I hope he fails.
It is, of course, a calculated outrage.
Meaning, it was spewed by a clown in the media circus to kick a familiar sequence into motion: angry denunciation by bloggers, pundits and supporters of President Barack Obama (the "he" whose failure is hoped), followed by Rush Limbaugh refusing to retract a word, a courageous truth teller who will not be moved. And, trailing behind, like the folks with brooms trail the elephants in the circus parade, Mr. Limbaugh's devotees, complaining that their hero has been misquoted, misunderstood or otherwise mistreated. "What Rush meant was ... yadda yadda yadda."
A calculated outrage.
And knowing this, knowing how frequently and adroitly media are manipulated by self-promoting media clowns who defame conservatism by calling themselves conservative, one is tempted to let the statement pass, to make its way unimpeded to the dustbin like so many other manufactured controversies. But occasionally, it's necessary to intercept one of them and hold it up to the light.
This is one of those times. Not because what Mr. Limbaugh said on his radio program a few days before the inauguration was an outrage - outrage is the point, remember? - but rather, because of what the thing he said says about him and his fellow clowns.
"I hope he fails." Do you ever say that about your president if you are an American who loves your country? Would you say it about George W. Bush, who was disastrous, about Bill Clinton, who was slimy, about Jimmy Carter, who was inept, about Richard Nixon, who was crooked?
You may think he's going to fail, yes. You may warn he's going to fail, yes. But do you ever "hope" he fails? Knowing his failure is the country's failure? Isn't that, well ... disloyal?
The irony is that Mr. Limbaugh and the other clowns would have you believe they are bedrock defenders of this country, that they love it more than the rest of us, more than anything. That's a lie. Mr. Limbaugh just told us so, emphatically.
It's not the country they love. It's the attention. The ideology, their perversion of conservatism, is but a means toward that end.
Yes, an observer might point out that it's counterproductive to give them attention while decrying their love of attention. But, as already noted, occasionally the clowns spew something that cannot, and ought not, be ignored.
Ideological division is nothing new to politics. But has ideology ever taken quite the seat of prominence it now enjoys? Have people ever been quite so prone to regard their ideological identity as more important than their national identity? The last 30 years are rare in that regard, if not unique.
"I hope he fails"!?
So that - what? The defamation of conservatism Mr. Limbaugh represents will stand vindicated? The Republicans will pick up a few seats in the midterm election? Mr. Limbaugh's "side" - his word - will score points?
Is this only a game, then? No lives at stake, no future on the line, no planet in the balance? Just a game?
I hope he bricks this free throw.
I hope he fumbles that pass.
I hope he fails.
And to hell with the country.
The country doesn't matter. The "side" does. And Mr. Limbaugh's side seems angry in power and angry out. It's as if anger is all they really have.
Barack Obama was elected in large part on a promise to carry the nation past anger, past the notion that either party has a monopoly on wisdom, past the belief that ideology is identity. He was elected because people want a sense of mission that makes them feel like Americans again. If he is successful, Mr. Limbaugh and the other clowns will face tough sledding in a radically different world. Small wonder he is so eager to strangle this presidency in its infancy. And need it even be said?
I hope he fails.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.