In defense of Rush

Author: Barrett Rainey

Well, there are four words readers of this column wouldn’t expect to see. Neither would some who’ve known me through the years or socially around town. Even my wife. Only a very few know I really mean them.

To be perfectly clear, I believe Limbaugh is a corpulent piece of broadcast garbage. Because of the savant-like devotion of his nutcase following, he has been able to divide, smear, undercut, defame, insult, mock, lie and disgust most thinking Americans more than any of his imitators. Beck included. The fact that Limbaugh has access to a microphone and a national broadcast system with which to daily spread his toxic mental waste is abhorrent to me. I’ve disliked – yea hated – him for years. Are we clear?

But – so saying – the current piling on by women, their defenders (like me), the President of the United States and a number of his sponsors is unwarranted. It’s wrong. He is being pilloried and hung out to dry on some electronic cross because he exercised his right to say what he said – disgusting as it was – by the same guaranteed right to free speech we all enjoy. No more. No less.

The time when freedom of speech becomes most important in our lives is when someone like Limbaugh – or the ACLU or Lady Gaga or anyone else – says something we hate. Something that offends. Something that is despicable, hurtful and absolutely abhorrent to our individual thinking and morals. That’s also the very time it is hardest to accept as a guaranteed principle of our cherished form of government. If you deny it then, your otherwise defense of free speech when it suits you is just so much – you’ll pardon the words – lip service.

The only surprise to me in the current outpouring of disgust directed at Rush is that it’s taken 20 years or more to happen. His daily admirers have heard much, much worse trash come out of his mouth. He’s offended, verbally trashed and made a mockery of free speech for a very long time. He’s what the law calls an “habitual offender.” But, as opposed to some lowbrow comedian who offends everybody, Rush only offends those who disagree with his narrow hate speech. How many years ago did he coin the word “femiNazies” to describe some women? Where was the national outcry all those years ago over a word he uses almost daily?

Seems to me the people most offended now are people who’ve never paid much attention to the guy before. Maybe never listened. Or listened and tuned him out. His attack on a private citizen like Ms. Fluke – his nastiness – his mental profanity – his arrogance – none of that is new. He roasts someone – anyone – five days a week and in reruns Saturday and Sunday.

I’m a former professional broadcaster. I’m also a private citizen of some years. In both capacities, Rush Limbaugh represents to me a cancer that is “Exhibit A” when making a case of how – and why – we’ve become so nationally divided. The “my-way-or-the-highway” guiding principle of the far right has been verbally fertilized by this guy for decades and he’s been made larger-than-life by the unthinking. His rudeness, arrogance and blind hatred of any thing or any one he disagrees with has been allowed to flourish and prosper – making him a millionaire many times over.

If you harbor similar feelings about Limbaugh, he’s not the problem. He does what he does – no matter how it offends – because he can. As a nation, we grant him the same speech guarantees we all expect as our own. He’s well-within his rights to fill the airwaves – and the craniums of his “dittoheads” – with distrust, division and outright hate. Despicable as that is.

No, if Rush Limbaugh and his words are offensive to you, your target for effective response is not him. It’s companies who advertize on his program and subsidize his kind. It’s hundreds and hundreds of radio stations that make money locally by selling advertizing time within his broadcasts. Yes, he’s right when he says losing several dozen national sponsors – and many dozens more locally – won’t make a lot of difference. There are more waiting to sign up for his brand of broadcasting. Because he makes them money. He sells what they’re selling. ‘Cause we buy it. Whatever it is.

But remember. Glenn Beck – a Limbaugh wannabe – lost his national TV gig because Beck went way too far off course and even Fox couldn’t sell his show to enough advertisers to make money. Offended people – buyers – sent the message economically. They stopped buying and tuned out.

The Achilles heel for trash-talking broadcasters like Limbaugh is not a frontal attack. Getting rid of him requires much slower – but highly effective – efforts to inflict some economic damage on those who pay his bill. It’ll take time. It’ll take paying more attention and “keeping the faith” for a long time. But it can be done.

First, tune out. Second, don’t buy.

Many years ago, there was a very fine American humorist named Sam Levinson. His humor – all of it – came out of his Jewish background. One of his best stories was about his mother taking him to his first day of kindergarten and her words to the new teacher.

“If Sam acts up and disrupts the class,” she said, “hit the kid next to him. Sam learns by example.”

You want to get rid of an electronic bully like Rush? Hit the guy next to him – the guy who pays his bills.

And do it soon. Very soon. ‘Cause I hate defending the son-of-a-bitch.

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