If the first six weeks of the Barack Obama administration can be summed up in one sentence, it would be this: Obama fiddled with Rush Limbaugh while Wall Street burnedPolitico reports that the demonization of Rush Limbaugh comes as a deliberate strategy by Obama and the Democrats, who hoodwinked people into believing that a Chicago Machine pol really wanted to change the partisan nature of politics.  Starting in October, Obama relied on an old hand in attack politics to devise this strategy — and rolled it out even in the middle of an economic meltdown:

Top Democrats believe they have struck political gold by depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party, a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics and now being guided in part from inside the White House.

The strategy took shape after Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville included Limbaugh’s name in an October poll and learned their longtime tormentor was deeply unpopular with many Americans, especially younger voters. Then the conservative talk-radio host emerged as an unapologetic critic of Barack Obama shortly before his inauguration, when even many Republicans were showering him with praise.

Soon it clicked: Democrats realized they could roll out a new GOP bogeyman for the post-Bush era by turning to an old one in Limbaugh, a polarizing figure since he rose to prominence in the 1990s.

Read all of Jonathan Martin’s report, which makes clear that Carville and Paul Begala coordinated this effort with Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on their morning conference calls.  Clearly, Obama wants to use his media contacts to play rough with critics through coordinated personal-attack campaigns.  Martin neglects to mention, though, that Obama himself started off this attack by telling Republicans that they can’t listen to Limbaugh any longer if they want to have access to Democratic-controlled agendas on the Hill.

So far, Obama’s attack machine — and there’s no other term for it — has mostly succeeded.  While the markets have lost 18% of their value in the six weeks of his leadership, all Democrats can talk about is Rush.  Newspapers and media have followed suit, and so have the blogs.  Usually excellent sites like The Moderate Voice and Political Machine have turned themselves into almost nothing but anti-Limbaugh sites, where Jazz Shaw’s light satire of the trend gets completely subsumed in the overwhelming focus on someone who has no direct power on policy or enforcement.  Instead of focusing attention on the real policy leaders in Washington — all Democrats — whose every move has received a resounding vote of no confidence from investors, they have allowed themselves to get distracted by a deliberate strategy of misdirection originating in the highest levels of the White House.

It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s enemies list, and it comes from the supposed messiah of Hope and Change.

Rush Limbaugh provides commentary, criticism, analysis, and entertainment, not political leadership, as Rush himself would attest.  He has an audience of 20 million people, which makes attacks on him by people like Michael Steele and other Republicans rather stupid.  Instead of dividing the Right, they would do better to act as Bobby Jindal did and find ways to unite the Right.  But with Republicans out of power, this is mere sideshow.  It’s a circus provided by Democrats to cover up their economic incompetence and massively ineffective spending programs.  It’s also a harbinger of things to come as this administration fumbles one issue after another, as they will only need to expand the personal attacks against critics rather than respond to the criticism itself.

Operation Rushbo only succeeds if people swallow it.

Update (AP): Boehner called it a “distraction” today too but I think that misses the point. Economic ruin will be with us long after this dust-up with Rush has blown away, which is to say, in the long run this won’t distract anyone from anything. What the Democrats are really trying to do is rebrand the GOP. They’re keenly attuned to that sort of thing, as we were reminded again just yesterday. I also wouldn’t call what they’re doing to Rush an “attack.” It’s more like promotion, albeit promotion for their own ends. In fact, if there’s anyone who benefits unambiguously from all this, it’s Rush himself. The Democrats might miscalculate in overestimating his supposed unpopularity, and the GOP leadership will go on squirming at having to defend or reject the idea of wanting Obama to fail, but all Limbaugh has to worry about is an expanding audience. His show has never seemed so vital as it does right now, which is precisely why lefties like Peter Daou are starting to worry.

Update (Ed): We’re going to agree to disagree.  I think this article makes the case quite clear that this is an attack policy devised by experienced hands from the Clinton administration at attack politics.  Whether that “rebrands” the GOP is probably secondary; as Carville himself once famously noted, “Your opponent can’t hit back when you have your fist in his face.”  So much for changing the tone in Washington.