That Time I Interviewed Rush Limbaugh

Even as he became the conservative’s clarion call nationwide, he’d puff up his own image, as one with “talent on loan from God.”

I asked him about that brand of bellowing self-righteousness. 

“The arrogance and braggadocio? Well, those are all under the umbrella of ‘sense of humor,” he assured me. “I don’t deny there’s a show biz here. And I don’t deny there’s shtick.”

But then we went to his office, there was an autographed picture of Oliver North. So maybe he did mean it all.

“I mean, 15 hours a week — I couldn’t act that,” Limbaugh said. “It’s all genuinely a part of me, but some of it only comes out when I’m on the air.” 

In 1991, just three years after he was plucked from a Sacramento station, where he had replaced Morton Downy Jr., he was still saying he was only a lifelong conservative — purposely avoiding on his show what he called the extreme right, Bible readers, UFO travelers and psychics. All those and worse were likely among his supporters by the end, including those who violently broke into Capitol .

But he knew something about whipping up angry white men.

“I think people listen to this show because they get mad. Some listen to it because they disagree. Some listen to it because it’s fun. And some listen to it because it’s their bible,” Limbaugh said. 

“But I’m not irresponsible or dishonest about it,” he said (again, 30 years ago). “I think the country is far more conservative than people realize. Because to be a liberal today is to criticize things. They criticize the country, ‘America’s wrong,’ ‘We shouldn’t be over there’ [The Gulf War was starting], “We shouldn’t be doing this; we’re not paying enough taxes,’ whatever.

“As Reagan’s popularity proved, people want to feel good about the country, and they want to feel good about themselves. They don’t want to think their country is evil, because they don’t think it is. And they resent people telling them it is, and they’re not going to listen to it.”

He dismissed a letter I showed from a local council on human relations complaining about his promotion of bigotry.

“Standard,” he said. “You know, the new fascism is political correctness…You gotta say what’s politically correct, or you’re the worst thing walking the Earth, and you’ve got to be gotten rid of. It’s not enough to turn you off. You’ve got to be gotten rid of! 

“We’ve become a nation of groups just waiting to be offended so we can address our grievances in court,” he said. “Nobody can laugh at themselves anymore.” 

And yet, humor was not the reason Trump gave him the Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union Address a year ago. Instead he mentioned “decades of tireless devotion to our country.” And providing the toxic atmosphere that helped make possible his single term.

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