He’s a radio commentator who’s an entertainer. An entertainer who is a super-salesman. A salesman who ridicules and promotes hate. Making the front page of the February 8, 2009, Los Angeles Times was the man who is all those things rolled into one larger-than-life personality: Rush Limbaugh.
And, he’s gaining even more notoriety.
Now he’s the self-described “last man standing” of the currently rudderless GOP (with all due respect to Michael Steele the new RNC Chair). He’s also an arrested, thrice-divorced, painkiller expert who appeals to conservative Christian listeners. (In 2003, Limbaugh acknowledged a painkiller addiction and was arrested for prescription fraud. Charges were dropped when he underwent treatment. Limbaugh’s third wedding was performed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Hey, ladies, just to put the record straight, little Rushie, son of Millie Armstrong of Searcy, Arkansas, and Rush Hudson Limbaugh, Jr. of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is available!)
And who says conservatives and evangelicals are narrow-minded?
Burnishing Limbaugh’s celebrity was President Obama’s recent remark that, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” This in reference to the stimulus package that he had sent to Congress which the Republicans immediately seized upon as a far-left Liberal spending spree, taking their cues from Rush. According to Times reporters Faye Fiore and Mark Barabak, “The radio host happily responded on his next program. ‘I am Rush Limbaugh, the man President Obama has instructed you not to listen to!’ he crowed, adding to a long list of self-appellations that includes America’s Truth Detector; Doctor of Democracy; Most Dangerous Man in America; and All-Knowing, All-Sensing, All-Everything Maha Rushie.”
With an arrest record and a radio contract of $400 million, Rush joins Paris, Lindsay, and Brittany as America’s most pampered and over-exposed celebrities.
Was Obama’s singling out of Limbaugh a good strategy? Well, our President is certainly not alone. According to Fiore and Barabak, “Some Republicans worry that the 58-year-old AM radio icon, highly effective at rallying disenchanted conservatives, may be turning off the less ideological voters whom Republicans need if they hope to again become a majority party. To some, Limbaugh crossed a line when he recently rooted for Obama’s downfall. Asked along with other prominent political types to write 400 words on his hopes for the president, Limbaugh said: ‘I don’t need 400 words. I need four: I hope he fails.’”
All of this is just daily grist for Limbaugh who began his career in radio as a teenager in 1967 in his hometown of Cape Girardeau, using the name Rusty Sharpe. In 1988, Rush was well-established and when the Republican Party won control of Congress in 1994, one of the first acts by many freshmen was to award Limbaugh the title of “honorary member of Congress” in recognition of his support of their efforts to take control of Congress. What followed was a Limbaugh induced ideology gridlock brought to fruition by Newt Gingrich & Co.
But as it is with some, Limbaugh the super-salesman, with his eye finely tuned to the his bottom line, honed his skills and built his reputation on the backs of feminists, blacks, gay men and lesbians.
Rush told Media Week during a lengthy interview, “At the time we went out in 1988, network radio was an impressions buy. I was instantly tagged with the controversial label, and advertisers like Kraft and General Motors wouldn’t have anything to do with me. We had to go out and find advertisers who were fearless, young entrepreneurs, companies that had never been on radio. And they had to be products I believed in and used. That was the case for the first 9 to 10 years, because companies don’t want to deal with one complaint letter.”
However, GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was listening – and taking notes – tracking Rush from his early years to the run-up to the 1994 Congressional elections. According to Fiore and Barabak, “In 1994, Rush Limbaugh was a field marshal in the Republican revolution, rallying troops fervid in their passion, armed with a change agenda and determined to shake Washington upside down.
GLAAD reported that the July/August ’94 issue of EXTRA, the magazine of the media watch dog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), was hot on Limbaugh’s trail and that their study “Reign of Error,” “clearly demonstrates Limbaugh’s ignorance and/or dishonesty on…AIDS to ozone…Limbaugh seems to be able to dissemble and disinform on virtually any subject.” Documented was Limbaugh’s error-filled monologues including such statements as praising United States Senator Strom Thurmond for calling a gay soldier “not normal.” Also, “He’s not encumbered by being politically correct…If you want to know what America used to be – and a lot of people wish it still were – then you listen to Strom Thurmond.” (The reality is, “In the America that ‘used to be,’ Strom Thurmond was one of the country’s strongest voices for racism, running for President in 1948 on the slogan, ‘Segregation Forever.’”) Says Limbaugh, “Women were doing quite well in this country before feminism came along.” (The reality: “Before feminism, women couldn’t even vote.”)
GLAAD also noted Limbaugh’s wide dissemination of the word “Feminazi,” referring to feminists and “lesbian spearchucker,” a term originated by former Orange County Congressman Robert Dornan. (Dornan subbed for Limbaugh on his radio program.) On President Clinton, Rush said, “Never trust a draft dodger.” (In reality, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that “Although a supporter of the Vietnam War, Limbaugh used a minor physical impairment to avoid the draft.”) The Star also quoted Rush, “When a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it’s an invitation.” And, in the same publication, “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.”
In 1994, Limbaugh tried to move to television. Multimedia Entertainment, a prominent television syndicator, announced that its “Rush Limbaugh Show” is jumping in Los Angeles from KCOP-TV to Disney-owned KCAL-TV. GLAAD immediately publicized that announcement and in a story titled “The Lyin’ King,” encouraged it’s membership to contact Disney, Multimedia Entertainment and KCAL-TV. (The title was a take-off on the 1994 Disney super movie “The Lion King.”) GLAAD wrote Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, “…protesting any Disney connection to the hate-mongering Limbaugh. Limbaugh has failed to prove himself a conscientious, informed commentator; his diatribes laced with hate and ridicule – aimed at targets like gay people, feminists and environmentalists – serve only to spur greater intolerance and prejudice.”
Limbaugh’s attempts at TV failed, whether he was a commentator or hosting his own show, Limbaugh’s hate-filled monologues wouldn’t translate to TV. In 2000, FAIR’s Steve Rendall and FAIR founder Jeff Cohen wrote “The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error” when Limbaugh was being considered as an addition to ABC’s Monday Night Football. Limbaugh was ultimately rejected for the job.
Now, in 2009, 15 years after the 1994 conservative success, the Republicans are lost in the wilderness but Limbaugh has soared to new heights. Perhaps now, after sucking the life out of the Republicans, Rush will be turning his attention to the rest of us.