Rush Limbaugh's Needlessly Divisive Speech in Joplin, Mo.

And it hurts them more than journalists, or "the elites."

Then there's this exchange:

RUSH:  FEMA's in there with a lot of temporary housing and so forth.  It's just, you're right, the citizens of Joplin are not caterwauling every day on television making a story out of it, and that's your real point.  But people can forget about Joplin because they know exactly what you said is true, the people of Joplin are gonna take care of themselves, they're gonna do this, they're gonna use their self-reliance, which they're in the process of doing. Not that they don't need help, I don't want to confuse anybody here.  But you won't find a news story of a Joplin citizen looting or making a general nuisance of him or herself to attract a camera in order to attract attention there, and as such, you're right, nothing going on in Joplin; they're rebuilding, big whoop.
CALLER:  I'll tell you what, it speaks highly of their character and I think there's a lot of places here in the country that can take a valuable lesson from this.

Take that, New Orleans! For goodness sakes, admirable as Joplin's resolve is they're hardly unique. Rebuilding, not mugging for cameras, and being as self-reliant as possible is what you'll see most Americans do in the aftermath of a natural disaster. I've seen it among wildfire victims in greater Los Angeles, we've all seen it after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC, and it happened after the Bay Area earthquake in San Francisco too.

To be fair, there are rare instances when wealthy media elites do mock victims of natural disasters, despite their good behavior, admirable composure, and resolve. So that the people of Joplin, Missouri know what that looks like, and can verify that they aren't its objects, I offer this example:     

Rush Limbaugh: The Japanese have done so much to save the planet. They've given us the Prius. Even now, refugees are still recycling their garbage, and yet Gaia levels them [laughs], just wipes them out. Wipes out their nuclear plants, all kinds of radiation. What kind of payback is this? That is an excellent question. They invented the Prius. In fact, where Gaia blew up is right where they make all these electric cars. That's where the tsunami hit.
All those brand new electric cars sitting there on the lot. I like the way this guy was thinking. It's like -- it's like Gaia hit the Prius in [inaudible]. It's like they were in the crosshairs, if we can use that word, it does. What is Gaia trying to tell us here? What is the mother of environmentalism trying to say with this hit?

There are also rare instances when media elites target some regions of the country for praise while exaggerating the pathologies of others:

Rush Limbaugh: I want to know. I look at Iowa, I look at Illinois---I want to see the murders. I want to see the looting. I want to see all the stuff that happened in New Orleans. I see devastation in Iowa and Illinois that dwarfs what happened in New Orleans. I see people working together. I see people trying to save their property...I don't see a bunch of people running around waving guns at helicopters, I don't see a bunch of people running shooting cops. I don't see a bunch of people raping people on the street. I don't see a bunch of people doing everything they can...whining and moaning---where's FEMA, where's BUSH. I see the heartland of America. When I look at Iowa and when I look at Illinois, I see the backbone of America.

It is Limbaugh who needlessly divides people, creates tensions where none need exist, and exacerbates regional anxieties. If anyone ever talks about the people of Joplin in the way that he speaks about folks in New Orleans (or Japan, for that matter) I'll be first to object. Meanwhile, his rhetoric will continue to do the most harm to the folks on whose behalf he claims to speak.

That's too bad.

He has the capacity to be a force for good in their lives, but mixes his genuine affection for them with poisonous ideas. Despite all that, Limbaugh and I can agree that the people of Joplin need help. A Facebook page set up by a local school district there is soliciting donations as they rebuild.

If you're interested, it's here.

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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