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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Revenge of the Liberal Media

(Reprinted from the issue of October 23, 2003)

Capitol Bldg“Limbaugh’s long-running act as a paragon of virtue is over,” crows Evan Thomas in Newsweek. The magazine devotes its October 20 cover story to a snide portrait of the talk-radio superstar, who has been illegally buying prescription painkillers and publicly confessed his addiction.

Its columnist Jonathan Alter also chimes in, predicting that Limbaugh will receive “the compassion he routinely denies to other people” and hoping he’ll now offer “a more tolerant and less vitriolic message.”

Say what you will, over the past decade or so Rush Limbaugh has had a truly remarkable impact on American public life. He has totally shattered the old liberal media monopoly. Even conservatives (like me) who now find him disappointing are judging him by standards he himself has done so much to change. He has come to seem routine, almost conventional; but not so long ago liberals were portraying him as sinister, dangerous, possibly fascistic.

Since Limbaugh is far too familiar and genial to paint the swastika on, Thomas and his team of crack investigative reporters are now showing him as a shy, overweight, pathetic loser, and near-recluse, from high school onward. We learn that he never finished college, and is “a childless, twice-divorced, thrice-married schlub.” We are even told that (unnamed) women who have dated him complained that he “talked about himself and didn’t seem interested in them at all,” the brute!

No stone is left unturned, or unthrown: “He was not much of a success as a disc jockey, either.” His father urged him to become a lawyer and tried to dissuade him from pursuing a career in radio; after phone calls from him, Limbaugh would be “depressed and deflated.” He also “smoked a little pot and watched a little porn.”

I have my own reservations about Limbaugh, but I could never wish this on him: an ugly dose of liberal tolerance. I think his jocose boasting is tiresome, but after all, it’s a joke. He has never posed as “a paragon of virtue.” He argues for more-or-less conservative public standards without pretending to exemplify them.

As John O’Sullivan has put it, “The defense of virtue must not be left to the virtuous.” There aren’t enough of them. Some of the best people in the world are inarticulate, and they need the support of those who, though imperfect, have the polemical skills to make the case for God’s law in the public forum.

The liberal charges of hypocrisy against Limbaugh are totally false, as were those against Limbaugh’s pal William Bennett when he turned out to be a serious gambler. Bennett’s fabulously successful book The Book of Virtues was a collection of aspirations, not a claim of sanctity. The truth is that liberals in the media have been yearning to destroy these prominent conservatives, and now they think they finally see their chance.

No doubt Limbaugh, like Bennett, will be chastened by the experience, but, like Bennett, he is taking his embarrassment like a man. Most of us don’t have to pay for our faults in the public eye, thank Heaven.

I love the story related by the French writer-statesman Andre Malraux. Malraux once asked an old priest what he’d learned about human nature from listening to thousands of people’s darkest secrets in the confessional.

The priest was naturally reluctant to answer. Malraux stressed that he wasn’t asking him to violate the seal of the confessional, merely seeking generalizations. Finally, the priest said he’d learned two basic things. First, people are more unhappy than they seem. Second, nobody ever really grows up.

To me that’s a priceless observation. This is a world of children trying to act like adults. Now and then we get a glimpse of the real child behind the grownup façade. You can take a malicious glee in what you see; or you can say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Liberals are now gloating like little brats at Limbaugh’s discomfort.

Limbaugh is actually proving he’s the opposite of a hypocrite. He’s following his own advice, which is to take your medicine without blaming others for your fate. He doesn’t deny people compassion; he just refuses to equate compassion with government programs. The liberals’ great hypocrisy is to claim a monopoly of compassion for referring all social problems to the state. Talk about posing as paragons of virtue!

So part of Limbaugh’s punishment is an ordeal by slander. It’s not even as if he were smoking pot or taking “recreational” drugs. Like many other people, he got addicted to painkillers after surgery. How much he is to blame for this, only God knows; but Newsweek is ready, willing, and eager to assume the worst. Liberal tolerance! Liberal compassion! Take a good look.
Limbaugh and Buchanan

In all my years of producing and suffering journalism, I’ve seldom seen such a hatchet job on a man’s character. But one parallel comes to mind, from Newsweek itself: Some years ago the magazine ran a similar story on Patrick Buchanan, labeling him a “bully” on its cover.

This too was the precise opposite of the truth: I’ve never known anyone in public life who surpassed Buchanan in the courage to fight alone against all odds.

But when you defy this herd, they feel bullied. The one virtue the Grand Confederation of Cowards will never honor is courage. It puts them to shame, and they must have their revenge on it.

Limbaugh and Buchanan also have this in common: It’s hard to imagine either of them kicking a man when he’s down. As a friend of mine puts it, the men Limbaugh kicks are very much up. Judging by the kicking he’s now getting in the media, the liberal attitude is very different.

I almost hate to say it at just this moment, but Limbaugh’s brand of conservatism strikes me as essentially timid. He plays it safe and stays well within the neoconservative guidelines for “respectable” conservatives. He’s more a Republican apologist than a principled conservative. But, unlike his enemies (and even some of his allies), he’s too decent to attack the weak. His foes rarely attack anyone else.

Newsweek inadvertently makes Limbaugh a sympathetic figure. It wasn’t able to dredge up anything shocking. Instead, it found a rather sad, shy loner, discouraged by his own father, who dreamed of success in radio and was resilient enough to achieve it.

Straining, however, to put the pretty tame facts in the worst light, the magazine only underlines the magnitude of Limbaugh’s achievement and its own irrational hatred of anyone who looks like a conservative.

What are the just limits (if any) of the state’s power to tax? I try to answer this question in SOBRANS, my little monthly. Get your free copy of my pamphlet Anything Called a “Program” Is Unconstitutional: Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian. Just subscribe, or renew your subscription, to SOBRANS for a year or more. Call 800-513-5053, or go to the Subscription page.

We also have a few autographed copies of my book Hustler: The Clinton Legacy. Call the same number, or purchase it on-line.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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