Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Remember When Rush Limbaugh Supported Local Law Enforcement?

My column this past week ran on Monday, rather than Sunday; the last Sunday of the year is a reprise of the "best" of the Tribune's editorial cartoons, so I got bumped even though I think this is brand new political humor. A special recognition to my "cousin-in-law" [actually, my late father's second wife's third husband's daughter-in-law, which sort of makes her a cousin, doesn't it?] who came up with the "if the drugs addict, you can't convict" line. My first attempt didn't even rhyme.

You can see the actual newspaper version on the Tribune website here.

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 29, 2003

I’m going to enjoy the Rush Limbaugh illegal drugs, doctor shopping, and potential money-laundering trials. It’s going to be O.J. for white people.

Let’s dispense with the preliminaries first. Limbaugh is entitled to precisely the same presumption of innocence and forgiveness of all-too-human frailty as he gave to others. Which is to say, none. Let the fun commence!

The Limbaugh trial will have it all, just like the O.J. trial did. You’ve got the celebrity defendant trying to convince both a judge and public opinion that he was framed. To buy that, you have to believe that Rush Limbaugh couldn’t have gone to the authorities because a prominent rich Republican simply couldn’t get a fair shake in Jeb Bush’s Florida.

You’ll also see starkly different attitudes toward the case among demographic categories. Just as African-Americans found it resonated with their experience that the police could frame a black man -- even a celebrated, rich one -- lots of Limbaugh’s white listeners will find themselves believing whatever cockamamie excuse Rush concocts for his illegal drug use and money laundering. After all, “dittoheads” are already trained to accept what Rush tells them, no matter how ridiculous.

You’ve also got the defendant trying to blame the supposedly real criminals. O.J. claims to be still searching for the real killers, while Rush claims that his housekeeper and her husband, who got him all those expensive illegal drugs at his request, are extortionists and really at fault. If only they had delivered the drugs in a white Ford Bronco.

You’ve got the celebrity criminal lawyer taking center stage, too. In Rush’s case, it’s Roy Black, the same attorney the Kennedy family uses for criminal unpleasantness in Palm Beach County. When he finds his life in danger, even Rush Limbaugh hires a Democrat.

Now Rush can get one of his lawyers to claim that drug addiction excuses any crimes. That way Limbaugh can get the benefit of the excuse, while still claiming that he never made excuses for his behavior -- because he pays other people to make those excuses for him.

I can’t wait until Limbaugh's lawyers use the Johnnie Cochran rhyming defense strategy, telling the jury, “If the drugs addict, you can’t convict!”

You’ve got a rich defendant who can hire the best attorneys his money can buy, going up against a standard-issue government-employee prosecutor. Your run-of-the-mill defendant can’t hire the professionals needed to create a Hollywood surprise ending that generates sufficient sympathy or doubt with the jury. Instead, they get no-frills assembly-line justice. It takes a bunch of money to generate a television-worthy plot and create an implausible scenario that a jury might consider as reasonable doubt -- money available to both O.J. and Rush.

Not all well-connected rich people would be able to pull off this far-fetched a scenario. Just imagine if Bill Clinton had tried to blame his troubles on an extortion attempt by enemies. You’d laugh it off in a New York minute, and start impeachment proceedings immediately.

The Limbaugh trial also will be richly leavened with all sorts of references to constitutional rights of the defendant, which might even be ironic if in this case the defendant hadn’t made so much of his career by denigrating those rights when applied to others. Just like how Fife Symington became a fan of the Ninth Circuit only when it reversed his criminal convictions, Limbaugh might view the justice system just a teensy bit differently -- unless he really is incapable of thinking beyond his own person, wallet, and ego.

Another question: If Rush Limbaugh’s trial will be O.J. for white people, what will Michael Jackson’s trial be? My tentative answer: O.J. for aliens.

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