Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
Rush Limbaugh, that right-wing king of the airwaves, and a clown in the vaudevillian tradition, endures as a permanent scab on the American political landscape, spinning incendiary yarns, half-truths, and personal attacks. The Radio Hall of Famer has been “credited with saving AM radio,” but it is doubtful whether AM radio was worth the travesty that is The Rush Limbaugh Show, which has now aired nationally for seventeen years. Limbaugh is a long-time source of interest here at Campus Progress, and what better reason for us to revisit him than his recent plea agreement related to charges of “doctor shopping.” The AP soberly reported that Rush “received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion.” It’s an ignominious episode in a long career of hypocrisy.
But, despite the legal troubles, Rush has still found plenty of time to spew his vitriol. Taking on the Duke Lacrosse case, he characterized the alleged rape victim as a “ho.” And then, the same day he was arrested and released on bail an excruciating three hours later (we’re sure that taught him a lesson) he singled out the Center for American Progress for releasing a ‘wacko’ report stating that mobility in America isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can listen to Rush’s take here. Select soundbites: “America-in-decline is liberalism’s central tenant [sic] …For generations, liberals have wiped out achievement ideals. Well, they’re the losers, folks, and I am sick of their stupid studies.” Glad to know that a few hours in the clink didn’t slow him down one bit.
Rush Hudson Limbaugh III began his radio career as a teenager in Southeastern Missouri, debuting as Rusty Sharpe on a radio station once owned by his father. He attended Southeastern Missouri State University for one year, dropping out to pursue a career booming and bellowing against “liberal bias” in the media to add the voice of yet another angry white man to the overwhelmingly conservative domain of talk radio. After leaving college in 1972, Rush took to the airwaves as a Top 40 music disc jockey for Pittsburgh’s WIXZ and later for KQV under the name Jeff Christie. KQV was only one of a host of radio stations from which Rush would be fired over the course of his career (KGMO, KQV, WXYZ, KUDL, KFIX, KMBZ). According to peers, Rush was snobby, and was fired for what would later become acceptable and much-celebrated by his avid fans: political commentary rife with personal attacks and outrageous statements and heated on-air arguments with callers and guests, often ending in Rush cutting off anyone he disagreed with. Unfortunately, early public distaste for Limbaugh’s obnoxious style didn’t last.
In 1984 his career took off when he took his show to KFBK in Sacramento, California, where he decided he no longer needed guests, basing the show solely on his own commentary and meticulously screened calls from listeners, who seemed rarely to challenge Limbaugh’s rants. This format was just the thing to kick it up a notch for Rush, and soon after he moved to New York City, where he joined the roster at WABC (and remains today) and became syndicated in 1988.
At best, Rush dabbles in racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and, well, heartless commentary. In fact, it seems the only group that he doesn’t have a penchant for offending is his own – the cult of the angry white man. As if it wasn’t enough to have coined the derogatory term “feminazi,” Limbaugh says of feminism generally, “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream…” (Hartford Courant, 1992). Now thrice-divorced, Limbaugh’s views on marriage are not much better: "If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do what he wants to do.”
On homelessness, Limbaugh has said, “One of the things I want to do before I die is conduct the Homeless Olympics. The 10-meter Shopping Cart Relay, the Dumpster Dig, and the Hop, Skip, and Trip.” His views on homosexuality also never fail to appall. He’s said, “When a gay person turns his back on you, it’s anything but an insult – it’s an invitation. The difference between Los Angeles and yogurt is that yogurt comes with less fruit.”
Limbaugh plays hardball partisan politics, and like so many of his fellow pundits, he sticks pretty close to the conservative party line, hacking it up with the best of ‘em. He played a particularly dirty game during the Clinton years, taking aim not only at Bill Clinton, but at the entire Clinton family. He repeatedly suggested their involvement in Vince Foster’s death, sharing an unsubstantiated claim on air with thousands of listeners: "OK, folks, I think I got enough information here to tell you about the contents of this fax that I got. Brace yourselves. This fax contains information that I have just been told will appear in a newsletter to Morgan Stanley sales personnel this afternoon… What it is is a bit of news which says… there’s a Washington consulting firm that has scheduled the release of a report that will appear, it will be published, that claims that Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton, and the body was then taken to Fort Marcy Park." No such report was ever actually issued, by an investment bank’s employee newsletter or otherwise. Apparently, as vicious as his smear campaign was, it wasn’t vicious enough unless he attacked a unwitting child, showing a picture of 13-year-old Chelsea on his television show, and announcing it was a photograph of “the White House dog.” On a separate occasion, Limbaugh put up a picture of Labor Secretary Robert Reich that showed him from the forehead up, clearly attempting to make fun of Reich’s height. Reich’s height (he is in fact quite short) is a result of a bone disease he had as a child. Subtle. Classy. Limbaugh.
Although widely-discussed for over 13 years, conservatives have recently begun claiming Limbaugh’s 1993 attack on Chelsea Clinton was fake, citing as their evidence a portion of a transcript circulated online of a show from a year earlier where Limbaugh… attacked Chelsea Clinton, this time by comparing her to a different dog, Millie, owned by then-President George H.W. Bush. Limbaugh half-heartedly “apologized” on his show for that incident four days later, saying among other things “I mean, [Chelsea] can’t control the way she looks” and claiming the airing of her picture with Millie was inadvertent. Limbaugh himself has never refuted, nor challenged, either of the two quotes- nor has he ever explained if the incidents were a mistake, why he didn’t just edit them out of his pre-taped television shows.
Controversy seems to tail Limbaugh everywhere he goes, or perhaps he chases it. Not one week after leaving ESPN, the National Enquirer reported that Limbaugh was under investigation for illegally purchasing prescription painkillers, including OxyContin, Lorcet, and hydrocodone, after Limbaugh’s former housekeeper went to the authorities. A week later, Limbaugh told his listeners that he was a prescription drug addict and would enter treatment. Far be it from Limbaugh to make excuses or seek sympathy – he said, "I am not making any excuses. You know, over the years, athletes and celebrities have emerged from treatment centers to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons. They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model. I refuse to let anyone think I am doing something great here, when there are people you never hear about, who face long odds and never resort to such escapes."
Touching statement, and though we at Campus Progress view drug addiction as a very serious problem, we can’t help but be reminded of Rush’s previous quotes about drug use. Apparently, Limbaugh’s recognition of these “demons” came only when he needed a way to rationalize his addiction. When it came to others, he repeatedly condemned drug abusers and alcoholics: “We have alcoholics and drug addicts in our society, don’t we? And what do we say about them? ‘Well, they can’t help it. Why, it’s genetic. Why, they have a disease. Why, put one thimbleful of scotch in front of them and they can die.’ We totally exempt them from any control over their lives, do we not? Some athlete will spend two years snorting lines of coke. ‘He can’t help it. You know, it’s – it’s just – it’s not – it’s – it’s genetic. These people – they’re predisposed to having this addictive syndrome. They – they can’t help.’ Yeah, like that line of cocaine just happened to march into the hotel, go up to the athlete’s room and put itself right there in front of him on his blotter.”
Limbaugh’s advice about how to solve the problem of addiction plaguing this country? “…Send the people who want to do drugs to London and Zurich, and let’s be rid of them.” Though Limbaugh did send himself to rehab, he has yet to send himself overseas so that the rest of us might be rid of him. But fear not, upon his return Limbaugh reassured his listeners that he had not turned into a “linguini-spined liberal” in the five weeks he was gone and his stint proved to be far from a fall from grace in the eyes of his listeners. They stood behind him despite the alarming hypocrisy of his personal life.
It’s not just Limbaugh’s personal life that is mired in controversy. The Rush Limbaugh Showhas been at the heart of scandal itself. The group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) issued a report detailing 43 errors Limbaugh made during various radio shows. After several rounds of rebuttals, FAIR finally released a book chronicling over a hundred such errors. As Al Franken said at the 1994 White House Correspondents Dinner, “Most of us here in the media are what I consider infotainers…. Rush Limbaugh is what I call a disinfotainer. He entertains by spreading disinformation.” So outraged was Franken at Limbaugh’s disinfotainment, that he dedicated a whole book to uncovering it in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.
The Rush Limbaugh Show has been the most popular talk radio show for the last 15 years. Indeed, his fans are so dedicated that they call themselves “dittoheads” to show their support for whatever the hell comes out of his mouth. In an attempt to appeal to the arch-conservative component of his party, former President George H. W. Bush went on the show several times over the course of his reelection campaign. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also both made appearances on the show.
Limbaugh aired two advertisements parodying Democratic opposition to then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and the recent Karl Rove scandal without informing viewers that they were fake ads. Many viewers called in believing that the ads were in fact real ads paid for by George Soros (which is how Limbaugh originally introduced them). After significant pressure from Media Matters for America, Limbaugh finally issued a statement reminding viewers that the ads were in fact parodies.
The twelve months since our last Rush bio update have proven to be another banner year for Limbaugh, as he has negotiated some of conservatism’s recent obstacles—the consensus on global warming, the midterm election defeats—with all the grace of a drug-addled rhino. Rush has always been critical of environmentalism, so it was no surprise when he discounted scientists’ consensus about our role in global warming as “organized around a political proposition.” Nor was it particularly uncharacteristic for him to blame the inability to save New Orleans from Katrina on “unchecked liberalism,” even nine months after the fact. But during the run-up to the 2006 Congressional elections, Limbaugh distinguished himself as a harbinger of new era of classless public discourse, when he questioned whether Michael J. Fox was “faking” the effects of his Parkinson’s disease in a campaign ad for Missouri Democratic candidate for Senate, Claire McCaskill. “He is exaggerating the effects of the disease,” Limbaugh asserted, with all the authority of a certified talk radio crank. “He’s 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.” Apparently Limbaugh missed or didn’t give a darn about the irony that he was criticizing someone for improper use of prescription drugs.
The early activity of the 2008 presidential race has provided Rush with a new array of targets. He continued his War on Tact by asserting that the John Edwards camp leaked news of Edwards’ wife’s breast cancer to “jump-start the campaign.” Most notable has been the “Barack the Magic Negro” affair: Originally, Rush adapted the handle for Obama from an L.A. Times article about the Illinois Senator’s socio-psychological place in the public imagination as a figure that eases white people’s fear and guilt in regard to African Americans. That intelligent essay was interpreted by Rush as “racist”— this from the man who a few weeks prior had wondered if, because Obama’s ancestors had owned slaves and Al Sharpton’s ancestors had been slaves, Obama would “own” Sharpton when elected president. But that didn’t stop Rush from perpetuating what he interpreted as the article’s main, “racist” argument—that Obama is not “authentically black”—by airing a musical parody of the Senator to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The song is sung by a cartoonish caricature of Al Sharpton.
And you can still catch Limbaugh carelessly throwing around the label of “racist” when he sees fit — most recently, he blamed criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the racism of white liberals, even though Gonzales’ incompetence has been widely denounced on both sides of the aisle.
Thanks, Rush, for twenty years dedicated to downgrading legitimate political discourse in America.
In case you still haven’t had enough of Limbaugh’s bon mots, here are a few more:(On Abu Ghraib) : “This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it, and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people. You know, if you look at—if you, really, if you look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe I’m—yeah, and get an NEA grant for something like this.” [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/3/04]
“Kurt Cobain died of a drug-induced suicide, I just – he was a worthless shred of human debris.” [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/7/04]
“We’re not sexists, we’re chauvinists – we’re male chauvinist pigs, and we’re happy to be because we think that’s what men were destined to be. We think that’s what women want.” [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 4/15/04]
“Some of these babes, I’m telling you, like the sexual harassment crowd. They’re out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes.” [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 4/26/04]
“We’re going to let you destroy your life. We’re going to make it easy and then all of us who accept the responsibilities of life and don’t destroy our lives on drugs, we’ll pay for whatever messes you get into." [The Rush Limbaugh Show, Dec. 9, 1993]
Illustration: August J. Pollak