10.27.08

My Brush With Rush

How Limbaugh tried (and failed) to replace my dad.

Note: This article was first posted on October 27, 2008.

Let me say for the record, as I prepare to stab him with my pen-knife, that I like Rush Limbaugh.

After my father (WFB, Jr) died in February, Rush wrote me a condolence email that brought tears to my eyes. His pain at my father’s loss was genuine and deep. After Reagan, WFB was Rush Limbaugh’s great conservative hero. My father was also personally kind to him when he arrived in New York in the late 1980s and found himself being cold-shouldered by his bigfoot broadcasting brethren because of his Gotham-unfashionable conservative views. My father was personally fond of Rush, and after the Gingrich coup of 1994, National Review anointed him on its cover “The Leader of the Opposition.” They kept up socially. He visited WFB at our home in Stamford, Conn., and proudly showed off his $450,000 Maybach car. At any rate, I responded to Rush’s email in kind. I was greatly touched.

As Limbaugh's words were going out over the Excellence in Broadcasting network, my father’s corpse was still warm. As me old mater might say, I found them a bit… de trop.

A few days later, as I was planning WFB’s memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I was approached by an intermediary, a big player in the vast right-wing conspiracy, with the suggestion (“Wouldn’t it be appropriate….”) that Rush should give the eulogy. I declined, partly on the grounds that Mother Church maintains that a mass is a sacrament and not a Friar’s Club roast. To enforce this, she sets a strict limitation on eulogies: a max of two. I had asked Henry Kissinger to give one, and had myself planned to give the other.

I am not generally a listener to day-time radio, but in the days following WFB’s death, a number of people mentioned having listened to Rush’s show that day. I’ve dug up the February 27 transcript:

CALLER: Long-time listener. It is my pleasure. When you began speaking about Mr. Buckley, my first thought was that you are now being passed the torch to continue that fight for conservatism.
RUSH
: You think so?
CALLER
: Yes, I do, sir. You are more important now to this fight than ever before.
RUSH
: You're right.
CALLER
: Yes. I know I'm right.
RUSH
: One of the questions I always ask, "What would Bill say?" When I was stuck on an issue or an opinion, "What would Bill say? What would Bill think?" and I think Bill would probably thank you and say, "Yes, madam, you're very intelligent, very wise, and you're right."

As these words were going out over the Excellence in Broadcasting network, my father’s corpse was still warm. It was a day of passions, I know, and things get said in the heat of passion. But reading these words, in the cooler air of October—not that this October has been devoid of passion—well, as me old mater might say, I found them a bit… de trop.

That’s French for “a bit much,” and I’m putting it that way by way of stipulating that I am a card-carrying member of the Eastern seaboard, proletarian-despising media elite. My idea of roughage is arugula. I have not to date tasted moose meat and hope never to, unless it is served to me at La Grenouille, by Charles Masson, personally and under glass. As for politics, we elites have always inclined toward the black candidate who grew up with a single mother on food stamps, as opposed to the third-generation Annapolis cadet.

I am having these pensées (more French, learned at an elite New England boarding school) about el Rushbo because a few days ago, following my J’accuse! (okay, okay, I’ll cut it out)—following my “I’m voting for Barack” teachable moment in this space, I received, amidst other howls of outrage and a pink slip from NR, formal notification that I had arrived, career-wise. It took the form of a headline:

LIMBAUGH MOCKS BUCKLEY OVER OBAMA.

Video screenshot

Let’s go to the tape. Rush starts off by defending President Bush 43’s intelligence.

So when people who know Bush—and I, as a powerful, influential member of the media [ I stipulate, btw, that Rush is a fellow of infinite jest and wit and is obviously being ironic here; or, well, up to a point, Lord Copper] am one who knows Bush—would tell them, ‘You have no idea what you're talking about. The guy is sharp as a tack, people that know him personally say.’ ‘Well, he doesn't come across that way. He's just stupid…

Here’s where it got—for me, anyway—interesting:

… And then Obama comes along, and I see Christopher Buckley who says things like, ‘Well, I read his books.’ Chris, he may not have written one of them, but that's beside the point. ‘I read his books. He's a very thoughtful guy; a very, very thoughtful guy. Somebody that eloquent, somebody that able to write so well has to have a good mind. So I'm for Obama. You gotta go with the mind,’ and then they mention Palin as being some sort of trailer trash hick. They don't like her accent; they don't like the fact she leaves g's off of some of her words like mornin', instead of morning. They don't like that. And then Chris Buckley said, ‘But, you know even if he goes lefty when he's elected, I'll have a problem with that.’ I was reading this and I'm stunned. If he goes ‘lefty’? So what it is, folks, there is an alignment of elites taking place, pseudo-intellectuals who don't want...

Well, it goes on, but let’s pause here.

There’s a bit of what logicians call ‘undistributed middle’ going on in that blast of wind. But let us take it, as my fellow pseudo-intellectual, Palin-hatin’ George F. Will would say, seriatim. (That’s a word we elites use, meaning “one after another.”)

First, I’m unaware that Obama “may not have written one of” his books, so yes, that would be “beside the point.” (But nice try.) As to the notion that one might be drawn to a candidate who is “eloquent,” who writes clearly and thinks clearly, well do we need we spend much time debating that one? Why don’t we leave it at this: Sen. Obama writes his own books. Sen. McCain’s books are written for him. He and I share the same publisher, which would seem to affirm a) my media-elitism and b) my affiliation, at least formally, with the vast-right wing conspiracy.

Now—I like this seriatim thing—as to the business of Sarah Palin “being some sort of trailer trash hick.” I never said any such thing. I did say that the thought of Ms. Palin as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces gave me acid reflux.

And I’ll stand by that. Nothing that she has said or done since early September has changed my mind on that score. Saturday’s New York Times notes that “Mrs. Palin’s [religious] faith has come under scrutiny after two videos taken in her former church surfaced on YouTube and became immediate sensations. The first showed a visiting preacher from Kenya praying fervently over Ms. Palin in a gravelly voice and asking God to favor her campaign for governor and protect her from ‘every form of witchcraft.’” For the sake of not piling on, why don’t we skip over her denunciation of funding scientific research on fruit-flies, given she is now painfully (Palin-fully?) aware that it has particular value with respect for research into autism.

Video screenshot

Finally, as for Rush’s attempt at legerdemain (a French-English word meaning “horseshit”): “even if he goes lefty when he’s elected, I’ll have a problem with that.”

Let’s look up what I actually said. Oh, let’s.

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

The left-wing E.J. Dionne (educated—whaddya know—at that very same elite New England boarding school!) wrote on Friday in his Washington Post column, apropos the howling on the Right these days:

The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity—and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces.

Well put, E.J. The monks of Portsmouth Abbey School would be proud of you.

To which, let me add a personal, affectionately-intended note: Rush, I knew William F. Buckley, Jr. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a father of mine. Rush, you’re no William F. Buckley, Jr.

Christopher Buckley is the author, most recently, of Supreme Courtship.