I once heard a radio interview with Myron Floren, the virtuoso accordion player who starred on the Lawrence Welk TV show from the 1950s through the 1980s. Mr. Floren joined the Welk band before they hit the big time on weekly television. In the interview, he told about the early years, which featured many small-town gigs across the American heartland. These performances were not uniformly successful. On one occasion, the band's toe-tapping, polka-style presentation got a scathing review in the town's morning paper. Mr. Floren was shocked by the harsh critique, but he finally told Welk about it, repeating some of the salient comments. He expected a reaction, but Welk merely shrugged and said, "Well?"
"Well what?" replied a puzzled Floren. "Did they spell our names right?" asked Welk.
Lawrence Welk's music wasn't for everyone. Some people absolutely hated it, but millions loved it - enough to keep the show on weekly TV for over 30 years. I still see occasional reruns. As a teen, I loved the show because it featured good musicians and fine singers like Joe Feeney, Jim Roberts Norma Zimmer, and Dick Dale. America loved the Lenon Sisters, bass singer Larry Hooper and energetic dancer Bobby Burgess (a former Mouseketeer). Irish tenor Joe Feeney would bring a lump to your eye and a tear to your throat with "Danny Boy" and other ballads at which he excelled. The show was so popular that Stan Freburg made a spoof record in the 1950s, called "Wun'erful, wun'erful (please turn off the bubble machine...)".
I mention all this because the Welk show reminds me, in some respects, of Rush Limbaugh and the talk-radio circus he has hosted daily for over 20 years. Mixing serious political analysis, big-name interviews and outrageous comedy spots from Paul Shanklin and others, Limbaugh takes callers of all political stripes - with whom he is unfailingly gentlemanly and courteous.
As with the Welk show, millions love Limbaugh's shtick, but some hate it. This week we found out that one guy who hates it is President Barak Obama. I doubt if the feeling is reciprocated, however, for with a few words Mr. Obama did more for Rush Limbaugh, professionally, than millions of dollars in advertising could have done. Like any seasoned performer - reminiscent of Lawrence Welk's concern in that small town, long ago - El Rushbo knows the important thing is that his name be spelled right.
If you've been in outer space in recent days, you will have missed the brouhaha that arose when Rush Limbaugh declined to join the Media Hallelujah Chorus praising Barak Obama's Advent. Mr. Limbaugh said publicly that he did not want Mr. Obama to succeed with his "socialist" agenda for the country. This was not the same as wishing Mr. Obama ill, personally - but why mess up a good story with facts? Limbaugh-critics jumped on the words and bashed the radio impresario for hoping the new president would "fail".
Instead of shrugging off Mr. Limbaugh's comments with a politician's thick skin, Mr. Obama singled the radio talk-jock out, telling Republicans: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done..." Clearly, the comment was meant to split Republicans from the popular commentator and his adherents. Instead, it boosted Mr. Limbaugh's already high stock with conservatives and defined him as the most credible opposition voice in the Obama Age.
On the hotair.com blog, Ed Morrissey wrote: "Barak Obama ran on a platform of post-partisanship, of healing and uniting a divided nation. Yet it didn't even take him a week to enter into the partisan fray, taking on the Right's biggest megaphone - and making it even bigger... One doesn't make points at all about bipartisanship by explicitly attacking another partisan voice, no matter how much one disagrees with it."
In National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger noted: "Rush says what he regards as true, political consequences be damned. He is not a party strategist, or a party anything. He's a man with opinions, and they are sound, and that's why so many people are drawn to him, and them."
Could Mr. Obama really be so thin-skinned and insecure that he felt compelled to single out Mr. Limbaugh because he considered him too "powerful" to ignore? This is possible, as Mr. Morrissey suggests in additional remarks:
"By naming Rush and attempting to sideline him, Obama lifted Rush's profile and practically anointed him his opposition. It demonstrates that Obama still has no sense of his office, nor of ‘post-partisanship', regardless of his endlessly empty rhetoric on the subject. Any time a man in a position of great power attacks someone with significantly less power, it lessens the greater man and raises up his opponent. The American president is, thanks to the office, the most powerful man in the free world. If he's worried about any political pundit so much that he has to attack him personally, it shows weakness, which is exactly what Obama cannot afford."
I have heard Rush Limbaugh say, on numerous occasions, that when Democrats speak of being "post-partisan" or "bipartisan", they mean that you come over to their side of the aisle, not the other way round. So far, Big Media has not asked whether the president means this, too. Perhaps Mr. Obama thought he could avoid such questions by silencing or marginalizing Mr. Limbaugh. As is so often true with Mr. Obama, we don't really know what he is thinking.
My interpretation of the Obama-Rush war of words is that Mr. Obama's critical comments were neither off-hand nor ill-considered, but cleverly crafted to divert attention away from Democratic governing initiatives and onto Rush Limbaugh. I believe the Obama White House deliberately created an artificial controversy as a red herring for Big Media to chase. Perhaps this will be the "Obama Way" - i.e., shift public attention away from the main event and onto trivialities, while the controversial action gets done with no one watching the store.
For his part, Mr. Limbaugh is entitled to bask briefly in the spotlight of presidential attention (even if he was damned with faint praise). But quite soon he will certainly see - if he hasn't seen it already - that being mentioned by the president only diverted media- and voter-attention away from the gargantuan pork-spending bill being fashioned by the Congress. If Mr. Limbaugh is as smart as he seems, he won't be drawn again by presidential mention - whether good or ill. Those slim, elegant hands working the shells and the pea are swift and very deceptive. We need to keep our eyes focused on them, not on the words spoken to distract us.