A confession: I am one of the three percent of Rush Limbaugh’s audience who consider themselves “liberal.” I am, in fact, not just a listener, but a card-carrying member of “Rush 24/7,” which allows me access to transcripts and downloads of the show’s archives. When I have an especially dull chore, I am as likely to be listening to Rush as to music. I used to pretend that my Rush habit was some kind of journalistic oppo research — and it’s true, Rush’s monologues are a clear window onto mainstream conservative thinking — but here’s a further confession: I like listening to him. He’s funny and informative* and while I disagree with him on almost every relevant issue, I find him fascinating.
All of which is to say, there was very little in Sunday’s NYT article about Rush that would surprise any regular listener: Rush is very rich; he enjoys being very rich. He is a cat person. He was a terrible student. He considers himself an entertainer rather than an ideologue. He was a drug addict. These are all things he says about himself on the air. The article, however, also confirmed a suspicion about Rush that usually goes unspoken: He is incredibly insecure. He admits he was disappointed when fame didn’t automatically confirm him into the “fraternity of broadcasting guys,” and he claims he fell into addiction because, “I felt everyone who criticized me was right and I was wrong”
Perhaps most great performers are needy. Perhaps you have to have doubts about yourself in order to project such outsized confidence. I wonder, though, what the relationship is between his insecurity and desire for acceptance and his individualistic, every-man-for-himself politics. He seems thoughtful enough to have wondered about that himself.
His talk radio colleagues do not share his self-awareness, and it’s clear he thinks less of them for it. Best line of the piece, on O’Reilly: “[S]omebody’s got to say it,” he told me. “The man is Ted Baxter.” Limbaugh is more like Mary.
*UPDATE: I suppose I should qualify “informative.” He is not a great source for facts; he intentionally skews all kinds of things and his anti-global warming tirades are not just wrong, but wildly, ridiculously so: He often argues that it’s folly to think puny mankind could do anything of lasting damage to the Earth… which is not the point, really. Sure, people say “Save the planet, ” but we mean, “Save yourself.” Anyway: what he is informative about is the back story behind conservative positions, and the logic (so-called) behind GOP spin. Also, he knows a ton about cigars.