The Late Molly Ivins on Limbaugh

Talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021) is no longer taking calls from his devoted listeners. Texas writer Molly Ivins summed up Limbaugh for Mother Jones in 1995:

One of the things that concerns a lot of Americans lately is the increase in plain old nastiness in our political discussion. It comes from a number of sources, but Rush Limbaugh is a major carrier.

I should explain that I am not without bias in this matter. I have been attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air, an experience somewhat akin to being gummed by a newt. It doesn’t actually hurt, but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle.

I have a correspondent named Irwin Wingo in Weatherford, Texas. Irwin and some of the leading men of the town are in the habit of meeting about 10 every morning at the Chat’n’Chew Cafe to drink coffee and discuss the state of the world. One of their number is a dittohead, a Limbaugh listener. He came in one day, plopped himself down, and said, “I think Rush is right: Racism in this country is dead. I don’t know what the n____s will find to gripe about now.”

I wouldn’t say that dittoheads, as a group, lack the ability to reason. It’s just that whenever I run across one, he seems to be at a low ebb in reasoning skills. Poor ol’ Bill Sarpalius, one of our dimmer Panhandle congressmen, was once trying to explain to a town hall meeting of his constituents that Limbaugh was wrong when he convinced his listeners that Bill Clinton’s tax package contained a tax increase on the middle class. (It increased taxes only on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.) A dittohead in the crowd rose to protest: “We don’t send you to Washington to make responsible decisions. We send you there to represent us.”

[Note: If this sounds quite familiar, a Republican official from Pennsylvania was discussing Sen. Pat Toomey, one of the Republicans who voted to convict last week, and said: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to ‘do the right thing’ or whatever”. Now back to Molly Ivins.]

The kind of humor Limbaugh uses troubles me deeply, because I have spent much of my professional life making fun of politicians. I believe it is a great American tradition and should be encouraged. . . . So what right do I have to object because Limbaugh makes fun of different pols than I do?

I object because he consistently targets dead people, little girls, and the homeless—none of whom are in a particularly good position to answer back. Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people, as Limbaugh does, it is not only cruel, it’s profoundly vulgar. It is like kicking a cripple.

On his TV show, early in the Clinton administration, Limbaugh put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and asked, “Did you know there’s a White House dog?” Then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old at the time and as far as I know had never done any harm to anyone.

When viewers objected, he claimed, in typical Limbaugh fashion, that the gag was an accident and that without his permission some technician had put up the picture of Chelsea—which I found as disgusting as his original attempt at humor. . . .

The reason I take Rush Limbaugh seriously is not because he’s offensive or right-wing, but because he is one of the few people addressing a large group of disaffected people in this country. And despite his frequent denials, Limbaugh does indeed have a somewhat cultlike effect on his dittoheads. They can listen to him for three and a half hours a day, five days a week, on radio and television. I can assure you that [cult leader] David Koresh did not harangue the Branch Davidians so long nor so often. But that is precisely what most cult leaders do—talk to their followers hour after hour after hour.

A large segment of Limbaugh’s audience consists of white males, 18 to 34 years old, without college education. Basically, a guy I know and grew up with named Bubba.

Bubba listens to Limbaugh because Limbaugh gives him someone to blame for the fact that Bubba is getting screwed. He’s working harder, getting paid less in constant dollars and falling further and further behind. Not only is Bubba never gonna be able to buy a house, he can barely afford a trailer. Hell, he can barely afford the payments on the pickup.

And because Bubba understands he’s being shafted, even if he doesn’t know why or how or by whom, he listens to Limbaugh. Limbaugh offers him scapegoats. It’s the “feminazis.” It’s the minorities. It’s the limousine liberals. It’s all these people with all these wacky social programs to help some silly, self-proclaimed bunch of victims. Bubba feels like a victim himself—and he is—but he never got any sympathy from liberals.

Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger in our emotional lives—your dad wallops you, but he’s too big to hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of young white men without much education and very little future. . . . Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and aiming their anger in the wrong direction.

In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you couldn’t talk politics with a conservative without his getting all red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver with indignation—just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now we’re seeing the same kind of anger again.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR] . . . has a sweet, gentle faith that truth will triumph in the end, and thinks it is sufficient to point out that Limbaugh is wrong. I say it’s important to point out that he’s not just wrong but that he’s ridiculous, one of the silliest people in America. . . .

It’s important to show people that there is much more wrong with Limbaugh’s thinking than just his facts. Limbaugh specializes in ad hominem arguments, which are themselves ridiculously easy to expose. Ted Kennedy says, “America needs health care reform.” Limbaugh replies, “Ted Kennedy is fat.”

Rush Limbaugh’s pathetic abuse of logic, his absurd pomposity, his relentless self-promotion, his ridiculous ego—now those, friends, are appropriate targets for satire.

Beyond Bizarre

In 1960, after we’d already been introduced to The Twilight Zone, DC Comics gave us Bizarro World. Wikipedia explains:

In the Bizarro world of “Htrae” [“Earth” spelled backward], society is ruled by the Bizarro Code, which states “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!” In one episode, for example, a salesman is doing a brisk trade selling Bizarro bonds: “Guaranteed to lose money for you”. Later, the mayor appoints Bizarro No. 1 to investigate a crime, “Because you are stupider than the entire Bizarro police force put together”. This is intended and taken as a great compliment.

Millions of Americans are  now living in Bizarro World, where up is down, left is right. From Oliver Darcy of CNN:

Here’s a transcript of a conversation [radio agitator] Rush Limbaugh had with a caller [on Tuesday]. It’s important to keep in mind that right-wing media has absolutely convinced a fairly significant portion of country the election was stolen. What that leads to, I’m not sure. But it is a dangerous lie:

CALLER: . . . I thank you for everything you’re doing. And my comment today is that the national news media and the Democratic Party are using the fear factor in order to control the people. This is right out of the Alinsky, communist playbook. [Presumably, the caller means that the media and Democrats are inappropriately warning about the pandemic.] It’s to divert people’s attention to the real facts of what they’re doing. It’s clearly a stolen election. We’ve seen the election results. We’ve seen the fraud that’s taken place. We need to have our place in court. We need to never stop fighting. We need a prayer chain and millions of people to get out in the street so that the national medicat ifnore the populace.

LIMBAUGH: Well, that’s gonna be a tough thing to pull off.

CALLER: I know that.

LIMBAUGH: The national media, in the first place, it isn’t media. You’re asking them to all of a sudden start reporting the news, when they don’t do that anymore. . . .

CALLER: If the streets are lined with truck drivers and the roads are lined with people and clog these cities up, it becomes a desperate action. But if they steal this election, they’ve stolen our libertry, they’ve stolen our freedom.

LIMBAUGH: Yeah, I know.

CALLER: We’re done.

LIMBAUGH: Not just that.

CALLER: That can’t happen.

LIMBAUGH: They have forever corrupted the Constitutuion. I mean, the stakes are quite serious.

CALLER: Well, we need to ever stop. The people have to stand up. There too many people too quiet sitting by the waywide, unfortunately.

LIMBAUGH: Why do you think they’re doing that?

CALLER: Well, if 40% of the people are still watching the propaganda — it’s not news, it’s the progranda media for the Democratic Party — anybody that refers to the national news as national news is a fool. They are the propaganda wing. They are the Democratic Party.

LIMBAUGH: Right, I know. Bur why are so may people just sitting by doing nothing?

CALLER: They are just in the phase that nothing can be done. What they don’t understand is Txxxx is Txxxx, and he is the major factor standing in the way of a revolution. This is a revolution. It’s the corporate world and politics mixing together to overthrow democracy and to put control on the people.

LIMBAUGH: Well, there’s one thing. Txxx does know that. Txxxx is very, very aware. He knows what’s at stake too. And that;’s why he’s not going away. It’s why he’s not conceded yet. That’s such an important thing. That has the left kind of discombbulated. They’re running around saying, “We told you, Txxxx will not participate in a peaceful transfer of power”. He’s not gonna concede yet because there go his legal optionns if he does. If he concedes, then it’s officially over. . . .

So Txxxx is not going to concede while all of these legal challenges play out. And it’s got the Demcorats just perplexed because they thought by now that they would have seen to it that the chances that Txxx has for vicctory here are so small, and so tiny, not even worth pursuing. But Txxxx doesn’t see it that way in any shape, manner or form.


Txxxx and his gang have lost over 50 lawsuits aimed at reversing the presidential election. There is zero chance the Republicans will succeed in any court in America, including the one in Washington that now has six Republicans and three Democrats. But it won’t matter. The Republican Party chose a demagogue to run for president, a foolish or rabid minority elected him, and we’ll continue suffering consequences after he leaves the White House.

83% of Republicans polled after the 2020 election said they didn’t believe Joe Biden won

Once you’re at home in Bizarro World, why go back to the real one?