I’m going to wade into Rush, one more time — one more time, for now. I wrote about the fuss about him here. And I wrote a little more in this column, in which I talk about how painful it is when friends disagree, or are at each other’s throats.
In the course of the second column, I said, “I love David Frum, and he has long been one of my favorite people. I love Rush, too. What a stinker of a situation.” David had gone after Rush hard. And he has gone after him again, in this article, which is the cover of Newsweek.
Funny how eager publications such as Newsweek are to publish conservatives’ criticisms of conservatives! Would that they were as eager to publish conservatives’ criticisms of liberals. But that is an old, sad, irritating story. (Maybe Newsweek will invite David back to say what he thinks is wrong with Obama?)
I’d like to make just a couple of points, here on the Corner. David, speaking of Rush personally, says, “[He is] a man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as ‘losers.’ With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence . . .”
Yes, you could say that about Rush. You could also say this: that he is an extraordinary self-made man who has given millions of people comfort, hope, companionship, entertainment, and, yes, enlightenment. (More about that later.) He faced up to the calamity of deafness with amazing courage and grace — not even telling anyone about this problem. Most Americans would have parlayed that into a week on Oprah, a book deal, etc.
Rush, through it all, just went on working — went on being a radio host, three hours a day, not being able to hear. How many of us could have done that? You try it. You try it.
I say something similar about drug addiction: that he faced up to it manfully. Didn’t whine, didn’t blame anyone — didn’t say he was a victim. That was very un-modern, and very refreshing. I hope he has beaten this problem. It’s a bear.
Now to Rush’s marriages: I know nothing about them, nothing. But I know this: Many people have been married many times, and it’s not necessarily their fault. It could be. It could not be.
I’m close to a man who has been married three times, and, the first two times, he ran into buzzsaws. Very, very bad luck. He wouldn’t have divorced either of them, but they divorced him. And the third time was the charm: a long, happy marriage.
“Some folks’ lives roll easy,” went a song. Some folks’ don’t. And I gather Rush’s hasn’t. But that does not mean he is bad.
Now to this question of money — Rush’s cars, cigars, pools, whatever. Sure he has money, and he made it all himself. He made it by dint of his own talent and incredibly hard work. And he has spent some money on luxury goods. We don’t exactly hate that, around National Review.
But he has also given millions to charity, and other worthy causes. Many millions. Remember what he did with that Harry Reid letter — the one from Reid and the other Senate Democrats, blasting him and defaming him? He auctioned it on eBay — made a couple of million dollars, then chipped in a couple of million of his own. Sent the money to a foundation that helps the children of fallen soldiers and policemen, as I remember.
That should be remembered, when we’re judging Rush Limbaugh (not that we’re in a position to judge, necessarily). I wonder how many of us give as much to charity, as a percentage of our income, as he does. I wonder if I do. I’d be scared to find out.
Is Rush a role model? I don’t know. But you could do worse.
I have to say, Newsweek’s solicitude for the health of conservatism and the Republican party is very, very touching. Don’t you find? They say, “The party of Buckley and Reagan is now bereft and dominated by the politics of Limbaugh.” Oh, boo hoo. And let me tell you something about Buckley and Reagan — taking the latter first.
The mainstream media, of which Newsweek is a good representative, hated Reagan. Hated him. Never had anything good to say about him, when he was alive and working. In fact, they said many of the same things about Reagan that they now say about Rush: that he was a boob, a conman, a mountebank, a know-nothing, etc.
And then Reagan got old and sick and everybody went “Awww.” I liked it better when they were hating him — it was more honest, in a way.
And I love what Newsweek says about Reagan versus “the politics of Limbaugh.” Rush’s politics are the politics of Reagan, in their essence. And Newsweek has never shown much friendliness toward these politics, to say the least.
Now, Bill Buckley: The Left hated him, too, for the most part. I myself grew up around world-class Buckley-haters. They couldn’t speak his name without spitting. It was not easy to buy a National Review in an Ann Arbor bookstore, let me tell you — I mean, for the grief you got from the cashier. (I wrote a piece about this once.) But, in Bill’s last years, many people found him cuddly. And they now try to use him as a club against us — against NR, the people he entrusted to carry on his work.
And let me say once more what I’ve said before: Bill Buckley loved Rush Limbaugh. Got a huge kick out of him, delighted in his success, thought he was performing a ton of good. Bill sought him out to host our anniversary dinners (which is to say, NR’s). And I can just see Bill at a lunch with Rush, held not that long ago, really: grinning with pleasure at what he had to say.
Hate Rush if you want, but spare me the lamentations about Ronnie ’n’ Bill, okay?
I pause here for an anecdote from the opera world — it was told to me by Beverly Sills. Birgit Nilsson told her, “I never got such good reviews as when I retired.” What did she mean? Well, while she was singing, everyone said, “Not as good as Flagstad” (or Leider or some other Wagner soprano). When she was gone from the stage, everyone said — of other sopranos — “Not as good as Nilsson.”
So typical, so human. But smart people avoid it.
A word about Rush and his listeners, please: People try to paint those listeners as yahoos and droolers, who just say “Ditto” and don’t think for themselves. When I published my column about Rush last week, I heard from scores and scores of “dittoheads.” The letters poured in, and they offered testimonials about what Rush had done for them, and meant to them. Most of these letters were strikingly thoughtful. And some of the letter-writers were very, very fancy: PhDs and so on. Some of them were more ordinary. So what?
Several said that they had been liberals, and started listening to Rush in order to laugh at him and despise him. They wound up converted. And several people said, in essence, “I read you, Jay, because of Rush. He led me to politics and conservatism — and to NR and NRO. No Rush, no you, for me.”
Do you think Newsweek will let me publish a piece about the worth of Rush, and the positive effect he has had on people’s lives? (Hell, I’m lucky to get on the Corner!)
I’ll say again what I said the other day: Donald Rumsfeld has been known to say, “America is not what’s wrong with the world.” And I say, in the same spirit, “Rush Limbaugh is not what’s wrong with us.” Think before you toss Rush aside: You may not be doing yourself any favors.
Zev Chafets is writing a book on him, and I look forward to reading it. Zev is a figure of the center, basically: and his book will be both admiring and critical, I predict. Limbaugh-haters will hate the book, probably, because Zev doesn’t hate Rush: He knows too much about him for that.
Newsweek, of course, put on its cover a terrible picture of Rush: wanting to make him seem as scary and rotten as possible. This is dirty pool, but very much to be expected. They’re trying to finish him off, discredit him once and for all, bogeyize him into oblivion, or at least marginality. But Rush will keep going. And he will keep performing good.
I wish David — my friend David Frum — and Rush could sit down together. Maybe do a show together. I think they would like each other a lot, and they would agree on pretty much everything: victory in the War on Terror; free enterprise; a robust and successful Republican party; Reaganism (or modern conservatism, if you prefer).
Just a final word — nitpicky: Newsweek headed its article “Why Rush is Wrong.” Bad editors are always doing that: forgetting to capitalize “is” in titles, which should go up like any other verb (“talks,” “eats,” “sucks,” etc.). But I don’t call them morons (at least out loud).