AUSTIN, Texas — It’s a race to the bottom. For misinformation and cruelty, not to mention plain old dreadful manners, it is so hard to beat Rush Limbaugh. We can only measure the Great Blowhard against himself.

Even by Limbaugh standards, his recent attack on Michael J. Fox, the actor, is several levels lower than tacky. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, has done some political ads favoring candidates who in turn support stem cell research.

“He is exaggerating the effects of the disease,” Limbaugh told his listeners. “He is moving all around and shaking, and it’s purely an act. This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting. This is the only time I’ve ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has.”

The reaction from Parkinson’s experts was swift and angry. “It’s a shameless statement,” said John Rogers of Parkinson’s Action Network. “It’s insulting. It’s appallingly sad, at best.”

So then Limbaugh, big-hearted guy, says while still on the air in the same broadcast: “Now, people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear in the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. … All right, then, I stand corrected. … So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act … .”

Then Limbaugh went on to say, “Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democrat politician.”

Exploiting his disease by pushing for a cure. Gee, I never thought of that. Do you think the late Christopher Reeve was faking it? Is Nancy Reagan exploiting her late husband?

If that isn’t disgusting enough, let’s take a look at a new ad running against Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee in the U.S. Senate race. You can find it on the Internet, and I think you’ll be amazed. The ad strings together a series of ridiculous “positions” (e.g., “Canada can take care of North Korea”) and a stacked blonde claiming she met Ford at a Playboy party. “Harold, call me,” she coos.

The NAACP and other groups popped up immediately to point out that the babelicious blonde raises the old racist scare tactic about black men and white women. I thought the whole ad was racist. Ugh. “Heh, heh, let’s make fun of how dumb the coon is.”

Ford has been a member of Congress for 9 years and is well respected in his party. The ad is attributed to the Republican National Committee, which now disowns it. That denial comes from Ken Mehlman, who used his time at the White house to do favors for clients of Jack Abramoff.

I notice a similar talking point in use again, with the right-wing punditry united as one in their dismissal of Rep. Nancy Pelosi as among “the most disliked” in Congress, although rather obviously she is more than usually popular with her own party.

One way to dismiss her is to call her “a San Francisco Democrat,” which I suppose means she’s not prejudiced against gays. But with Reps. Foley and Kolbe in the news, it’s not a good year for Republicans to take that line of attack.

And elsewhere, former Food and Drug Administration chief Lester Crawford, who resigned two months after his confirmation, has just pleaded guilty to hiding his ownership in food and drug companies “regulated” by the FDA.

I realize it is difficult to keep up with the degree of Republican sleaze around these days, but I did like President Bush’s celebration of National Character Counts Week. He went to Pennsylvania to support Rep. Don Sherwood, who was sued by his mistress last year for repeatedly beating her. He settled the case out of court for $5.5 million.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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