Crips and the Bloods”), slander Jesse Jackson (“pictures of wanted criminals look like him”) and ridicule the NAACP (“get a liquor store and practice robberies”).
But let’s say Limbaugh hadn’t used the tired analogy, but another GOP lesser light, media pundit, another Democrat, or even Clyburn used it to chalk his loss of the Minority Whip post up to racism. It would still get wide play because he is African-American and from formerly rock solid segregationist South Carolina. Democratic Conference’s Vice Chair Xavier Becerra, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Barbara Lee backed him. And many African-Americans have occasionally taken shots at the Democrats for taking the black vote for granted and allegedly giving little back in return.
Clyburn said that he deserved to be Minority Whip based on party loyalty, clout, position, and legislative effectiveness. A piqued Clyburn at one point even strongly hinted that race lurked underneath his not getting majority Democrat support when he accused the Democratic leaders of depending on CBC support during tough legislative fights, “Every time there’s to be a deal, the short end of the stick ends up with the CBC.” Clyburn got the proverbial short end of the leadership stick.
So does the back of the bus cliché then really fit the treatment that Clyburn got? Or is it pure hyperbole by Limbaugh to score a racial point? The truth is that it is a little of both.
Clyburn was pushed aside or more accurately pushed behind Hoyer and Pelosi. The motive was not racial. It was politics, leadership jockeying, deal making, and the driving motivation was the absolute need for the Democrats in light of the pounding they took in the midterm elections to close ranks fast. The last thing they need in the face of the emboldened GOP challenge is to have an intra-party war at the top over who will or won’t lead their diminished numbers in the House.
WATCH KARL ROVE DISCUSS ‘BACK OF THE BUS’ REMARKS:
A fight with racial overtones to it would be an absolute disaster. The one thing that can be said then beside the fact that Clyburn will not be Minority Whip and because he’s black, we can expect to hear the back of the bus quip shoved back into the lexicon again when an African-American gets the shaft in or outside of politics. It’s just too juicy and inviting a cliché not to drag out.
As for Limbaugh he begins and ends every racial tirade with his trademark disclaimer that none of this has anything to do with race and that he believes in total equality. But with him it’s not about equality or even race. It’s about ratings and political dominance, namely his. Limbaugh’s back of the bus crack then makes perfectly good sense for a GOP that has proven itself expert at shoving blacks not just to the back of the bus but off the bus.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson