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 Limbaugh the Lawbreaker 

October 14, 2003

Doesn’t anyone have mixed feelings about Rush Limbaugh?

His announcement that he has a drug addiction, and will spend a month in rehab, has brought forth two reactions: unalloyed sympathy from those who share his views, and fierce condemnation from those who don’t.

The former, the general conservative response to the news, I can at least understand. But the other doesn’t make much sense. It generally runs like this: “Limbaugh is so judgmental about other people, it serves him right. Maybe this experience will teach him a little tolerance.”

Say what? I disagree with Limbaugh about a lot of things, agree with him on others, but how is he intolerant? He’s a combative conservative, of sorts, but that doesn’t mean he’s intolerant, except in the minds of those ever-so-tolerant liberals who are certain that those who disagree with them must be bigots. He likes the give-and-take of a good argument.

As G.K. Chesterton remarked, “A man should read the arguments of his opponents as eagerly as a spy reads the battle plans of the enemy.” And as a rule, this is what Limbaugh does.

But it’s startling how he polarizes the public. It should be possible for people to take slightly more complicated positions about his current woes. For instance, an occasional conservative might say, “I usually agree with Rush’s positions, but they should throw the book at him for his illegal drug purchases.” Or a liberal might say, “I can’t stand the guy, but his personal drug use is none of the public’s, or the government’s, business.”

Over the years I haven’t heard Limbaugh say anything that now makes him seem hypocritical. In the last few days I’ve read that, years ago, he supported the Federal “war on drugs” (yeah, we’re winning that one too), and that, more recently, he has softened his tone, maybe because of his own drug consumption.

[Breaker quote: 
Tolerance bares its teeth.]But what does it really matter? This is so marginal to his work. He hasn’t been a prominent enemy of drug abuse. He’s no different from a comedian who turns out to have a problem with booze. Too bad, but on with the show!

But in one respect, Limbaugh’s enemies remind me of the single thing that irritates me about the man himself. That is, they conflate things that are essentially unrelated.

This is what Limbaugh sometimes does. During the long buildup for the war on Iraq, which he ardently favored, Rush used a very broad brush against opponents of the war. Time and again he said they were liberal Democrats who had never accepted George W. Bush’s legitimacy as the winner of the 2000 presidential election. He reduced a great issue to a mere partisan squabble.

The real question was whether the opponents of the war were right. It had nothing to do with their motives; and, in fact, they had many motives, some of which weren’t partisan at all. I was one of many who opposed the war, even though I’d been hugely relieved when Al Gore lost in 2000 (even if not exactly overjoyed that Bush won).

Limbaugh, all too characteristically, left no room for the principled dissenter on the war. He ignored conservatives and libertarians who opposed it for their own reasons. He’d hardly admit the possibility that a liberal might have good reasons for opposing it. All opponents of the war were conflated with Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle.

In short, Limbaugh’s arguments can be as cynical and simplistic as those of the people who are blasting him today. That’s what happens when your only explanation for your opponents’ views is their sheer villainy. Accusations aren’t arguments, especially loose and unfocused accusations.

In that sense, I too hope this experience will teach Limbaugh a lesson. But I wish him well. I also like a good argument, and I want him to emerge an even better debater, not a ruined has-been.

In any case, it appears that Limbaugh is a lawbreaker; but if so, he has broken laws that should never have been passed. Still, some people hate him so much that they hope he’ll be destroyed, even if it takes bad laws to do the job.

That’s the kind of hatred we’ve learned to expect from those who consider themselves the Forces of Tolerance.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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