Did Rush Limbaugh affect the Democratic primaries or didn’t he? Actually, it’ll be difficult if not impossible to tell (though I don’t think it would be hard to argue that Rush’s "Operation Chaos" provided Hillary her victory margin in Indiana).

But something Rush said this week does reflect his leadership in an undeniably real political trend: the return of race-baiting as an acceptable form of discourse. It happened when he was being interviewed by Fox News about Hillary’s suggestion he has a "crush" on her. He quipped:

I understand now why Bill Clinton hit on my date about a year ago at the Kobe Club in New York. I was minding my own business and Clinton came in. And the short version is he used the mayor of Los Angeles to distract me, while hitting on my date. […]

He came over three or four times, had Ron Burkle with him and the mayor of Los Angeles, who I thought was either the shoe shine guy or a Secret Service agent.

That "mayor of Los Angeles" is, of course, Antonio Villaraigosa, a Latino man.

This is in fact classic race-baiting. While the meaning of the term has been confused by years of abuse by folks like Limbaugh (by referring to it whenever a minority politician stands up for their group), its most common form was precisely this kind of talk: raising ugly and demeaning racial stereotypes and associating them with individuals, dangling the stereotype for the audience to swallow the ugly underlying message.

But the response, so far, has been a deafening silence. Indeed, as Think Progress observes, the media (aside from Keith Olbermann) have completely ignored his having said this — though they’re more than happy to comment on his "crush." Because, you know, that’s what’s important.

And that really is the problem, even more than Limbaugh making these kinds of remarks. After all, we’ve gotten accustomed to them — which may be why the media haven’t even batted an eye this time around. But letting this kind of hate-mongering stand should be unacceptable in a society built on equality of opportunity.

When the media turn a blind eye to this kind of stuff, it becomes permission for more. And so the tide of hateful rhetoric has been steadily building over the past decade and longer, led in no small part by Limbaugh himself. But he has never been alone in this.

And in recent years, it’s become common to let race-baiting like this bubble up, especially if the targets are Latino immigrants.

Mario Soliz-Marich has noticed this too:

As a member of the largest minority ethnic group and a member of the media, I am continually puzzled and outraged by the idea that anyone can say anything about Latinos without fearing any consequence. While it would be out outrageous for anybody to have said a similar thing about an elected official of almost any other ethnicity, Rush will certainly not receive any heat at all for supposedly “mistaking” the Latino Mayor of the nation’s second largest city as a shoeshine guy.

There will be no national debate about whether he should step down as there was when Imus referred to a women’s basketball team in a derogatory fashion. There will be no national outrage like there was following the racist vocal vomiting of “comedian” Michael Richards. There will be no slam down and painful lame excuses like those offered by Mel Gibson after his anti-Semitic comments. The rules for Latinos are different.

Rush, Lou Dobbs, and a host of shock jocks are well aware of this different set of rules. Dobbs & Rush inc. can freely accuse Latinos of spreading Leprosy and TB, of raping children, and even planning the violent overthrow of the US, without any proof whatsoever.

However, race-baiting has come slyly back into fashion not just with Latinos, but really with the entire range of minorities. This is why the GOP can indulge dog-whistle speeches and dog-whistle ads attacking Barack Obama, and the media not only ignore the racially incendiary nature of it all, but find ways to repeat them relentlessly.

Because, of course, all race-baiting and dog-whistle tactics have a certain surface deniability that most people can see right through (which is kind of the point of all the winking and nudging). For some reason, the media are refusing to do so. And the longer it goes on, the deeper the shit is going to get.

The Progress Report has more.