RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG FAT IDIOT
After Delacorte asked me to write a book on politics,my
very first creative act was coming up with the
title, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.
I thought the title, aside from the obvious advantage
of being personally offensive to Limbaugh, would sell
books. Let me explain why: It makes fun of Rush Limbaugh
by pointing out that he is a big lardbutt.
Confident that I was now on my way to a bestseller, I took
some time off and went to Florida with my wife and kids. But
when I returned and sat down to work, it became immediately
apparent that the "title tail" was going to wag the "content
dog." That is to say, I'd actually have to write about Rush
Which, of course, meant I'd have to listen to him on radio,
read his books, and watch his TV show. "How much am I
getting paid for this?" I asked myself.
I was not, after all, totally unfamiliar with Limbaugh. He is
the king of talk radio, with an estimated twenty million listeners
in a given week. I had been one of those twenty million a
while back, listening to him spew about "feminazis" and their
"women-as-victim" ideas. Limbaugh was railing about how
feminists believe that all heterosexual sex is rape, which, I
admit, is a belief that's very hard to defend. The thing is,
though, I know a lot of women, almost all of whom consider
themselves feminists, and I know only one who actually holds
this belief. And we've been married nearly twenty years.
Limbaugh expanded . . . to TV a few years back, and I
had seen his show a number of times. It's been a considerable
success, though I think it was ultimately a terrible mistake for
Limbaugh because we finally got to see his audience. During
the shows I watched, Limbaugh presented, in a deliberately
misleading way, disinformation that was devoured whole by a
studio audience of rabid--but extraordinarily straightlaced--right-wing
yahoos. These are the fans who voluntarily - hell,
gleefully - call themselves "dittoheads" in honor of their ability
to blindly and uncritically agree with everything that
comes out of Limbaugh's mouth.
The first time I watched the show was in October, 1992,
about a month before the election. President Bush had been
on Larry King Live the night before, and during the interview
Bush had said that he was bothered by Clinton's actions during
the Vietnam War: "Maybe I'm old-fashioned, Larry," he
said. "But to go to a foreign country and demonstrate against
your own country, when your sons and daughters are dying
halfway around the world? I'm sorry, I--I just don't like it. I
think it is wrong." To anybody watching Larry King, as I happened
to be, it was an attack on Clinton's patriotism, and the
next day several newspapers ran headlines saying as much.
So Rush shows this headline from the New York Times that
reads: BUSH ASSAILS CLINTON'S PATRIOTISM DURING VIETNAM
WAR PROTEST ERA. Then he starts whining about the liberal
media. "He didn't assail Clinton's patriotism. . . . Now let's
roll Bush on Larry King Live last night, and you be the judge.
Did he attack Governor Clinton's patriotism here?"
Then he runs a twenty-second clip from a totally different
part of the interview. Limbaugh comes back: "I didn't hear one
assault on patriotism. I didn't hear one word or syllable questioning
Bill Clinton's patriotism. . . . We'll be back in just a
moment." Cut to: a hundred and twenty idiots in bad suits
Subsequent viewings pretty much confirmed that the point
of Rush's show is to punish you for actually knowing anything.
Back to my still-unwritten book. Catchy title in hand, I
braced myself for an entire season of such punishment. I
would spend the summer absorbing Limbaugh-three hours a
day, five day-s a week, listening to conservatism's most powerful
(not to mention obnoxious) voice. I am, after all, a professional.
Rush Limbaugh, Radio Icon and Staunch Defender of
Constitutional Rights for Neckwear
Spring 1995. I go to the Wiz and buy a boom box for my
office at home. I pour a fresh glass of iced tea, settle into a
comfortable chair, flip on WABC, and tune in to the first
installment of what will be approximately one hundred and
eighty hours of listening pleasure. And at 12:15, Rush is
Let me give you another example here of the press.
This may be as good as an example as I could cite to
show you how it is that the left has stereotypes. Now
you people all know that I have introduced a new line
of neckwear, commonly known as ties. And that I
have, right now, we've got four styles, four designs
that are out there, and we are always working on
more. . . .
I was about to learn that the liberal media had deliberately
misrepresented his mail-order tie collection:
. . . So I'm at the United Press International wire
and I'm, reading the People section and there's a story
there about the new Rush Limbaugh No Boundaries
tie collection, and would you like to hear it described?
"Limbaugh's ties are as conservative as he is. Blue,
white, red, and gray stripes." My friends. The last
thing my ties are is conservative. That's why we're
calling it No Boundaries! These are . . . the last
thing in the world these ties would be described as
would be conservative. There's not one stripe! On any
of the ties! . . .
And he won't stop. He's just going on and on about these
ties. So I flip around the dial, catch an inning of the Mets
game, and then come back to Rush. And his brutally defamed
. . . I mean, that is another example of the stereo
types that the left, and I am including the press in this,
have about conservatives. . . . It was my wife Marta
who came up with the whole concept, to tell you the
truth, of No Boundaries. And she said no themes on
these ties, no ties to issues, no ties to politics . . .
These are going to be gorgeous, beautiful ties that
anybody would want to wear to make themselves look
better. And they are. And there's not one stripe! Not
one stripe! On any tie! . . .
Time for another iced tea. I head to the kitchen, wander
around the apartment a bit. Back to my office and . . . the
vicious media smear campaign directed against Rush's ties:
. . . They could have called me first to ask me about
it. They could have called and said, "Hey, we hear
you got some new ties out; we'd like to see them;
we're going to write a story." . . .
Back to the fridge. I root around for some leftovers. Make a
sandwich. Read the sports page. The Twins are having a
pretty tough year. Back to the ties, which--near as I can tell--have
now had their civil rights violated by the hounds of attack
. . . In this battle for the soul of democracy, it is
more and more clear that the press, which has a designed
Constitutional role, can't be trusted, cannot be
counted on. My gosh, if the press, which Constitutionally
is protected so as to get the truth, is this far
off as often as they are, then is it any wonder that
there is a new media led by me, America's truth detector?
No, there's not. Quick break. Back to the phones
in just a moment . . .
Only a hundred and seventy-nine hours to go. Hmmm.
Maybe it would be okay if I just . . . sampled . . . the
show. Every now and then.
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche--and Limbaugh
After the tie episode, I sent my research assistant Geoff to
Barnes and Noble, where he found a paperback of
Limbaugh's bestseller See, I Told You So.
Picking up a new book is always exciting to a curious person
like myself, but I became especially jazzed by Rush's introduction:
"Prepare your mind to be challenged as it has
never been challenged before." Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, now
By Chapter Two, I had learned the key to Limbaugh's success.
"My show works because people are tired of being insulted
elsewhere on the radio or TV dial. They enjoy listening
to someone who respects their intelligence."
Fortunately, I was soon treated to an example of just how
much respect Rush has for his readers' intelligence:
With the exception of the military, I defy you to name
one government program that has worked and
alleviated the problem it was created to solve.
Hhhmmmmmmm? I'm waiting. . . . Time's up.
This got me thinking. Now, I'm no expert on government.
And besides, I'm a liberal. So my naming ten or twenty of the
hundreds of successful government programs isn't going to
impress anyone. Hell, I think Rural Electrification worked!
That's how big a dumbass liberal I am! So instead, I called a
few bona fide conservatives and asked them to name a few:(*)
1. George F. Will (grim-faced conservative columnist)-rural
Electrification, the Interstate Highway
System ("the most successful public works program in
the history of the world"). "The federal government
has been tremendously successful in disseminating
health and safety information, for example, about
smoking and seat belts."
2. Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio; boyishly rugged,
straight-talking chairman of the House Budget Committee)--National
Institutes of Health, Youth Summer
3. Rep. Bob Dornan (R-calif.; Republican candidate
for president; crazy homophobe)--The F.A.A., lighthouses,
federal penitentiaries ("We gotta keep those
guys locked up").
4. Arianna Huffington (enigmatic, Greek-born,
Cambridge-educated socialite; conservative commentator;
fund-raiser for Newt Gingrich; wife of unsuccessful
California Senate candidate Michael Huffington)--The
National Park System, guaranteed student
loans, aid to Greece.
5. Ben Stein (conservative columnist for the American
Spectator; former Nixon speechwriter; noted character
actor, famous for role as the "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller"
teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off) - Social Security.
Medicare. Head Start. Food Stamps. "The Federal
Deposit Insurance Corporation is the most wildly
successful government program in the history of
6. Richard Viguerie (former publisher the Conservative
Digest, archconservative direct-mail pioneer)--Public
libraries, the F.B.I., the G.I. Bill.
So, is Limbaugh that out of touch with conservatives like
Will, Kasich, and Dornan? Or does he just take his readers to
be complete morons? Hhhmmmmmmm? I'm waiting. . . .
Didiots-Limbaugh's Legion of Fans
Now, am I saying that dittoheads are ignoramuses? No. I
don't need to. Listen to Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg
School for Communications at the University of
We just concluded a study of 360 people, whom we
watched watch the health care reform debate for nine
months. And at the end of that period, we took the
people who said they relied on talk radio, and by this,
we mean primarily Rush Limbaugh. . . . And we
asked them how well informed they felt. . . .Of all
the people we watched, they said they were the best
informed. And of all the people we watched, they
were the least informed.
What a surprise, huh? Limbaugh listeners thought they
were the best informed, and yet were the least informed.
How is such a thing even measured? Well, like all the other
people studied, talk radio listeners were asked questions of
"objective fact" such as: "Which groups (the elderly, poor,
middle class, etc. "are most likely to be uninsured?" The
Limbaugh listeners were "highly likely" to give an incorrect
answer such as "the elderly" who, of course, are all covered
But why would people so woefully lacking in the basic facts
of an issue think they were the best informed? Social scientists
call the phenomenon "pseudo-certainty." I call it "being a
Limbaugh and Women--A Pathetic Story
It's safe to say that most of Limbaugh's fact-challenged dittoheads
are men. Limbaugh has tapped into the resentments
of "the angry white male," which are quite legitimate. I mean,
if you think about it, what chance for advancement have white
men really had in this country?
Limbaugh, himself, seems to have a problem with women.
He has been married three times. Personally, I am not one for
psychoanalyzing public figures. I wouldn't, for example, attempt
to create a psychological construct to explain why a
desperately insecure man would weigh three hundred pounds
and have difficulty sustaining intimate relationships. Psychobabble
mumbo jumbo doesn't interest me, and I would never
suggest that a difficult separation from the primary love object
at an early age might cause a man to hate women and
look to food as a substitute for the mother's teat.
Instead I thought it might be fun (after all, that's what this
is about), to juxtapose some of Rush's own words with those
of people who know him. (I saw some of this stuff on
Rush: Feminism was established so that unattractive, ugly
women could have easy access to the mainstream of society.
Millie Limbaugh, Mother: No. He did not date in high
Rush: If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do
what he wants to do.
David Limbaugh, Brother: I don't think he would have
chosen to break up either marriage. I think it was the choice
of both of his ex-wives. . . . Women, especially young
women, don't want guys to be sedentary.
Rush (Writing to a woman on E-mail): I remain in an
interminable funk, no end in sight-listless, uninspired, and
Hazel Staloff (The woman): I thought, "What a sad thing
to write, and to write to somebody you didn't even know."
Later I came to realize that it was probably his way of trying
to attract a woman. You know, for a woman to read, "Rush
has no friends" and for her to respond, "Let me make it
better for you."
Excerpted from "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations" by Al Franken. Copyright © 1999 by Al Franken. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.