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After Delacorte asked me to write a book on politics, my very first creative act was coming up with the title, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations." I thought the title, aside from the obvious advantage of being personally offensive to Limbaugh, would sell books. Let me explain why: It makes fun of Rush Limbaugh by pointing out that he is a big lardbutt.
Confident that I was now on my way to a bestseller, I took some time off and went to Florida with my wife and kids. But when I returned and sat down to work, it became immediately apparent that the "title tail" was going to wag the "content dog." That is to say, I'd actually have to write about Rush Limbaugh.
Which, of course, meant I'd have to listen to him on radio, read his books, and watch his TV show. "How much am I getting paid for this?" I asked myself.
I was not, after all, totally unfamiliar with Limbaugh. He is the king of talk radio, with an estimated twenty million listeners in a given week. I had been one of those twenty million a while back, listening to him spew about "feminazis" and their "women-as-victim" ideas. Limbaugh was railing about how feminists believe that all heterosexual sex is rape, which, I admit, is a belief that's very hard to defend. The thing is, though, I know a lot of women, almost all of whom consider themselves feminists, and I know only one who actually holds this belief. And we've been married nearly twenty years.
Limbaugh expanded . . . to TV a few years back, and I had seen his show a number of times. It's been a considerable success, though I think it was ultimately a terrible mistake for Limbaugh because we finally got to see his audience. During the shows I watched, Limbaugh presented, in a deliberately misleading way, disinformation that was devoured whole by a studio audience of rabid--but extraordinarily straightlaced--right-wing yahoos. These are the fans who voluntarily-hell, gleefully-call themselves "dittoheads" in honor of their ability to blindly and uncritically agree with everything that comes out of Limbaugh's mouth.
The first time I watched the show was in October, 1992, about a month before the election. President Bush had been on Larry King Live the night before, and during the interview Bush had said that he was bothered by Clinton's actions during the Vietnam War: "Maybe I'm old-fashioned, Larry," he said. "But to go to a foreign country and demonstrate against your own country, when your sons and daughters are dying halfway around the world? I'm sorry, I--I just don't like it. I think it is wrong." To anybody watching Larry King, as I happened to be, it was an attack on Clinton's patriotism, and the next day several newspapers ran headlines saying as much.
So Rush shows this headline from the New York Times that reads: BUSH ASSAILS CLINTON'S PATRIOTISM DURING VIETNAM WAR PROTEST ERA. Then he starts whining about the liberal media. "He didn't assail Clinton's patriotism. . . . Now let's roll Bush on Laity King Live last night, and you be the judge. Did he attack Governor Clinton's patriotism here?"
Then he runs a twenty-second clip from a totally different part of the interview. Limbaugh comes back: "I didn't hear one assault on patriotism. I didn't hear one word or syllable questioning Bill Clinton's patriotism. . . . We'll be back in just a moment." Cut to: a hundred and twenty idiots in bad suits applauding wildly.
Subsequent viewings pretty much confirmed that the point of Rush's show is to punish you for actually knowing anything.
Back to my still-unwritten book. Catchy title in hand, I braced myself for an entire season of such punishment. I would spend the summer absorbing Limbaugh-three hours a day, five day-s a week, listening to conservatism's most powerful (not to mention obnoxious) voice. I am, after all, a professional.
Rush Limbaugh, Radio Icon and Staunch Defender of
Constitutional Rights for Neckwear
Spring 1995. I go to the Wiz and buy a boom box for my office at home. I pour a fresh glass of iced tea, settle into a comfortable chair, flip on WABC, and tune in to the first installment of what will be approximately one hundred and eighty hours of listening pleasure. And at 12:15, Rush is peeved:
Let me give you another example here of the press. This may be as good as an example as I could cite to show you how it is that the left has stereotypes. Now you people all know that I have introduced a new line of neckwear, commonly known as ties. And that I have, right now, we've got four styles, four designs that are out there, and we are always working on more. . . .
I was about to learn that the liberal media had deliberately misrepresented his mail-order tie collection:
. . . So I'm at the United Press International wire and I'm, reading the People section and there's a story there about the new Rush Limbaugh No Boundaries tie collection, and would you like to hear it described? "Limbaugh's ties are as conservative as he is. Blue, white, red, and gray stripes." My friends. The last thing my ties are is conservative. That's why we're calling it No Boundaries! These are . . . the last thing in the world these ties would be described as would be conservative. There's not one stripe! On any of the ties! . . .
And he won't stop. He's just going on and on about these ties. So I flip around the dial, catch an inning of the Mets game, and then come back to Rush. And his brutally defamed ties:
. . . I mean, that is another example of the stereo types that the left, and I am including the press in this, have about conservatives. . . . It was my wife Marta who came up with the whole concept, to tell you the truth, of No Boundaries. And she said no themes on these ties, no ties to issues, no ties to politics . . . These are going to be gorgeous, beautiful ties that anybody would want to wear to make themselves look better. And they are. And there's not one stripe! Not one stripe! On any tie! . . .
Time for another iced tea. I head to the kitchen, wander around the apartment a bit. Back to my office and . . . the vicious media smear campaign directed against Rush's ties:
. . . They could have called me first to ask me about it. They could have called and said, "Hey, we hear you got some new ties out; we'd like to see them; we're going to write a story." . . .
Back to the fridge. I root around for some leftovers. Make a sandwich. Read the sports page. The Twins are having a pretty tough year. Back to the ties, which--near as I can tell--have now had t!heir civil rights violated by the hounds of attack journalism:
. . . In this battle for the soul of democracy, it is more and more clear that the press, which has a designed Constitutional role, can't be trusted, cannot be counted on. My gosh, if the press, which Constitutionally is protected so as to get the truth, is this far off as often as they are, then is it any wonder that there is a new media led by me, America's truth detector? No, there's not. Quick break. Back to the phones in just a moment . . .
Only a hundred and seventy-nine hours to go. Hmmm. Maybe it would be okay if I just . . . sampled . . . the show. Every now and then.
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche--and Limbaugh
After the tie episode, I sent my research assistant Geoff to Barnes and Noble, where he found a paperback of Limbaugh's bestseller See, I Told You So.
Picking up a new book is always exciting to a curious person like myself, but I became especially jazzed by Rush's introduction: "Prepare your mind to be challenged as it has never been challenged before." Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, now Limbaugh.
By Chapter Two, I had learned the key to Limbaugh's success. "My show works because people are tired of being insulted elsewhere on the radio or TV dial. They enjoy listening to someone who respects their intelligence."
Fortunately, I was soon treated to an example of just how much respect Rush has for his readers' intelligence:
With the exception of the military, I defy you to name one government program that has worked and alleviated the problem it was created to solve. Hhhmmmmmmm? I'm waiting. . . . Time's up.
This got me thinking. Now, I'm no expert on government. And besides, I'm a liberal. So my naming ten or twenty of the hundreds of successful government programs isn't going to impress anyone. Hell, I think Rural Electrification worked! That's how big a dumbass liberal I am! So instead, I called a few bona fide conservatives and asked them to name a few:(*)
1. George F. Will (grim-faced conservative columnist)-rural Electrification, the Interstate Highway System ("the most successful public works program in the history of the world"). "The federal government has been tremendously successful in disseminating health and safety information, for example, about smoking and seat belts."
2. Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio; boyishly rugged, straight-talking chairman of the House Budget Committee)--National Institutes of Health, Youth Summer Jobs Program.
3. Rep. Bob Dornan (R-calif.; Republican candidate for president; crazy homophobe)--The F.A.A., lighthouses, federal penitentiaries ("We gotta keep those guys locked up").
4. Arianna Huffington (enigmatic, Greek-born, Cambridge-educated socialite; conservative commentator; fund-raiser for Newt Gingrich; wife of unsuccessful California Senate candidate Michael Huffington)--The National Park System, guaranteed student loans, aid to Greece.
5. Ben Stein (conservative columnist for the American Spectator; former Nixon speechwriter; noted character actor, famous for role as the "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller" teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off)-social Security. Medicare. Head Start. Food Stamps. "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is the most wildly successful government program in the history of man."
6. Richard Viguerie (former publisher the Conservative Digest, archconservative direct-mail pioneer)--Public libraries, the F.B.I., the G.I. Bill.
So, is Limbaugh that out of touch with conservatives like Will, Kasich, and Dornan? Or does he just take his readers to be complete morons? Hhhmmmmmmm? I'm waiting. . . . Time's up!
Didiots-Limbaugh's Legion of Fans
Now, am I saying that dittoheads are ignoramuses? No. I don't need to. Listen to Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania:
We just concluded a study of 360 people, whom we watched watch the health care reform debate for nine months. And at the end of that period, we took the people who said they relied on talk radio, and by this, we mean primarily Rush Limbaugh. . . . And we asked them how well informed they felt. . . .Of all the people we watched, they said they were the best informed. And of all the people we watched, they were the least informed.
What a surprise, huh? Limbaugh listeners thought they were the best informed, and yet were the least informed.
How is such a thing even measured? Well, like all the other people studied, talk radio listeners were asked questions of "objective fact" such as: "Which groups (the elderly, poor, middle class, etc. "are most likely to be uninsured?" The Limbaugh listeners were "highly likely" to give an incorrect answer such as "the elderly" who, of course, are all covered by Medicare.
But why would people so woefully lacking in the basic facts of an issue think they were the best informed? Social scientists call the phenomenon "pseudo-certainty." I call it "being a fucking moron."(*)
Limbaugh and Women--A Pathetic Story
It's safe to say that most of Limbaugh's fact-challenged dittoheads are men. Limbaugh has tapped into the resentments of "the angry white male," which are quite legitimate. I mean, if you think about it, what chance for advancement have white men really had in this country?
Limbaugh, himself, seems to have a problem with women. He has been married three times. Personally, I am not one for psychoanalyzing public figures. I wouldn't, for example, attempt to create a psychological construct to explain why a desperately insecure man would weigh three hundred pounds and have difficulty sustaining intimate relationships. Psychobabble mumbo jumbo doesn't interest me, and I would never suggest that a difficult separation from the primary love object at an early age might cause a man to hate women and look to food as a substitute for the mother's teat. Instead I thought it might be fun (after all, that's what this is about), to juxtapose some of Rush's own words with those of people who know him. (I saw some of this stuff on Frontline.)
Rush: Feminism was established so that unattractive, ugly women could have easy access to the mainstream of society.
Millie Limbaugh, Mother: No. He did not date in high school.
Rush: If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do what he wants to do.
David Limbaugh, Brother: I don't think he would have chosen to break up either marriage. I think it was the choice of both of his ex-wives. . . . Women, especially young women, don't want guys to be sedentary.
Rush (Writing to a woman on E-mail): I remain in an interminable funk, no end in sight-listless, uninspired, and self-flagellating.
Hazel Staloff (Thee woman): I thought, "What a sad thing to write, and to write to somebody you didn't even know." Later I came to realize that it was probably his way of trying to attract a woman. You know, for a woman to read, "Rush has no friends" and for her to respond, "Let me make it better for you."
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