An Army of One
By Zev Chafets
Sentinel HC, Hardcover, 9781595230638, 240pp.
Publication Date: May 25, 2010
Do you remember your first time?
People tend to remember the moment they first heard The Rush Limbaugh Show on the radio. For Zev Chafets, it was in a car in Detroit, driving down Woodward Avenue. Limbaugh's braggadocio, the outrageous satire, the slaughtering of liberal sacred cows performed with the verve of a rock-n-roll DJ-it seemed fresh, funny and completely subversive. "They're never going to let this guy stay on the air," he thought.
Almost two decades later Chafets met Rush for the first time, at Limbaugh's rarely visited "Southern Command." They spent hours together talking on the record about politics, sports, music, show business, religion and modern American history. Rush opened his home and his world, introducing Chafets to his family, closest friends, even his psychologist. The result was an acclaimed cover-story profile of Limbaugh in The New York Times Magazine.
But there was much more to say, especially after Limbaugh became Public Enemy Number One of the Obama Administration. At first Limbaugh resisted the idea of a full-length portrait, but he eventually invited Chafets back to Florida and exchanged more than a hundred emails full of his personal history, thoughts, fears and ambitions. What has emerged is an uniquely personal look at the man who is not only the most popular voice on the radio, but the leader of the conservative movement and one of the most influential figures in the Republican Party.
While Limbaugh's public persona is instantly recognizable, his background and private life are often misunderstood. Even devoted Dittoheads will find there's a lot they don't know about the self-described "harmless little fuzzball" who has, over the years, taken on the giants of the mainstream media and the Democratic Party-from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama-with "half his brain tied behind his back, just to make it fair." Chafets paints a compelling portrait of Limbaugh as a master entertainer, a public intellectual, a political force, and a fascinating man.
"Rush Limbaugh is a complicated man. There is some Sunday School boy in him, over from the Centenary Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and a touch of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club; some of Bo Diddley's swaggering guitar, mixed with William F. Buckley's drawing-room harpsichord. Rush is an introvert with forty guests for dinner on Thanksgiving; a cynical romantic who doesn't understand women but keeps on trying; a polite, soft-spoken listener who, on the air, aims rude, sometimes vulgar personal insults at his ideological enemies; a sophisticated political satirist whose own taste in humor runs to corny mother- in-law jokes. He is a conservative revolutionary, the inventor of the talk-back radio industry, a school-hating college drop-out who turned into a "weapon of mass instruction." There probably isn't another man on planet earth whose role models and heroes include Ronald Reagan, Muhammad Ali, James Madison, Larry "Superjock" Lujack, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Professor Irwin Corey.
"People who dismiss Rush Limbaugh as an entertainer, a pitchman or a hot-air balloon are very wrong. He is a brilliant and tenacious advocate, a major political and cultural force who can't be wished away or shouted down or sniffed into irrelevance. Smart liberals will listen to his show, even if they hate what he has to say. The easily outraged, will be. Those with a sense of humor will find themselves laughing despite themselves. But nobody will fully understand American politics and media culture until they get who Rush Limbaugh really is, what he does, and how he does it."
Former New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets has written a new biography of the conservative radio host, whose talk show has been the most popular in the country for nearly 20 years. Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One tracks Limbaugh's career and his attitude toward his newest liberal opponents in the Obama White House. More at NPR.org
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