Rush Limbaugh, like so many right-wing pundits, loves to make jokes about violence befalling liberals and "government bureaucrats", usually in a wistful manner. And then when said violence actually occurs, he wants everyone to know he had nothing to do with it.

Which raises the question: What exactly is the difference between publicly wishing for an event to occur and actually advocating it? Whatever line might exist between them is in fact pretty thin.

But Limbaugh wants the public to see them as two entirely different things, at least after going on the air and hoping that riots will disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August:

"Riots in Denver, the Democrat Convention would see to it that we don’t elect Democrats," Limbaugh said during Wednesday’s radio broadcast. He then went on to say that’s the best thing that could happen to the country.

Limbaugh cited Al Sharpton, saying the Barack Obama supporter threatened to superdelegates that "there’s going to be trouble" if the presidency is taken from Obama. Several callers called in to the radio show to denounce Limbaugh’s comments, when he later stated, "I am not inspiring or inciting riots, I am dreaming of riots in Denver."

Howie Klein wonders why Limbaugh isn’t being charged with advocating violence on the airwaves, and he has a point. The problem is that Limbaugh — as he always does — has constructed this rhetoric as a "joke" or a "schtick," which for years has given him the opening he needs to escape culpability for the underlying ugliness of the "humor", which in fact is largely eliminationist in nature.

No, it seems everyone is eager to just write this off as "that’s just Rush being Rush, right?" But what if there are riots in Denver this summer? Particularly, what if they’re created not by those thuggish (and mostly nonwhite) liberal Democrats, as he envisions, but by right-wing troublemakers inspired by Limbaugh himself?

Limbaugh doubtless again will deny he had anything to do with it. But you have to wonder if he’ll be able to pull it off this time.

The key is that his rhetoric has been focused on his boogadah-boogadah portrait of the modern Democratic Party, dominated by blacks, who of course won’t be able to contain themselves from rioting if Obama is denied the nomination. It’s all part of his "Operation Chaos," which he claims is already working:

Limbaugh’s effort, which began early this year, is a call to arms urging conservatives and Republican voters to re-register as Democrats – and create chaos in that party’s presidential nomination process by casting a vote.

The proof that it is working, Limbaugh says, is in the unusual turnout of turncoats: An estimated 100,000 GOP voters crossed over in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary. And he argues it’s no coincidence that TV networks last week appeared reluctant to rely on exit polling and waited more than an hour before calling a solid Keystone State win for Clinton. "Operation Chaos" loyalists have been following orders to mess with exit pollers en masse – by lying to them, Limbaugh says.

"The endgame is to see that neither of these candidates can win by virtue of the primaries," Limbaugh told The Chronicle last week. "One or the other will win only when the superdelegates decide who they want. And whoever the supers choose will infuriate the loser’s supporters. More chaos."

Already, he notes, both Clinton and Obama have been "weakened — which was the objective," and their negatives are both approaching 50 percent. He cheers the fact that Obama "hasn’t won a primary since Feb. 22 … and he has lost in seven of the 10 most populous states."

But the cold reality is that when Limbaugh goes on the airwaves and says he’s "dreaming of riots in Denver," not all of his listeners will conclude that he wants them to originate with liberals. There are, and always have been, unstable characters on the right who won’t wait around for that — they’ll go out and cause the riots themselves.

And they won’t necessarily have to be out there causing trouble as conservatives. Agents provocateur from the right causing trouble by posing as left-wing activists is nothing new.

At the very minimum, Limbaugh’s "dream" of riots in Denver are of the "will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" type of rhetoric: He won’t openly call for people to create riots in Denver, but it wouldn’t break his heart.

That, at the very minimum, is the height of irresponsibility for anyone in the business of broadcasting on the public airwaves. Because he’s openly hoping for violence and mayhem. Even his fans in Denver are dismayed:

Denver City Councilman Charles Brown, a Republican and Limbaugh listener, was said he was outraged by Limbaugh’s comments. Brown, who was a teacher in Illinois during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, said he recalled the injuries, chaos and disgrace for the city as a result.

"Regardless of political labels, for any radio announcer to wish a riot on a city so his party could win, that’s disgraceful and it’s absurd," Brown said.

If violence does occur, and especially if it comes at the hands of someone who spent too much time thinking that Rush Is Right, we can probably figure on an attempt at replaying what happened in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing, and Bill Clinton’s subsequent denunciation of "loud and angry voices" railing against the government day after day. We all remember what happened next, right?

Though Clinton certainly never identified Limbaugh as one of those "angry voices," almost immediately Limbaugh responded with cries of censorship and claims that Clinton was attempting to silence him. The protests have continued so steadily that the claim that Clinton blamed Limbaugh has become a stock theme about the supposed perfidy of liberals.

Indeed, Ann Coulter herself continued this meme in her book, Slander: Liberal Lies About The American Right, 92-93: "When impeached former president Bill Clinton identified Rush Limbaugh as the cause of the Oklahoma City bombing, he unleashed all the typical liberal curse words for conservatives. He blamed ‘loud and angry voices’ heard ‘over the airwaves in America’ that were making people ‘paranoid’ and spreading hate."

Ah yes, the Avatars of Personal Responsibility. We saw this happen again with the strange case of Chad Castagana — the right-wing nutcase, inspired by Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, who sent terroristic anthrax threats to a variety of liberal figures — when his sources on the right either airily dismissed the connection or simply ignored it.

Sooner or later, they’re going to cause so much mayhem, and the connection will be so obvious, that they won’t be able to write it off as a mere "joke" anymore. But that won’t ever stop them from trying.