COLUMN: '80s Limbaugh wouldn't recognize himself today

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By Joan Burke

When my husband and I lived in California, we first heard of Rush Limbaugh when Mike would be out on a construction job and the other carpenters had a radio tuned to KFBK-AM in Sacramento. Limbaugh was, before this job, a terminated rock DJ on his last leg to re-invent himself as a hard-nosed-but-humorous talk radio host. He hurled insults and joked about the lower middle-class neighborhood of Rio Linda in Sacramento.

It worked. By the late 1980s, Rush was a popular, conservative, talk radio host. But he was different then. More of a reactionary than a hardcore right-winger, he allowed all kinds of callers; one, for example, he called an older man “the old communist,” but in a good-natured, lighter way. Maybe he was Rush Light then. Now he is an altogether different personality. The most controversial thing I heard him joke about was the “Femi-Nazis.”

I know volumes have been written about Limbaugh. But it was very interesting to see him go from a local nobody to one of the heavies (pun intended); a huge star catering to a very far right, older, more serious, and frankly, wealthy audience.

It is disheartening to me that Rush Limbaugh would tell a listener on his radio show that donations via the White House to help Haiti could possibly go somewhere else other than Haiti. The 1980s Rush Limbaugh would not have done that; at least I don’t think he would.

He also criticized Obama for responding too quickly to the situation in Haiti (go figure) and complained that it took Obama longer to react to the underwear bomber. But that he would discourage anyone from helping these people is not the old Rush at all. Limbaugh said all this and more while rescuers were still trying to dig out the living and the dead from underneath the rubble due to the earthquake in Haiti.

The new Rush is able to do and say almost anything and get away with it. For example, his past drug abuse with pain killers, making fun of Michael J. Fox’s October 2006 speech on TV (he gyrated around in his chair and said Fox was “embellishing” his movements caused by Parkinson’s disease), and he has called our black president “Barack, the magic Negro” several times, with barely a grunt from the media or his listeners. His list of abuses is long.

Why is this sort of behavior/opinion not only tolerated (we must tolerate opinion, OK, we are Americans) but applauded? Rush Limbaugh has been called the “spokesperson for the Republican Party.” He’s also been called their leader. This is frightening. Despite his below-the-belt comments, his popularity remains strong.

He went from a local guy who was actually funny at times to what he is today — a hard-core, right-wing, top-of-the-heap star who only speaks to those who agree with him completely for the most part. Whenever he chooses to speak to anyone, that is.

By the 1990s, he was at the right time/place for his kind of rant. Clinton had just stepped in it with the Monica Lewinsky incident. People were feeling defrauded and with good reason. Other heads of state have had extra marital affairs, but Bill Clinton lied to a grand jury. That was really dumb. So Rush was right there with a voice for the now-jaded public.

Today Rush Limbaugh’s lies out-weigh the Clinton debacle a thousand times over. Not to mention the pain and insult he adds to the already injured and those who are suffering now in Haiti. He should remember the poor folks in Rio Linda who helped give him his start.

Let’s ask Mr. Limbaugh to purchase a ticket to Haiti where he could help with the needs of humanity, rather than showing its worst side.

Joan Burke is a Lawrenceburg resident.