31 May 2011

Manhattan Projects

In a couple of recent conversations, I've heard folks invoke the Manhattan Project as a demonstration that given a vigorous enough government commitment, scientists can be directed to secretly invent the seemingly impossible. Unfortunately, that's just not true.

I think a lot of people imagine that one sunny day in 1942 the US government came to the scientific community and said, “we need a city-busting bomb, and we'll give you resources to do it,” and the scientists quietly whipped up the Bomb to order. But that is the reverse of the way it happened.

Physicists had been designing atom bombs on blackboards as a “thought experiment” since the 1930s. Seeing the theoretical possibility of the Bomb wasn't hard to figure out. It was the scientists who came to the government, aware of the potential to make the Bomb and horrified by the prospect that the Germans might develop it leaving the Allies at their mercy. It wasn't the conceptual difficulty of the Bomb which necessitated the mammoth effort of the Manhattan Project. Yes, having a large team of scientists did help do it more quickly, and resulted in the team delivering two different successful Bomb designs. But it was the materials problem of separating the uranium isotopes that required the magnitude of the Manhattan Project. Scientific discovery and technological invention do scale with investment, but only to a degree.

And as a secret effort, the Manhattan Project may be unique. Obviously we still have secret military research in the US, and totalitarian nations can conduct big secret projects, but it's difficult to imagine keeping something as big as the Manhattan Project under wraps again. Scientists tend to be garrulous and iconoclastic; only the uniquely galvanizing threat of Hitler with the Bomb could have kept so many of them both engaged and careful to keep the secret.

24 May 2011


A few months back, I snarked to a friend that “few things say culturally conservative American Protestant hegemony with an ‘I’m not an antisemite’ fig leaf like using the word ‘Judeo-Christian’”.

But I just learned from an article in Tablet magazine that it has complicated, interesting origins.

When and how did America start to think of itself as a Judeo-Christian country, rather than what it historically has been, a Protestant one? That is the question Kevin M. Schultz asks in Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (Oxford), and he gives a very concrete answer. The change came about in the 1930s and 1940s, thanks primarily to the concerted effort of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, a lobbying and educational group founded in 1927.
The NCCJ had its origins as a reaction to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, with its anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic hatreds, and took new urgency from the rise of Nazism in 1930s Europe. Its most popular programs were the so-called Tolerance Trios, in which a priest, minister, and rabbi would tour the country conducting public discussions.

This was a vigorous propaganda effort.

the marching band formed into a Star of David and played a rousing version of “Ein Keloheinu,” before reforming as a cross and playing “Onward Christian Soldiers”

The past is another country.

Expanding on the theme later ...

I know that many people use the expression “Judeo-Christian” in naïve good faith. But it always raises my hackles, and I think it’s safe to say that many if not most American Jews feel the same. The people who turn to it most often are chauvinists for a certain conception of Christianity, who want to claim that their Christianity is fundamental to western civilization ... but they want to hide the chauvinism so they add the “Judeo-” in order to sound inclusive and not-antisemitic. “Protestant But I Promise I Am Not An Anti-Semite Why Would You Think That No I Swear I Am Not No Way Not Me I Have Jewish Friends And I Love Israel Because Israel Is Necessary For Jesus To Come Back And Convince All The Jews To Convert To Christianity.”

Though the people most enthusiastic about talking about “Judeo-Christian values” are making that move, more people resort to saying “Judeo-Christian” in a more innocent way, talking about an understanding of western culture entangled with Christianity while trying to avoid the implication of antisemitism or Christian-ist politics. A wholesome error, but still a serious error. Christian culture, emphasizing how Christianity regards the Hebrew Bible as sacred as a way to counter antisemitism fails to understand how different Christian and Jewish sensibilities are. It is difficult for folks either coming from Christian religious practice or coming from the vaguely-Protestant baseline of US culture to register how deep these differences in outlook and texture are.

If one is thinking at a big enough scale, yes one can read Christianity and Judaism as having a lot in common when constrasted with dharmic religious currents (like the various strains of Buddhism and “Hinduism” ) or animistic religious currents or so forth. But at that level, the useful term of art for what Judaism and Christianity have in common is “Abrahamic”, because Islam along with Baha’i and Druze and other traditions belong in any box big enough to hold both Judaism and Christianity. “Abrahamic religion” is thus a term of very limited utility rather than simply a more polite substitute for “Judeo-Christian religion” because the work people use “Judeo-Christian” to do should not be done.

One difference is Judaism emphatically refusing final truths, while Christianity (generally) pursues them. A degree of dissent which would produce a denominational schism in Christianity is, in Judaism, a component of daily practice!

Folks unfamiliar with Judaism often ask about principles in common, including the rules for sex much-quoted by Christian conservatives. Contemporary Judaism inherits mitzvoth (blessings / commandments) from the Torah which do indeed include tight constraints on sex among other things. But one can no more understand Judaism simply by reading the Torah than one can understand Christianity simply by reading the New Testament. But Jewish practice wraps the mitzvoth in a very thick interpretive layer. So while there are a lot of mitzvoth which call for a penalty of death, the Talmudic tradition sets up conditions for actually following through on that penalty which are effectively impossible to meet. And in particular, Judaism and Jewish culture simply do not think about sex in the same way that Christianity and Christian culture do; sex itself is not a corrupting imposition on the human condition in the way that Christianity often understands it.

The use of “Judeo-Christian” by Evangelical Christians today is a reversal of the origins described in the article I linked above; early on they opposed the expression.

Evangelicals, meanwhile, resisted the encroaching pluralism. In 1947, and again in 1954, working with political allies, the National Association of Evangelicals introduced the Christian amendment into Congress: ‘This nation devoutly recognises the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of all nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.’ Out of step with the burgeoning postwar pluralism, the Christian amendment was not passed.

This misrepresentation of history and ideas is destructive.

Ultimately, no attempt to treat two disparate cultures as one is productive or useful – but were we to do so, there’s very little reason (aside from supersessionism and anti-Judaism) to try and conflate Christianity and Judaism. When we talk about a Judeo-Christian civilization, we demean and endanger both Judaism and Christianity, and we do neither of them any favors by continuing to reference such an idea.

More history:

The modern use of the term is another step in the grand evolution of Christian erasure of Jews; a faux inclusion while speaking over and erasing Jews, all the while muddling, obscuring, and hiding Jews and our very different beliefs from the narrative. Most people using this term have an agenda and that agenda serves the needs of the Christian majority--Jews and our beliefs be damned.

On the transparency of what the loudest voices using the term mean.

So if you insist on using the term “Judeo-Christian” to identify your values as superior to others, then I will require you to show your work.

And so I set limits on the question.

The value must be uniquely Judeo-Christian, it cannot be common to any other value system, secular or non-secular The value, whatever it is, must be common to both Jewish and Christian belief systems, i.e. it must be Judeo-Christian. Be specific. Show your work. Don't make vague hand-waving pronouncements.

And out of a thousand answers, from Christians, from Jews, Muslims, atheists, agonistics, from Rabbis, from Preachers and Shit Shakers and Holy Rollers, I got … nothing.

On unwholesome implications and more:

To respect and value Judaism means to do so on its own terms, and not only if it conforms to Christian ideas about what religion should be. Ignoring these differences (and to pretend that Jews and Christians believe the same things) risks subsuming Judaism into Christianity. It risks viewing Judaism as an archaic precursor to Christianity rather than a continuing unique and vibrant tradition.
Indeed, the phrase “Judeo-Christian” erases Judaism by implying that Christian values are Jewish values. Erasing Judaism by subsuming it into Christianity is called supersessionism, a tactic of Christian polemicists for centuries, and one that is currently in use by the Christian religious right.

So please, just do not use the expression.

... as American democracy once again grasps for root metaphors with which to confront our country’s diversity and its place in the world, the term’s recuperation should rightfully alarm us: It has always divided Americans far more than it has united them

Taking the liberty of capturing a few favorite Twitter threads:

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:

“Judeo-Christian” isn’t a thing. It

  1. positions Jews and Christians against Muslims, is Islamophobic
  2. elides Christian oppression and murder of Jews over more than 1000 years
  3. ignores Jewish civilization worldwide, and facts of key Jewish developments in the Middle East and North Africa

And yes, Jesus was a (brown-skinned, Middle Eastern) Jew, but his followers were not. Jews changed their liturgy to be clear about that differentiation pretty early. And guess what? Judaism has continued to evolve since the Second Temple was destroyed! The Mishnah (check Wikipedia on terms you don’t know) was (depending on your theology) either given at Sinai or developed organically in the Land of Israel sometime when we were under Greek/Selucid/Roman occupation. The Talmud (Bavli natch) was composed and redacted in what’s now Iraq. Lots of scholarship on whether and extent of e.g. Zoroastrian influences. The Geonim were living under the Abbasid Caliphate. The Rif lived in Algeria, Tunisia, and possibly Morocco. Maimonides fled Spain and wound up living in Morocco and Egypt, wrote in both Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. The Shulchan Aruch (which, along w/Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, are the bedrock of post-Talmudic Jewish law) was composed in Sfat, Land of Israel, under Ottoman Empire. Its author, Joseph Karo, was born in Spain and expelled in 1492 when the Catholic monarchs kicked out all the Jews. And yes, then there was an Ashkenazi gloss—the Rema was from what’s now Poland. And Rashi was from France. And Rebbeinu Gershom lived in France and Germany. Etc. But to say that even half of the major moments that shaped Jewish thinking happened under Christian rule is way off.

When we were under Christian rule, it generally wasn’t so great for us. Go learn some history if you think otherwise. And while life in Muslim countries wasn’t always great either, it was often much better than under Christians; we had a protected status as People of the Book. #NotAllChristians, obviously. I have a ton of amazing Christian friends (actually tho), have spent years reading Christian spiritual wisdom, have great admiration for and have learned from Christian progressive movements today and in history; some of y’all do a great job following Jesus.

But it’s important for interfaith dialogue, coexistence, basic respect and historical accuracy to not conflate Judaism and Christianity. Two different faiths, traditions, theologies, histories. The origin and relationship to text is overlapping in some cases, yes, but...

There’s no Judeo-Christian tradition. And that’s ok.

For those asking about “Abrahamic faiths” re: Judaism / Christianity / Islam, sure, but when do you really need this? And what’s implied about Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, etc etc? Not saying it’s never applicable but better to check yourself first.

For everyone who wants to argue with me about the second tweet in this thread and thus totally miss the larger point I’m making:

Within not very long after Jesus’ death, Christianity and Judaism had gone off on different paths — including with Jews taking pains to differentiate themselves from followers of Jesus. I am referring to the separate paths of the last 1900 or more years ....

Also philosophically, legally, ritually, in so many ways, Judaism and Islam have much more in common than Judaism and Christianity. Yes, some Jewish sacred texts are also Christian sacred texts, yes Jesus was a Jew. Just... be nuanced. Learn comparative religion. Don’t conflate.

Today I learned that the phrase “Judeo-Christian first appeared in 1821 to talk about Jewish converts to Christianity and then for the second time in 1829 to talk about churches that would observe some Jewish traditions in order to convert Jews. Toxic to us? Yeahhhh.

See also: Christian Zionism.

Jews, the Christian Zionist endgame is Armageddon / bringing the end times, during which they believe we will not be saved. We’re a tool to help them get there. Even if you like their “support for Israel” (I don’t, it’s pro-Occupation), you are cannon fodder to them.

What fascinates me is the ultra-Orthodox Jews who ally with them, which I think can be read as both groups using each other. Christian Zionists thinking the Jews will help hasten the Rapture and they’ll get zapped, that’s fine. Jews thinking, like, obviously the Rapture won’t happen, but this is great for helping Israel make the Occupation permanent (and, depending on their theology, maybe will hasten the Messiah-who-is-not-Jesus coming and they don’t really care where non-Jews fall in that equation.)

Anyway. Christian Zionists often appropriate our stuff and make Big Jewish Noise but they are not our friends, do not wish us well. (NB Christian Zionism is a movement, a thing, I don’t mean just “Christians who happen to believe the State of Israel should exist in whatever way”)

They wish us ill, they wish queers and trans folks and probably most people of color ill (never mind Jews who are also queer and/or Black etc etc), they, unlike the guy they claim to follow, do not bring love and compassion to the world. They are dangerous and they are running this country.

For those of you talking about how some Jews will be “saved,” aka convert to Christianity, won’t get killed — my friends, you misunderstand if you think that’s better. It’s roughly same difference viz valuing Jews and our humanity, autonomy, faith. We only matter if we convert. We have a whole martyrology literature around “sanctifying God’s name,” aka preferring death to forced conversion.

The Yom Kippur liturgy includes language specifying explicitly that we’ll let those who pretended to convert under duress to pray with us — because it wasn't obvious that the answer was yes. In fact, the Kol Nidre prayer may be a formula to annul those conversions. “Saved” isn’t better.

We didn’t survive the Inquisition and the Crusades and all those expulsions and pogroms and the Holocaust just to give up at this so-called end. Not gonna happen. End of the world can come and go and there’ll still be a couple of Jews somewhere in some corner studying Torah.

I'll say this again, more slowly, here: #NotAllChrisitians are trying to manipulate Jews to bring the end times and don’t care if they’re obliterated (whether death or conversion) in the process. I’m talking about a very. specific. movement. here. Christian Zionist Evangelicals. This eschatological theology we've been discussing depends on supersessionism, which is inherently antisemitic. But also this particular branch of toxic Christian Zionist Evangelicals is also not the only place where supersessionism/replacement theology shows up.

So if you are Christian and reading this thread it would be a good and helpful form of allyship to Jews to interrogate the places where it might show up in your own community's thinking, and to do some grappling with that. Even if you're not actively trying to bring the Rapture.

PS Some versions of this Evangelical end-times involves a massive war, battle of Armageddon-type stuff. Some would welcome the outbreak of war in Israel/Palestine in anticipation of it bringing all of this to a head.

And of course care and concern for Palestinians is totally absent from these scenarios.

(I have a few words of my own on an example of ultra-Orthodox Jews and anti-Zionism.)

Jessica Price:

There’s no such thing as “Judeo-Christian ethics.”

Judaism and Christianity’s ethical systems don’t have any more in common with each other than Christianity and Islam’s ethical systems, so all this phrase is is a roundabout way to shit on Islam.

Plus, “Judeo-Christian ethics” almost always gets trotted out in a vague, Golden Rule sort of way. Which is basically just shitting on every other major world religion, since they all have “treat other people with compassion” teachings.

But wait! I hear you saying. Christianity has its roots in Judaism, so surely we can speak of some sort of ethical tradition common to both, but not to other religions, that’s more robust than “just treat people with compassion.”

...can we, though?

Okay, well, in order to define what’s unique about a purported “Judeo-Christian ethics,” we first have to define what was — I’m not going to say unique, but — different about Judaism’s ethical system from other major religions around the Mediterranean at the time.

So, okay, what were Judaism’s innovations as a religion. If you’ve taken a high school world religions unit, like, ever, you’ve probably heard the term “ethical monotheism.” One of the defining features of mainline Judaism around the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age was the idea that its deity was the only deity (or at least, the only one worthy of worship), and that what that deity wanted wasn't just allegiance and sacrifices, but ethical behavior. I’m not saying that idea was absolutely unique in the world at the time or anything, but it was kind of a big deal in the world of the late Bronze Age Mediterranean milieu.

And the other one was the primacy of law. One of the most enduring negative stereotypes about Judaism is that it’s “legalistic.” That’s a weird flattening of everything it is, but absolutely the idea of law holds a central place of honor. It’s a huge deal. Law was the province of kings — and in most of the ancient Near East, commoners didn’t have a right to know what the laws governing them were. Law was basically whatever the king said (or wrote) it was. So the idea that everyone gets to know what the law is, and everyone is responsible for upholding / teaching / enforcing it was a huge deal. When Moses starts his final speech to the Israelites about moving on without him, he doesn’t start with a bunch of religious stuff. He starts with: ok, you're going to build yourself a legal system, and you're going to make sure it applies equally to everyone.

So, okay, what are the defining features of Jewish ethics, as they existed when Christianity split off (so that they can accurately be said to be part of the same ethical tradition)?

#1 divine desire = ethical behavior

💕💖💗🥰 LAW LAW LAW ❤️💕❣️😍

So, if Jewish Ethical Characteristic #1 is that the primary divine desire is for ethical behavior, not pure allegiance to the deity, Christianity skipped off into the sunset shouting “byeeeeeee!” almost immediately on that one.

Like, Christianity is pretty clear that Thing #1 is allegiance to Jesus, and then the result of that is supposed to be the desire to do good works.

For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
Jesus said to him “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

And it’s only doubled down on that over time. At least in Catholicism, you still have the idea of faith and works existing more or less equally and in tandem, but Protestantism goes all sola fide and ends up developing “works righteousness” as a term of contempt.

So if the first and foremost thing the Eternal wants in Judaism is ethical behavior, in Christianity, it’s for you to be saved, and then you’re supposed to want to do good works to be more like Jesus. These are two completely different bases for an ethical system.

And then we've got the primacy of law.

There are a million and one debates about how antinomian Christianity is, and I’m not going to rehash them. I don’t think there’s a single right answer. I do think, however, that this is pretty clear that law isn’t a primary focus.

So no, I don’t see a single unbroken line of descent from Jewish ethics to Christian ones. Christianity incorporated Jewish texts, certainly. But the bases of the systems diverged immediately. And I’m hard-pressed to find a single major principle in Jewish ethics that’s shared by Christianity but not Islam, or even, in broad strokes, but every major world religion. “Judeo-Christian ethics” aren’t a thing.

Rabbi Mike:

Tonight, let's chat about the oversimplification of “Jews and Christians have more in common," and that “one just thinks the messiah has come, and one hasn't.” None of this is true, and it’s time we all learned!

A lot of this goes back to the old ideas of Judea-Christian values, which, don’t exist. For more on that, read this.

But what’s most important, is that no Jews and Christians don’t share the same values, not even about the scripture we “share”. We don’t have the same book. The Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible are in different languages, from different manuscripts.

So what does this mean? Quite simply, the values inside Biblical Judaism were (and are) interpreted through a Jewish lens by the rabbis, the books of law and interpretation, and finally into law codes and responsa that now form Modern Judaism. Parallel to this were the values that Christians interpreted from Biblical Judaism focusing on their theological ideas, such as, for instance, the typological predictions of Jesus, and seeing the laws and stories of the “Old Testament” through the lens of a “new” one. In other words, there never were any Jewish-Christian values, nor can there ever be, because as soon as the Jesus movement began in the 1st century CE, the followers of Jesus began to rework and reinterpret Jewish values into their own.

Now, one might ask, “what about the moral statutes in Judaism and Christianity that we can bond together?” These are perfect examples. Let us take one of the more simple and well known commandments of the Torah, “You shall not murder.” This commandment, which occurs in the “decalogue” in Exodus 20 and in its similar retelling in Deuteronomy 5 is a wonderful place to start. For one, most Jews and Christians alike have mistranslated the Hebrew to be “You shall not kill,” which is incorrect as “killing” is a prescribed punishment for countless sins in the Torah and elsewhere. But more to our discussion, most laypeople would argue that both the Jewish and Christian “value” is to not murder. However, those doing so make a critical error in theology, particularly that of the reason for morality, the reason to not murder. In Christian theology, sinning has a specific punishment (Hell), and in some cases a specific remedy (forgiveness), but in Judaism there is no such system: Jews do not believe in a God who would use “hell” as an incentive to make them moral. Jews are moral because that is the proper way to live. Unlike “fear,” this is a fine incentive … Further, we deny hell altogether as barbaric and contrary to the nature of God.

Therefore, while Jews and Christians follow the law to “not murder,” it is for different reasons, and thus different values are placed behind the following of that law. This is the same for all “laws” and “values” found in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (and beyond). Jews and Christians may want the same things at times, but for different reasons. As I said in my podcast, if Jews and Christians agree on something, it’s not from our past, it's a fluke, that somehow our separate interpretations matched for once.

And as for the messiah, I’ve written this before but our ideas of the messiah don’t match, so we can’t just say “you think they’ve come, and we don’t.” “Messiah” (from Hebrew) is a Jewish concept that, today has come to mean God’s agent who brings an end to war, famine, disease, discrimination, and suffering. Since these ills still afflict our society, Jews cannot accept any historical figure (including Jesus) as the Messiah.

That “Christ” (Greek for Messiah) is supposed to forgive sins or bring salvation is a Christian, not Jewish, idea — and it is one that redefines the Messiah’s agenda away from what Jews intended when they originated this concept.

Additionally, Christians are unaware that all books in today’s Hebrew scriptures were complete in themselves before anyone even had projected the kind of “Christ” figure that Christianity later came to propose. Jews never imagine their Bible standing on its own, serving any additional purpose Christians view the Jewish Bible’s purpose solely as lead-up to the Gospel accounts

Finally, A common denominator of Jewish biblical books is uncompromising denunciation of idolatry. A lesser known kind of idolatry — “Bibliolatry” — worship of the Bible as God (or in lieu of God). Even if the Bible did identify any individual as a Messiah, modern Jews need feel no compulsion to accept that person. No more so in the case of Jesus than in that of Cyrus of Persia. The Biblical identification was wrong, thus destabilizing the missionary’s tactics.

Just Say Xtian:

Let’s talk about the non-existence of “Judeo-Christian” values, using the PRRI 2019 American Values survey. It’s convenient, because the whole purpose of the survey is literally to ask people what their values are!

A caveat before we begin — not that long ago I was dragging someone for drawing conclusions from tiny sample sizes. In this survey we have data from 1,678 Christians and 35 Jews. That’s a tiny sample of Jews. Take all of this with a statistical grain of salt.

I’ve included real numbers along with percentages to try to drive that point home. That said — the differences are significant enough that we can still compare the results to get a general picture of how the populations differ. Let’s begin with [drumroll please] ...

  • Is it necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values? Christians are nearly perfectly split on this question, 50/50. Jews come down hard on “no” with 80% generally disagreeing and roughly 60% completely disagreeing.
  • Christians are again split 50/50 on whether discrimination against white people is as bad as discrimination against other minorities. Jews think it’s not a thing - 75% disagree, and a plurality (42%) completely disagree.
  • Christians are generally opposed to removing Confederate leaders’ names from public buildings and statues (70%). Jews are split on the issue, but lean towards removing them (54%/42%).
  • 40% of Christians would like to prevent refugees from entering the US. Only about 20% of Jews would do so, and about 50% are strongly opposed to doing so, compared to 20% of Christians.
  • 40% of Christians are generally opposed to legal gay marriage, compared to only 10% of Jews. 60% of Jews strongly favor legal gay marriage, compared to only 25% of Christians.
  • Christians are split 50/50 on legal abortion. 90% of Jews think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 42% of Jews think abortion should be legal in all cases, compared to 17% of Christians.
  • This is my favorite one. Christians and Jews roughly agree on whether America is or has ever been a Christian nation. But — among those who think it was Christian once but isn’t now 80% of Christians think that’s a bad thing, and 72% of Jews think it’s a good thing.

Let us wrap up with a funny little story:

My student was abashed that he hadn’t put the obvious two-and-two together. To be clear, it wasn’t that he had thought “Jewish” was a subsect of Christianity -- he knew Judaism was its own religion -- it just genuinely never occurred to him to link “Judeo-” and “Jewish” (it seems obvious, I know, but I can absolutely imagine it being one of those things you just never put together until it’s stated and then it slaps you in the face). There were, he had thought, Jews and Christians, and then among Christians there were Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christian and Assyrian Christians and Judeo Christians.

03 May 2011


Conor Friedersdorf, in an article on Rush Limbaugh's comments on Osama Bin Laden's death, delivers some of the best analysis of Limbaugh's technique that I've ever seen.

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?
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.

Longtime Limbaugh watchers won't be surprised by his ingenious if cowardly solution.
In order to fully grasp his mastery of the strategically ambiguous monologue, let's go back to the line I flagged before: “Last night I was as proud as I have been of the U.S. military in I don't know how long.” Earnest praise for the troops? Sure seems like it on first listen. Mocking allusion to Michelle Obama's controversial "proud of my country for the first time" remark? Also plausible! Especially in context. Certainly some of his listeners heard it that way and chuckled. But also totally deniable if necessary! The important thing to realize is that there is no right answer, other than whatever happens to be more convenient for Limbaugh at a particular moment in time.

For pathological narcissists like Limbaugh, there is no truth of what they really mean when they say things; it's rhetorical strategies all the way down.