Was the talk radio host being earnest or sarcastic when he praised the president for killing bin Laden? Neither answer is correct.
Osama bin Laden's death caused a bunch of curiosity seekers to tune into Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Would the man who said he wanted President Obama to fail congratulate him on this success? The talk radio host was in a tough spot. He's long insisted that Obama is opposed to the U.S. asserting itself as an arbiter of justice. But there the president was: weighing America's options, ordering a unilateral military operation, and glorying in the death of Civilizational Enemy No. 1.
For Limbaugh, this was potentially devastating. President Obama is a flawed leader, no matter his recent success. His critics are right to keep saying so. But the particular criticisms Limbaugh regularly voices? "Obama doesn't believe we have the moral authority to do anything other than mouth a bunch of words," he said just weeks ago. "He doesn't look at America as the solution. We're the problem." That narrative was shown by dramatic real world events to be utter nonsense.
And he knows it. But to admit as much?
His problem was that he couldn't come out Monday morning swinging. Sure, some of his listeners would stick by him. But the Limbaugh audience is largely made up of nationalistic War on Terror hawks who wanted bin Laden's head on a pike as much as anyone. Opening with a direct attack on Obama after an event that brought out the jingoism in NPR listeners wasn't going to play.