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America’s Sweetheart

The Way Things Ought To Be

by Rush Limbaugh
Pocket Books, 315 pp., $6.99 (paper)

See, I Told You So

by Rush H. Limbaugh III
Pocket Books, 364 pp., $24.00

Rush!

by Michael Arkush
Avon Books, 233 pp., $4.99 (paper)

The Rush Limbaugh Story: Talent on Loan from God—An Unauthorized Biography

by Paul D. Colford
St. Martin’s, 303 pp., $5.99 (paper)

1.

For the past two years, Rush Limbaugh III has done more to shape the tone of national political discussion than any member of the House and Senate, than any cabinet level appointee, than the chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican parties or the anchors of the major network news broadcasts.

Limbaugh has achieved this primarily through radio, an almost moribund industry which Limbaugh, and a few of his competitors, have infused with new energy and cash. Capitalizing on the low costs of satellite transmission and on the availability of huge numbers of AM stations wasting away in city after city, Limbaugh has, more than anyone else, been able to convert the specialized and geographically constricted field of talk radio into a national, syndicated marketplace, altering the competitive pattern of radio stations in hundreds of urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Satellite communications have made it possible for individual stations, unable to afford the high costs of producing their own talk shows, to pick and choose from a range of syndicated programs. The AM stations are often appendages to more profitable FM outlets, coasting on marginal profits from advertising directed to a tiny fraction of the population. Limbaugh has been the driving force in turning a sluggish market into a profit bonanza. After years of local broadcasting in the Middle West and California, Limbaugh was able to launch his daily three-hour show nationally in 1988 from WABC in New York. It reached over a hundred stations by the end of the decade and now runs on 648 stations with an estimated audience of 20 million people who hear him at least once a week. Local stations climbing on this bandwagon have seen their ratings—and profits—shoot up.

In Seattle in 1991, radio station KVI switched from rock music to Limbaugh and other talk-show hosts; since then, the station has gone from ranking twenty-third in the regional market to fourth. Brian Jennings, KVI’s program director during the time Limbaugh was acquired, says that “we added millions of dollars” to the station’s revenues in doing so. Nationally, according to Robert Unmacht, editor of the M Street Journal, which tracks market trends and patterns in the radio industry, “We haven’t seen success like this perhaps ever.” In most markets, Limbaugh leads, “and by a long way.”

In his statements on the air, Limbaugh is a clever conservative provocateur. Buthe also fills one of the traditional, now neglected, functions of radio: he has become for many listeners a kind of companion, a person with sympathetic views and opinions on contemporary events who is there, reliably and consistently, day in, day out. In this respect, he is part of a tradition dating back to Will Rogers, to Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, or Arthur Godfrey—a tradition maintained in recent years by only one other man, Paul Harvey, who has been broadcasting for sixty-one years.

Every day, Limbaugh takes events in the day’s news and reinterprets them as part of his larger indignation over the state of American culture, individual and group rights, sexual mores, and the ground rules of capitalism and democracy. He presents the discussions over each of these issues as part of a continuing partisan struggle between a demonized Democratic liberalism and an idealized Republican conservatism. Before the election of 1992, Limbaugh devoted relatively littleof his attention to the national Democratic Party but concentrated on the more visible radical spokesmen for liberalism, including the leaders of the National Organization of Women, militant AIDS activists, and advocates for the homeless among many others. Since the 1992 election, liberalism, for Limbaugh, has been incarnated in the administration of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the political destruction of the Clintons has become his mission.

The release of the Clintons’ most recent financial disclosure statement, for example, gave Limbaugh the opportunity to bring together, in his genially contemptuous way, some of his favorite themes: an overbearing first lady, an American left determined to impose its dictatorial programs on an unwilling electorate, and an administration dominated by liberals greedy for personal gain and at the same time unable to produce prosperity for the larger society:

The President and his first lady have released their financial disclosure forms and it’s quite interesting. President Clinton’s assets were between $95,000 and $266,000, Mrs. Clinton’s holdings ranged from $516,000 to $1.05 million, because these financial disclosure forms give people a wide latitude…and Chelsea Clinton’s assets are estimated to be between $23,000 and $140,000. That’s almost as much as her dad. She’s thirteen-years-old, that’s almost as much as her dad. She’s got a hell of a babysitting business on the side going somewhere. One thing not listed here is what they’ve put in Socks’ account. I’d like to see Socks the cat’s disclosure form. Gee, these people are spreading money around like crazy. Now, how many of you when you heard about this were puzzled, or surprised, or a little bit curious about why so much money has accrued to Mrs. Clinton while relatively small amounts have accrued to the President? And many of you were stunned to see anywhere between $23,000 and $140,000 in the account of Chelsea Clinton, the first daughter.

Well, let me tell you there is a theory I’ve had for the longest time, and I think the theory is somewhat validated by the release of these figures. Let me tell you what I mean. Now, in discussing the Clinton’s arrangement, both their marriage and their political partnership, there have been many people who have fallen for what I think is something the Clintons have intended people to fall for, and that is the notion that Bill is a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, middle-of-the-road kind of a guy and that Hillary is the real leftist of the team. And they say, “Look at Bill, Bill is just out there, probably a fun guy to go to the ball game with, but you look at what Hillary is doing, she’s appointing all these left-wingers and she’s in charge of health care and she’s doing this or that.” And I have always said, “Folks don’t fall for that.” What we have there is a team and they realize what they have to do to gain the power necessary to implement their agenda and that is to get votes. They have got nothing unless they have the office of the presidency.

And let’s face it, the people of America just don’t elect liberals. Even though this nation’s agenda is being pushed every day farther to the left than it has been in decades, the fact of the matter is the people did not elect this administration on that basis. They thought they were getting a new Democrat, that they were getting a moderate, centrist sort of guy. In fact, I don’t think ideology mattered much when it came to Clinton. He was certainly not conservative, but he was more conservative than other Democrats were. And they did everything they could to hide Mrs. Clinton’s intentions. Clinton has to get the votes and I think part of the structure they created to make him electable was not just the ideology shift of him appearing to be in the center. But also money. I think that they think it’s very important for him to be able to say he doesn’t have any money, that he’s not a wealthy guy. It’s part of the way they rode into Washington, you know, on their moral white horse. They were going to clean up the ravages of greed and selfishness that they say pock-marked the Eighties. And they said, “We are not like that. We are sincere, and we care and are smarter people and we are better people and we know. And yes, maybe what we want to do has failed in other parts of the world and in this country before. But it will work this time because we are smart people, we are better people and we love you and we care about you.”

And they went on an assault against the rich, they went out on an assault against achievement. And then of course we learned that Mrs. Clinton is out there trying to earn as much money as she can, in the very way that she criticized everybody in the Eighties for trying to earn money. And she did it quite handily, turning $1,000 into $100,000. So her financial disclosure holdings are somewhere between $516,000 and $1.05 million, while her husband’s is a meager $96,000 to $266,000, when in fact it’s both of their money. In my opinion they have just got it separated this way so as to present him as someone attractive to voters. ‘Cause remember folks, you’ve got to understand politics. This is not a criticism, this is a critique, this is just an explanation of why this is.

A lot of people looking at this are going to be surprised by it, and I would maintain to you they know what they have to do to get elected, and that simply Clinton is the guy that has to get the votes. The country is not ready yet, or wasn’t, to elect a woman president. They knew that. So they have got to get themselves to Washington to get their agenda anywhere near the position where they can begin to implement it. So they have structured all of this to make Clinton look attractive, and part of that is to make him look like a pauper, or an average guy. And he doesn’t have a whole lot of money. He’s not a rich guy, he doesn’t belong to country clubs, his car is a Mustang, he jogs wearing sloppy old shorts, and so forth. I think it’s brilliantly structured. But I think if the truth be known, this money is theirs; they have just got it divided this way.

Limbaugh’s radio show has become increasingly dogged and humorless as it has concentrated on the Clinton administration. But he undoubtedly expresses the ideas, resentments, and suspicions of millions of Americans who also see the contemporary Democratic Party as a hostile force draining their savings through taxes, limiting their opportunities to find better jobs, and establishing an elite culture, antagonistic to their religious beliefs and sexual preferences. It is for this group that Limbaugh is not only a spokesman, but also, with his calm, almost cozy tone, a companion.

On a recent show, Limbaugh entertained his audience with commentary by a junior Republican Congressman from Ohio, John A. Boehner, who used a press report that Clinton periodically became enraged with his staff to attack the administration:

Imagine you were the President of the United States and your health-care plan was on life support; the dollar was in free fall; your staff was stealing towels and taking helicopter joy rides; 87 members of Congress demanded the resignation of your top health official; all 44 GOP senators demanded that you disavow your party’s intolerant remarks about Christian activists; Harry and Louise are back on the air; the stock market was plummeting; interest rates were going up for the fifth time since January; inflation fears have economists worried; your Supreme Court nominee Steven Breyer’s investments are under intense scrutiny; you put out the tin cup to pay for your various legal defenses; you are contemplating the invasion of a Caribbean superpower, Haiti; Korean policy was being dictated by Jimmy Carter; Paula Jones is getting play with the mainstream press; the first phase of the Whitewater investigation is coming to a close, more to come; Congressional hearings on Whitewater are coming this August; nobody has denied a single item in Bob Woodward’s book; The New York Times accuses the White House of a Whitewater cover-up, again; voters don’t know what you believe in or what you are committed to; you don’t know what you believe in or are committed to; a decade of greed is finally defined in two words, “cattle futures”; your party hasn’t won a single major election since you took office; nobody likes your welfare plan; members of your party are running from you like scalded dogs; you are Leno’s and Letterman’s number one source for material; 65 percent of the American people think the country is on the wrong track, and character does matter after all.

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