A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Limbaugh thought of President George H.W. Bush as "a pretty, country club moderate, an Ivy league snob." The full quote from the book "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One" should have read "Bush struck him as a preppy, country club moderate, an Ivy League snob." The review also omitted the word "become" in a statement by Limbaugh quoted in the book. The sentence should have read "I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement."
Zev Chafets's 'Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One,' reviewed by David Frum
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
An Army of One
By Zev Chafets
Sentinel. 229 pp. $25.95
"Every great man has his disciples," quipped Oscar Wilde. "And it is always Judas who writes the biography."
Not so for Rush Limbaugh. Biographer Zev Chafets received unprecedented access to the broadcaster, and he has more than kept faith with his subject: "I relished his bravado, laughed at his outrageous satire, and admired his willingness to go against the intellectual grain."
There are no scandalous disclosures here, no unearthing of long-concealed secrets. The book originated as a New York Times Magazine profile, and even plussed-up to more than 200 pages, a profile it remains. It was embargoed to protect one mild-to-medium anecdote: When invited to play golf with Limbaugh, President Obama supposedly answered, "Limbaugh can play with himself."
Otherwise, the story is the familiar one: origins in the gentry of Cape Girardeau, Mo.; the early struggles for radio success; the switch to political monologue in Sacramento in the 1980s; the move to New York City in 1988; the explosive success of the now-national program; three marriages with a fourth on the way; the struggle with drug addiction and subsequent hearing loss; the amazing recovery and his starring role in the opposition to Obama.
So what, if anything, is new and interesting in Chafets's long-form treatment?
For one, Chafets exposes some disconnects between Limbaugh's private life and public presence. Chafets has seen more of the pundit's personal world than any other journalist, and reveals some distinctly grandiose tastes in this self-imagined tribune of Middle America.
"Largely decorated by Limbaugh himself, [his Palm Beach house] reflects the things and places he has seen and admired. A massive chandelier in the dining room, for example, is a replica of the one that hung in the lobby of New York's Plaza Hotel. The vast salon is meant to suggest Versailles. The main guest suite, which I didn't visit, is an exact replica of the Presidential Suite at the Hotel George V in Paris. There is a full suit of armor on display, as well as a life-size oil painting of El Rushbo. Fragrant candles burned throughout the house, a daily home-from-the-wars ritual."
There is a great deal more in this vein, and not a syllable of it is meant mockingly. Yet Chafets also writes the following, with equal non-irony: "Rush wasn't enthusiastic [about the reelection bid of George H.W. Bush]. Bush struck him as a preppy, country club moderate, an Ivy League snob."