Without Rush Limbaugh's giddy endorsement, a Commentary magazine profile of El-Rushbo might have just been an interesting #longreads item. But it wouldn't have been particularly newsy. However, after the talk radio host "heartily" recommended that "you endeavor to read it," we decided to do just that. The article, written by William M. McClay, does present an intriguing retelling of the history of Limbaugh (and the last two years of the political cycle) in a way that paints a favorable portrait of the venerable host.
Here's why we guess Limbaugh liked the profile:
It Argues He Shouldn't Be Confined to the Margins of the Media Debate
Even though [the American media and the American left] talk about him all the time, he’s the man who isn’t quite there. By which I mean that there is a stubborn unwillingness, both wishful and self-defeating, to recognize Limbaugh for what he is, take him seriously, and grant him his legitimate due. Many of his detractors have never even listened to his show, for example. Some of his critics regularly refer to him as Rush “Lim-bough” (like a tree limb), as if his name is so obscure to them that they cannot even remember how to pronounce it.
It Notes How Important Rush Is
Like it or not, Rush Limbaugh is unarguably one of the most important figures in the political and cultural life of the United States in the past three decades. His national radio show has been on the air steadily for nearly 23 years and continues to command a huge following, upward of 20 million listeners a week on 600 stations. The only reason it is not even bigger is that his success has spawned so many imitators, a small army of talkers such as Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, and so on, who inevitably siphon off some of his market share. He has been doing this show for three hours a day, five days a week, without guests (except on rare occasions), using only the dramatic ebb and flow of his monologues, his always inventive patter with callers, his "updates,” song parodies, mimicry, and various other elements in his DJ’s bag of tricks.
It Praises His 'Unusually Quick and Creative Mind'
He is equipped with a resonant and instantly recognizable baritone voice and an unusually quick and creative mind, a keen and independent grasp of political issues and political personalities, and—what is perhaps his greatest talent—an astonishing ability to reformulate complex ideas in direct, vivid, and often eloquent ways, always delivering his thoughts live and unscripted, out there on the high wire. He conducts his show in an air of high-spiritedness and relaxed good humor, clearly enjoying himself, always willing to be spontaneous and unpredictable, even though he is aware that every word he utters on the air is being recorded and tracked by his political enemies in the hope that he will slip up and say something career-destroying.
It Presents a Nuanced Portrait of Talk Radio--and, Again, Praises Limbaugh
Talk radio is a place where people can go to hear opinions freely expressed that they will not hear elsewhere, and where they can come away with a sense of confirmation that they are not alone, are not crazy, and are not wrong to think and feel such things. The existence of such frustrations and fears are the sine qua non of talk radio; it would not exist without them. But that is not all. Without Limbaugh’s influence, talk radio might well have become a dreary medium of loud voices, relentless anger, and seething resentment, the sort of thing that the New York screamer Joe Pyne had pioneered in the 50s and 60s—“go gargle with razor blades,” he liked to tell his callers as he hung up on them—and that one can still see pop up in some of Limbaugh’s lesser epigones.
Yes, It Appears to Compare Rush to Reagan
But what he gave talk radio was a sense of sheer fun, of lightness, humor, and wit, whether indulging in his self-parodying Muhammad Ali–like braggadocio, drawing on his vast array of American pop-cultural reference points, or, in moving impromptu mini-sermons, reminding his listeners of the need to stay hopeful, work hard, and count their blessings as Americans. In such moments, and in many other moments besides, he reminds one of the affirmative spirit of Ronald Reagan and, like Reagan, reminds his listeners of the better angels of their nature. He transmutes the anger and frustration of millions of Americans into something more constructive.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.