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The Way Things Ought to Be.

The Way Things Ought to Be by Rush Limbaugh (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992); 303 pp; $24.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

--reviewed by Paul Shore

If you are not one of his devoted listeners, the views of Rush Limbaugh may be familiar only through a chance hearing on your Car radio or an accidental encounter with his television program. To remedy this problem, gratify his followers, and make some easy money, Limbaugh has offered what is billed as a summary of his philosophy in The Way Things Ought to Be. Alas, as either a cogent statement of conservatism for the 1990s or a glimpse into the mind and motives of one of today's most popular radio commentators, the book is a disappointment.

Limbaugh's political views are a routine list of reactions: Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of our time; environmentalists who challenge the biblical notion that man has dominion over the earth are closet socialists; liberal activists are sentimental bleeding hearts; sex education threatens America; and so on. Limbaugh's unoriginal recitation of conservative gripes never goes beyond the anecdotal style of his hero Reagan, nor does a larger political philosophy emerge as to how or even why things ought to be Limbaugh's way. He does not even try to address the merits and minuses of the free-enterprise system which he claims to uphold, or offer constructive suggestions for improving American schools, which he rightly notes are in trouble. Limbaugh bashes Hollywood types who use their fame to promote liberal causes but fails to recognize the irony that he himself is just another amateurish media figure promoting his own political views. As a literary spokesman (as he would no doubt prefer to be called) of conservatism, Limbaugh lacks the erudition of Allan Bloom, the dignity of the later Barry Goldwater, or the style of William Satire. Instead, The Way Things Ought to Be gives us yet another example of how the peculiarities of electronic communications are increasingly coming to influence the print media.

Although much of the book is (in a limited sense) autobiographical, the reader gets to see little of Limbaugh beyond the self-aggrandizing performer heard on the radio. The average ghosted sports autobiography contains more insights into the struggles and accomplishments of its author than does this book. Maybe that's because there isn't much more to Limbaugh than a former deejay turned talk,show "personality" who can cut off a disagreeable caller at will and make unsubstantiated claims without fear of challenge. Occasionally the reader catches a glimpse of something a little darker than the attempts at fast-paced bonhomie that Limbaugh likes to project, as when he repeats the deeply offensive term feminazis or uses the homeless as the butt of a barbed attack on their supporters. The clearest picture one comes away with from this book is the image of a modestly talented entertainer who is extremely impressed with his own success-a nonintellectual who has been encouraged not to think critically and is passing the lesson along to his readers.

If finding weaknesses in this self-satisfied, shallow work is easy, coming to terms with the popularity of these attitudes and the way they are disseminated is more difficult. Limbaugh, of course, wrote the book because he was already famous, and his fame and popularity are derived from the medium in which he functions rather than any innate gifts. Radio call-in shows, because they are broadcast live and because a minute portion of the audience can participate, create the illusion of being somehow more democratic than other public forums. In reality, the radio call-in show invites exploitation and manipulation. The "host" determines how long the caller will be allowed to speak and can savage opponents after he has disconnected them. Limbaugh's uncritical, ad hominem approach to politics is ideally suited to this format. Even if Limbaugh himself were thoughtfully progressive, the medium would still lend itself to bullying and snappy, sound-bite retorts to problems that deserve lengthier, reasoned reactions.

Limbaugh ends his book with a chapter entitled "We Are Winning," and there is some evidence to suggest that he may be right. A Democratic administration is (at best) still struggling fitfully to reverse the damage done during 12 years of malignant neglect of this country's social and environmental crises. Demagogues wait in the wings to exploit white middle,class frustration with a changing world it does not understand. Many Americans still crave simplistic answers to the challenges of the next century and yearn for a mythical past when women, people of color, and environmentslists weren't such nuisances. Meanwhile, a man named Rush Limbaugh has written a rambling 100,000,word monologue containing no solutions for the future, and it has become a bestseller. Conservatives deserve a better spokesperson than this junior-college dropout. Liberals and progressives need a bright, articulate conservative if only to keep them on their toes, to challenge them to defend and better define their positions. The Way Things Ought to Be suggests that Limbaugh's techniques and preferred medium may be a threat to meaningful debate-but as a thinker or reformer, he cannot provide even his own fans with a worthwhile challenge.

Paul Shore is assistant professor of education at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Humanist Association
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Shore, Paul
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:873
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