Bad Teacher

09.10.13

Rush Limbaugh Has No Business Teaching History to Our Kids

Gather round while Rush Limbaugh retells American history for young readers. Or not. Michelle Cottle on why you should take your kids and run as fast as you can in the other direction.

Rush Limbaugh is coming for your children. Not in the flesh, thank God. But on his radio show last Thursday, the right’s favorite gasbag announced that, after a two-decade hiatus, he is returning to the publishing world, this time with a history lesson for the grade-school set.

The title of his forthcoming book is Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans. As befitting an author of such extraordinary narcissism, the book’s hero is “a fearless middle-school history teacher named Rush Revere, who travels back in time and experiences American history as it happens,” and the book’s cover features the colonial-themed caricature of Limbaugh that also serves the logo of his patriot-themed brand of iced tea.

The story itself is based on a heart-warming Thanksgiving-themed tale that Rush shares with Dittoheads each holiday season, about how the pilgrims, following that first harvest feast with the Wampanoag, went on to reject communal living. Forget inviting the locals over to give thanks to God for not wiping out the entire colony in its first year; as Rush sees it,“The true story of Thanksgiving is how socialism failed.”

The idea for the book, Rush tells us, came from Mrs. Limbaugh:  “My wife Kathryn came up with an idea that literally lit a fire under me.” (Literally lit a fire under him? The first three Mrs. Limbaughs were willing to settle for divorce.) “She said, ‘You know you’re always talking about how history is being mistaught. You’re right. You’re always talking about what kids are learning these days, and they’re not learning about the greatness of America. They’re not learning about the founding days. They’re not learning the right things about the great people, the exceptional people in this country.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you write a book for kids?’”

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Rush Limbaugh sure has made some crazy comments over the years.

Now, I appreciate the time-honored tradition of political eminences feeling moved to share their wit and wisdom with the next generation—and I have read more than my fair share of such works. Among the more notable: Former second-lady Lynne Cheney has produced a number of historical picture books. Bill Bennett turned his Book of Virtues into a veritable kiddie franchise  (The Children’s Book of Virtues, The Children’s Book of Heroes, The Children’s Book of America, The Young People’s Book of Virtues…) Bill O’Reilly, meanwhile, aimed for a slightly older demographic with his teen-targeted 2004 best-seller, The O’Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America’s Families.

Rush, however, is a different creature from such predecessors. Say what you will about their politics (and I’ve said plenty), both Cheney and Bennett are serious people. (Neither author, for instance, subjected readers to puffed-up cartoon versions of themselves sporting a tricorn hat.) Even O’Reilly, with all his bombast and hysteria, has an earnest streak that occasionally bubbles up, and his self-helpy offering for adolescents steered clear of political bloviating.

Rush, by contrast, has never shown any signs of being a serious or thoughtful or earnest guy. He is a degenerate rodeo clown—a toxic provocateur who, while undeniably entertaining for like-minded adults, should be kept as far away from kids as possible. Am I concerned that he’s going to start raving about “sluts” or “feminazis” or slip the lyrics to “Barack the Magic Negro” into his kiddie lit? Of course not. But the guy is a proudly offensive adult showman. Having him pen books for kids is a little bit like having Howard Stern come in to lead your preschooler’s circle time. It just shouldn’t happen.

I am hoping to be surprised. Often, political types court kids as a way to soften their image. (Or their husbands’: Think of all those adorable pet books to come out of the White House over the years.) And there is always the chance that Rush will keep his baser demagoguery in check—or at least tone down the anti-socialist raving that is central to the oft-repeated story on which this book is based. That said, I’m not holding my breath. And, no matter how diluted the story’s ideological rhetoric, it’s already clear that it will be, at its core, a crass and pompous mixture of self-marketing and self-mythologization.  (“Rush Revere”? The man should be reading children’s books, not writing them.)

The release date for Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims is set for October 29, two days before Halloween, which seems entirely appropriate. After all, it’s tough to think of a cultural development more frightening than one of conservatism’s most age-inappropriate personalities peddling his ideas specifically to young kids.

Except maybe for Rush’s on-air musing that, if the book sells well, he plans to expand it into a series.