Three hours in hell with Rush Limbaugh
"So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." - Rush Limbaugh, March 1, 2012
"Rush Limbaugh's job is to scare white men as the hop into their trucks at lunchtime." - Bill Maher, 2010
Rush Limbaugh needs no introduction, probably. He's the 61-year-old, four-times married, Florida-dwelling, multi-multi-multimillionaire conservative talkshow host who is held up as the very example of baby-boomer intolerance, repugnant misinformation and partisan rage by those who don't agree with him.
Recently, he put his foot in it, calling a women's right advocate, Sandra Fluke, a "slut" and a "prostitute" (among other tirades) for her testimony in support of mandated private health insurance coverage for contraceptives. People got mad. Sponsors of Limbaugh's show backed out.
Rush Limbaugh to me is a punchline for anyone, Republican or Democrat, with a lick of common sense. But he's a very wealthy man with a lot of listeners. And those who mock him do mostly on reputation alone. (Myself included.)
I knew what I had to do. I had to submit myself to his show. Today, I bring you a condensed version of the notes from this.
We join our blogger at midday last Friday, sitting angelically at his kitchen table, innocently sipping at a mug of coffee, fresh and satisfied from soundly beating his friend Pete at tennis.
12pm: A chunky blues guitar kicks in and a croaky movie-trailer sort of voice tells me that it's "time for some mind over chatter", coming to me from sunny South Florida (America's graveyard!).
12.05pm: Five minutes into his show, Limbaugh has leaned surprisingly heavy on braggadocio. "This programme is a benevolent dictator," he says. "There is no first amendment here, apart from me." He then announces that he takes the "greatest risk known in major media ever" through letting his listeners call in on Fridays and talk about whatever they want. I thought that that was just called talkback radio?
"I am a highly trained broadcast specialist with highly developed media instincts. My audience is not," he says.
12.17pm: Limbaugh is launching into the headlines of the day. He's taking particular umbrage at the fact that unemployment for February remained flat at 8.3 per cent but the media are still touting 227,000 added jobs as a success. "You would not believe how this is being reported," he says. To Limbaugh, this is an example of how the "state-controlled media" are "willing accomplices of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama".
He reads these headlines out, often in a petulant baby voice to convey extra-disgust, to give the appearance that this is all straight from the news. But he is ignoring an important piece of this. The unemployment rate stayed flat because the labour participation rose; there were more jobs, but more people recommenced looking for work.
There's also an early flair displayed for misusing statistics. Six hundred thousand jobs need to be added a month, we are told, to get America back to a pre-Obama unemployment rate. This tells his audience that even though 227,000 jobs were added in the month, this is not a good thing. But this statistic has no context; 600,000 jobs would get America returned to a pre-Obama employment rate by December.
12.21pm: I'm not really enjoying this, overtaken by the notion that this could be a long three hours. A few years ago now (six!) when I was the editor of Salient, a friend's father called me a "pinko-Socialist idiot", and some other names, on the basis of who my employer was. Listening to Rush reminds me of that evening.
12.22 pm: I'm very excited for an ad break, until I discover that Rush Limbaugh reads many of his own adverts.
12.28 pm: I've cracked Limbaugh's cadence, and it is easy to mimic for any of you who fancy his career. You take the thing you want to contradict, thing X, and you say: "If X is true... [here, you trail off] ...then what about Y. [Pause, and yell it out] Y!" Now you stop and break Y down by repeating it over and over and changing and distorting the language each time, becoming increasingly snarky and derisive.
12.30pm: Limbaugh's favourite game is to make constant comparisons between Obama and the Kremlin: "If our media reported on Putin this way, he'd call them up and ask them to criticise him every now and then."
12.34pm: Coming back from the second ad break Limbaugh tells us that he is "serving humanity, just by showing up". This is uttered after a break to the tune of T. Rex's Get It On, which may now be forever ruined for me.
12.40pm: The stimulus, Limbaugh tells us, cost $1 trillion to lose 300,000 jobs. This is boneheaded economic analysis, with no reference to the severe and crippling recession that the stimulus helped blunt. The number of jobs Limbaugh cites that the economy needs to add to get back to pre-Obama levels is slowly increasing. It was six million, now it's shifted up to 10 million. He then segues seamlessly from this into flatulently yelling about the electric car and the Democratic agenda against the Thomas Edison-designed lightbulb.
12.52pm: Irene from South Carolina, a charming caller who is "so frustrated I can't see straight", offers us our first break from nearly 50 minutes of straight aggression on the liberal media and the crippled economy. Irene has rung to tell us, from what I can gather, that CNN's Soledad O'Brien makes her sick.
12.59pm: The station likes to play adverts for other talkshows in the ad break, complete with the most vitriolic few seconds it can find to lure listeners in. I've never heard of Jay Severin but he sounds like a prince! The Obamas, he says, "are hypocrites and they're Marxists and I despise them!"
1.08pm: For the one-millionth time in 68 minutes, we're told that Rush Limbaugh is a man of the people (this guy hustles like a rapper, I tell you).
1.10pm: The fact that Obama's energy secretary doesn't drive a car is disgusting, Limbaugh says. He then moves into reciting Democratic positions on pollution and the military in his petulant baby voice.
1.12 pm: Limbaugh has now launched into a stinging attack on how the Obama "regime" wants Americans to pay $50 for a lightbulb and thinks that everyone should drive $50,000 electric cars that can only go 40 miles on a charge. Neither of which is true. The $50 lightbulb was commissioned as part of a competition held by the government; it has the lifespan of thirty $1 bulbs and can save $150 or so in electricity while it's in operation. I can't find a source for the electric car statistic. It's classic Limbaugh though, drawing in on one fact hysterically and repeatedly, and using it completely out of context.
1.14 pm: The polar-bear population is skyrocketing out of sight, apparently, but you won't hear that in the mainstream media. "No way that human beings can affect the climate," Limbaugh says.
1.36 pm: Limbaugh references the Sandra Fluke controversy for the first time. He calls the comments he made an example of him descending to a Democratic level. "I apologised for behaving like a liberal," he says.
2.06 pm: The last hour, more or less, has been spent circling around the lightbulb issue. I find myself agitated. My leg is shaking. Is rage contagious?
2.13 pm: Limbaugh references a report from the National Centre for Health Statistics, and then spends a minute or two just yelling out its name out over and over.
2.16 pm: "There are homeless people having sex... probably getting contraceptives..."
2.18 pm: I'd compare the show at this point to a seething whirlpool of anger that gains speed with each ignorant comment. Limbaugh does this thing where he loops back in references to previous subjects of outrage at the end of new subjects of outrage, increasingly out of context. It has a weird, hysterical, fortifying effect.
2.19 pm: Limbaugh compares the new Davis Guggenheim-directed Obama documentary to Goebbels.
2.19 pm: Limbaugh admits to listening to himself. "You get to experience the greatest thing ever, listening to me, it's one of life's pleasures I don't get to do."
2.21 pm: Great! We're off Obama finally and on to passive aggressive discussion of Mitt Romney.
2.32 pm: An ad for Jeff Katz tells us that, "Obama seeks to emasculate the military by advocating for Nato approval of military actions."
2.43 pm: Jim Nantz and Ernie Els are both advertising separate foundations of theirs in the ad breaks. Which leads me to a disturbing connection. Golf broadcasts in the USA are filled with ads for erectile dysfunction medicine. The Limbaugh show is filled with golf voices. I think the sexual proclivities and voting habits of American golfers are starting to emerge.
2.44 pm: Sixteen.... minutes.... left... I'm now washing the dishes and listening, as I need something to do with my hands.
2.56 pm: Limbaugh finishes by reminding us that the American left has no moral core. I repeat, again, that Rush Limbaugh has been married four times.
I've always enjoyed subjecting myself to strange things so I can write about them. Even something completely outside of my wheelhouse almost always has the capacity to be enlightening in a nice way.
Limbaugh's show is bloated and vengeful. It is crass and riddled with inaccuracies. It is the equivalent of getting yelled at, rather skilfully, by a man who has worked out how to manipulate the impressionable.
I would say this: to me, Limbaugh is symbolic of a portion of American society that is vocal, angry and fearful, incapable of moving to the centre, but not statistically significant enough to win over anyone in the centre.
This blog was like opening a door into something I always figured was there, but I'm not sure I really needed to see. Now I have, it unsettles me to think of Limbaugh railing away forever more like some out of control whoopee cushion: about how women have it easy, how liberals are evil and stupid, and young people are educated but not necessarily intelligent.
Even if I think in reality that Limbaugh's sentiments make him far more rich, than influential.
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