Back in 1987 Sacramento I had my own indoor half-court basketball gym and after shooting and exercising for about an hour in late afternoons I’d often relax in the living room, drinking cold water and watching the news. I preferred national reports but sometimes turned to local news and noted this mid-thirties guy with a big voice and more than three hundred pounds on his face and frame. Twice weekly he debated the short and slender mayor of Davis.
The big guy was a local radio talk show host. I’d never heard of Rush Limbaugh but quickly learned he was a dynamic fellow who liked to insult people. I remember one show he told the gentlemanly mayor, “You’re a wimp. All my friends say you’re a wimp. What am I doing debating a guy like you?”
Three years earlier Sacramento had represented a major promotion into a larger market but Rush now considered himself “a whale in a bathtub” and, after two decades of itinerant struggle to become a radio star, had only one more year in purgatory before being offered a syndicated show in New York where he immediately enchanted conservative listeners around the nation while building an audience that would swell to more than fifteen million and extend his social and political influence far beyond the radio waves. I bet at least ten percent of his listeners were liberals. That’s how they knew they hated him. They sought his eruptions hundreds of times, if only for a few minutes. That was sufficient a sufficient dose of his charisma, a gift he wielded like no one in radio or anywhere else in the media.
Bigots thought a guy that famous must be right when he called ambitious women feminazis and a woman seeking subsidized birth control a whore and said a black quarterback was overrated because the NFL was “desirous” of blacks being successful in that quintessential role. The Dittoheads smiled crookedly when, before Barack Obama even took office, Rush christened the financial catastrophe, wrought by George W. Bush and his minions, “The Obama Recession.” That’s not conservatism. That’s bullshit. Rush Limbaugh believed much of what he said, though historians will likely determine, after hundreds of thousands of interviews, that he often knowingly passed gas simply to rouse an audience comprised by the sort who invade the nation’s capital as an expression of manly virtue.
Even after his personal difficulties with hearing loss and abuse of prescription pain medication and the associated arrest and mandatory rehabilitation and even during his final battle with lung cancer, Rush Limbaugh endured to sing the same tunes and sing them well right through the final concert, two weeks before his passing.
Notes – However people feel about him, they’ll never forget Rush Limbaugh. This evening I had to Google “list of mayors of Davis” in order to recall, if I ever knew, the name of his rhetorical opponent on TV in Sacramento. It’s David Rosenberg, and he excelled on the city council in the university town west of the capital, twice serving as mayor, running a law practice for twenty years, working as a senior advisor to two Democratic governors, and spending most of this century as a superior court judge who’s still pounding the gavel at age seventy-four. I remember an articulate and gentle man, and on YouTube I see he’s still that way. But he was in the wrong tub, crushed by the whale.
Other Stories About Rush Limbaugh – I occasionally fuse news and fiction when writing tales, and here are two about El Rushbo from my collection Obama on Edge.
Rush Limbaugh’s Stunning Statement
I know many Americans consider me a bloated blabbermouth who scorches airwaves with bigoted and polarizing statements. That impression was strengthened a few days ago when, responding to Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, I fired an email declaring I was going to check if Powell had ever backed an inexperienced white liberal. I have decided to forgo that petty effort and instead make a confession: I’m much too attuned to the currents of history to still be unequivocally conservative. I am, most essentially, a front-runner in masquerade. Last year I was bashing John McCain while Colin Powell handed him a maximum donation. Then, as McCain became evermore intolerant and aggressive, I began to embrace him. I did so for my listeners. They are my base, my ego, my fortune. They’re my life, and to satisfy them I’ve insulted Mexicans and blacks and especially liberals with statements from valid to absurd, and I’ve cared not which.
At this pivotal time in our history, however, even the eternally petulant must be resolved to change. By that I do not propose to risk losing the attention I crave more than any opiate. But I do promise to risk changing my constituency. Ronald Reagan did so as did John Connally and Joe Liebermann, moving left to right in pursuit of ideological nourishment. I, clearly, can go no further right without appearing a jackass in jackboots. Let me therefore hasten to pronounce: I contemplate no such shift.
As I today annotate the considered prose from Colin Powell last week, I fear – no, I delight – that I’m having an epiphany. General Powell impresses me with his concern about the growing stridency of the Republican party and demagogues like me. I too am worried about my tone. In solitary hours harsh whispers and echoes pound me like a boxer hit in the head.
In pain I am open to Powell’s assessment that at the onset of financial chaos it was Barack Obama who “displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge.” And it was John McCain who seemed “a little unsure as to how to deal with the economic problems…”
Yes, General Powell, our Republican comrades have “become narrower and narrower” while Obama is “crossing lines – ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines. He’s thinking all villages have values…not just small (red) towns…”
You are also correct, Mr. Secretary, there’s nothing bad about being a Muslim in the United States. Why, indeed, can’t a Muslim child strive to someday become president? I was particularly moved by your evocation of an American grave. The dead man had won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star and died at age twenty in Iraq and on his tombstone there shone not a Christian cross or the Star of David but a “crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.”
That is America, the most prolific melting pot in history. It is all of us. We must emphasize that more often. The man who can best inspire us to do so is Barack Obama. For him I shall vote for president.
Limbaugh Offers Tips to Obama
Folks, I’m not a traitor to conservatism, I’m an American patriot and proud to tell you that if President Barack Obama secretly whisked me to the White House and admitted he’d given an excuse-ridden and “embarrassing” speech at the Democratic National Convention, and that he was doomed to become another one-term Jimmy Carter unless he immediately responded to my counsel, I would agree on condition that within forty-eight hours we release a video of my design. This celluloid tour de force would be received and vastly covered as news, rather than free advertising, and help us overcome the loaded wallets of Mitt Romney’s backers
A transcript of my proposed video follows:
Rush Limbaugh – Mr. President, I did not mean that Sandra Fluke was literally a slut because she wanted government-funded birth control.
Barack Obama – I understand that, Rush. If she wants to light up the sheets, she and her many male companions should reach for their wallets.
RL – I think real women appreciate your position since most currently pay for their contraceptives or insist that their lawful husbands practice coitus interruptus.
BO – That’s right. We must rid our national psyche of this notion that government, and particularly welfare, can take care of matters that beef-eating, entrepreneurial Americans should handle themselves.
RL – I know you believed that your stimulus packages and other economic efforts saved the country from an even greater fiscal calamity, but aren’t you ready to admit you could’ve responded more effectively?
BO – I am, indeed. Though I still believe in my deft efforts to stimulate, I’ve recently concluded that tax cuts even deeper than those already in place, and named after my honorable predecessor, George W. Bush, would’ve invigorated the economy by encouraging our wealthiest citizens to invest their tax bounty in jobs-producing endeavors. Then we could’ve begun to lower the deficit that was created by those who cater to freeloaders.
RL – The highlight of your convention speech occurred when you vowed to maintain the United States military as the mightiest arsenal in the history of mankind.
BO – That I shall certainly do. I plan to continue attacking Al Qaeda all over the world and to kick ass in Afghanistan two more years and bombard Iran if they don’t unequivocally destroy their nuclear weapons. I’d also like to return to a Cold War standoff with the Russians to ensure they don’t try to regain their Soviet empire. I know I said otherwise at the convention, but that was for weak-kneed liberals.
RL – The libs will have to stick with you.
BO – I just pray, several times a day, but not pointed toward Mecca, that conservatives will quit calling me a traitor and the enemy and give me four more years.
RL – Are you prepared to state that life begins at conception and to fight to overturn Roe v. Wade.
BO – I’m ready to concede that a fetus is alive. Let the people and the state supreme courts decide the issue of legality.
RL – Bravo. And let the people choose their own health care providers, even in old age. Medicare’s a drag on the economy.
BO – Indeed, we must set up private accounts that motivate the most talented doctors, for the most generous fees, to minister to our seniors. We’re a nation of strivers and dreamers and risk-takers, and need that competitive spirit in health care as well as education and government, which not only can’t solve all our problems but, as President Ronald Reagan said, is in fact the problem.
RL – So you no longer believe that citizenship is some namby-pamby process of diffident people clinging to each other while preaching they’re doing so for future generations.
BO – Certainly not. United States citizenship is about owning a gun, starting a business, hiring people, firing people, making more money, being in a sacred union between a man and a woman, going to church where there’s a patriotic pastor, and always backing any president who says we’ve got to attack the enemy. That’s why we’re the greatest nation on earth. God bless you, Rush, and may God bless these United States of America.