I have been puzzling over the profile of Rush Limbaugh since I read it yesterday morning in the New York Times magazine. The piece by Zev Chafets surprises you at first because you don’t expect the plaudits nor the sympathetic vignettes. Others have called the article a puff piece. Ann Althouse, for example, liked it almost as much as she apparently likes Rush himself.
But I no longer agree that the story is simply hagiography. Now I think that clever bugger writing the article meant it to work like a Trojan Horse: throw a monkey wrench in the right-wing’s mechanical attack on the NYT, and also send concealed ammo to those of us who recognize Rush as harmful.
In his own voice, Chafets will only praise, as when he marvels at Rush's skill on the air. But the author never takes a critical shot in the first person. Instead, in delivering the concealed shots that he does take, Chavets obeys the literary dictum to show, don’t tell.
Take for example John McCain, whom Limbaugh has railed against and ridiculed for years with clearly heartfelt hatred. The article lets Limbaugh try to explain why he is now going to support McCain. Chavets leaves unspoken the reasonable conclusion that Limbaugh is a craven, opportunistic hypocrite with linguini for a spine.
Another sneaky hit is landed when the article also shows us – and here Chafets does a skillful job of packaging this in a way Limbaugh and his dittoheads can not assail – that Limbaugh’s protogé Sean Hannity is owning him during this campaign. Hannity has conceived and nurtured the right-wing talking points that got traction such as the Jeremiah Wright connection. We readers have to see for ourselves that Limbaugh is coasting: fat, happy, and all fire in his belly extinguished.
The author is also clever in presenting parts that I and others see as negative but his fans will instead view as a plus. Anti-intellectualism is a core feature of conservatives, but I see as a defect Limbaugh’s animosity toward education and his failure as even an average student. The article also documents that Rush’s friends include Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, and Clarence Thomas. These are men of contemptible character who have only contributed harm to this country. The article also makes much of his show's ratings. That doesn't show me much about him, though. Baywatch, pork rinds, and Joseph Goebbels were also able to attract a large following.
More than anything, the article intended to plumb Rush’s psyche. What it renders, if you step back and look and even if you don’t begrudge him his wealth, is sad and pathetic.
Limbaugh failed at marriage three times. Without much comment, the article ran a photo of Rush snuggling up to his latest girlfriend Kathryn Rogers. As you can see in the photo above by John Parra/wireimage/Getty Images, she is pretty, blond, and much younger.
Limbaugh showed Chafets around a 24,000-square-foot home he shares with a cat. And then the two went out to dinner where seemingly affectionate waiters buzzed genially around them, we learn later that they anticipated Rush’s four-figure tip.
I might be deluding myself as I balance my wife and children packaged in our crappy little 1,900 square foot home. But against Limbaugh’s cars and jet and houses, I find myself more weighted with blessings. (His cat is probably better than mine; I'll give him that.) I sincerely think the loneliness of this vulnerable human is magnified by Rush’s lust for ostentation.
And I never know whom to pity more in those trophy-wife/fatcat items.