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The Rush Limbaugh Show.

I'm sure that some of you in the reading audience must sometimes wonder, "What exactly does the TV critic for a paper like NCR do?" Well, here is your answer in a nutshell: I watch "Rush Limbaugh" so you won't have to. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Produced by former Nixon-Reagan-Bush media wizard Roger Ailes, "Rush Limbaugh," a syndicated, late-night, half-hour, one-man show is part topical satire, with a right-wing slant, and part partisan ultraconservative political tirade. The show is carried by 187 stations, so check your local listings for time and channel.

Limbaugh's basso profundo is the voice of the antifeminist backlash and of the rising "cultural politics" wing of the Republican Party. While antifeminist rants dominate Rush's horizons, he is also caustically antigay, antiwelfare, anti-immigrant and antimulticulture.

Rush's show is not for the faint of heart. And it is not the sort of thing for which a progressive audience will stay up late "that's what the "Whoopi Goldberg" show is for). But it is important, and you do need to know about it, so here we go.

In case you haven't turned your radio to the AM side for five years or so, you need to know that even before he hit the tube this fall, Limbaugh already was one of the most influential and unavoidable media figures of the young 1990s. Limbaugh's three-hour, nationally broadcast radio call-in show (which airs at noon EST) is carried by 529 radio stations and has about 13 million listeners. His fast-paced mix of hard-right analysis, caustic wit and macho posturing made him the undisputed nationwide king of talk radio (with regrets to the late-night liberal Larry King).

In addition, Limbaughs hardback book, The Way Things Ought to Be, which is essentially a transcribed compilation of his favorite radio riffs, has ridden high on The New York Times' best-seller list for months, with sales now well over a million. When Limbaugh goes on the road for personal appearances, he plays the 10,000-plus-capacity basketball arenas, and he sells them out. By all reports, these Rushfests have the air of a pro-establishment rock concert -- at Nuremberg.

Limbaugh's shtick is the politics of fear dressed up in the comedy of invective. He arms his white male audience to do battle with the world of women and weaklings with an air of certitude and an arsenal of Mad magazine-style snappy comebacks and sniping puns.

For Limbaugh, feminists are "ugly women who can't get dates," pro-choicers are "femi-Nazis," proponents of multiculturalism are revenge-seeking "failures," environmentalists are "tree-hugging wackos," poor people's advocates are "compassion fascists," sexual harassment is a bad joke and Anita Hill is "a liar." Clearly Limbaugh is having a cultural-political effect. He was not one of the talk-show hosts who campaigned successfully against the congressional pay raises a few years back. He insists that he is more entertainer than activist. But his show did fuel the Pat Buchanan boomlet in the Republican primaries, which in turn helped push the party and its president further out to the right.

In a May 1992 profile of Limbaugh in Vanity Fair, Peter Boyer told of a Republican Party fund-raiser in New Hampshire at which Jack Kemp spoke to the backs of hundreds of departing attendees when be followed the talk-show host to the stage.

Despite his political obsessions and growing political clout, the 41-year-old Limbaugh is not being disingenuous when he claims to be an entertainer. He comes from radio. He was a rock disc jockey, and not a very successful one, for years before he fell into the gab biz. Limbaugh's big break came in 1983 when be was hired by a station in Sacramento, Calif., to replace that once-famous mad dog of the airwaves, Morton Downey Jr., in an afternoon talk slot.

To complete the politics-to-showbiz circle, the Limbaugh TV show is produced by longtime Republican campaign consultant Ailes, who started his career as a producer on Mike Douglas' afternoon variety-talk show. There he met Richard Nixon and was eventually hired to handle the Trickster's 1968 reincarnation as the New Nixon, a transformation chronicled in The Selling of the President, by Joe McGinniss.

From then on, Ailes worked as a campaign consultant, with only occasional forays back to entertainment. He finally capped his campaign career by claiming much of the credit (with the late Lee Atwater) for George Bush's 1988 landslide win.

Ailes is the man who gave us Willie Horton and those goofy pictures of Mike Dukakis in a tank. This year Ailes apparently saw the handwriting on the political wall. He ducked out of the Bush reelection drive and decided it was time to go back to the entertainment side of TV.

In the Limbaugh show, Ailes has found the perfect vehicle. And after going from Mike Douglas to Richard Nixon to George Bush, it must be a relief for an old showman like Ailes to finally have a front man with real talent. And make no mistake, the 270-pound Limbaugh has talent reeking out of his capacious pores.

He carries his TV show alone, save for the occasional use of comic video clips. The show is deliberately cheesy in production values. Limbaugh just sits on a fake library set, like the ones in those ads selling life insurance to the elderly.

The studio audience is all nonblack, all nicely dressed and prominently filled with women. That last item is clearly intended to counter the boy's club image of Rush's radio show. The show is mostly improvised. Sometimes, Limbaugh announces a topic that he never gets to. But it is usually engaging, always irritating and often intelligent. Limbaugh is, as widely claimed, a misogynist and at least a borderline racist.

But give the devil his due, he is a smart and talented misogynist. Such backward views have rarely had such a nimble and articulate spokesman. Which is to say that he leaves his closest political counterpart, Pat Buchanan, in the dust when it comes to video performance.

The kind of cultural politics Limbaugh represents will never be a majority movement in America. It ultimately cuts too hard against the real economic self-interest of the real middle class and against the real allegiance most Americans feel to the principles of tolerance and diversity. That's why Clinton won the election this year.

However, America's politics is fracturing fast, and the Limbaugh-Buchanan far-right populist style is bound to be one of the significant components in the jumbled political picture of the American future. In these terms, Rush Limbaugh, the persona and the phenomenon, bears watching, even if "Rush Limbaugh" the TV show doesn't.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Collum, Danny Duncan
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Dec 25, 1992
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