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October 24, 2003

Has Rush Limbaugh Gone Looney (Or Was He Always That Way?)

If you are following the Rush Limbaugh story, it seems to be going in two directions. The main path has to do with his hypocrisy and the tendency to rail against his own kind:

(According to Rush: “… too many whites are getting away with drug use…. The answer to this…is to…find the ones…getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river….”)

The other play on the story is the more salacious one, involving how he kept his drug problem a secret, and how his enabling housekeeper finally did him in.

What we’re not hearing much about is the “why” story. There have been the customary bio pieces that hint at personality problems, but our culture generally doesn’t know how to think about such things. (Just like Limbaugh and his followers, the predominant tendency is to view“ dysfunctional” behavior through a moral lens.)

The bottom line is that Rush is a very depressed guy with a pervading sense of inferiority. Those who are the closest to him say that he has few friends and an impoverished personal life. What is killing him, however, is also what makes him fabulously popular: it is the ability to deflect the inferiority and self-loathing away from himself, and redirect it toward the weakest members of our society.

In this regard, a truly rehabbed Limbaugh would probably be the first to admit that his life is cartoonish, with a tone more characterized by Warner Brothers than Brooks Brothers. While most liberals would compare him to Wil E. Coyote, his character indicates something else. He is actually a likable, yet exceedingly lightweight figure who becomes easily upset and vengeful. Sort of like, Porky Pig.

Actually, there are a number of parallels between the two figures, even in their mannerisms and expressions. For example, whereas Porky is famous for the sign-off line: “Th’-th’-th’-th’-th’-th’-that’s All, Folks!” Limbaugh likes to use: “I’m not making this up, folks” (when, in fact, he is).

More significantly, though, Rush’s father was overbearing and caused him to feel insignificant. Porky also had problems with his father, who passed his tendency to stutter on to his son. According to Gerald F. Johnson of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, in a short paper called “A Clinical Study Of Porky Pig Cartoons,” Porky’s father referred to Porky as a “good for nothing boy.”

Initially, Limbaugh also had problems speaking out. The one year he attended college, his father pushed him to take communication classes. Limbaugh recalls failing Public Speaking.

Both figures have struggled with weight. Limbaugh, at one point, was 320 pounds. Gerald Johnson reports that Porky was often derided for his weight with terms such as “fat boy,” “ham”, and “fatso.”

Similarly, Johnson, describes how Porky was often cast in the role of an inferior: “Porky Pig often starts out as a placid pig, usually minding his own business, but soon he becomes traumatized either by events going on around him or by another character-especially Daffy Duck.”

The off-air Limbaugh has a similar profile. In the cover article in last week’s Newsweek, Randall Bloomquist, an editor at Radio & Records newspaper, said: “It was almost as if every step away from the studio, he grew smaller and less confident, shrinking with each step into the real-life Rush Limbaugh.”

Pent-up anger is a central feature of both characters. Johnson describes how: “…Porky Pig went from one trauma to another, causing him great mood swings. Often, Porky would get angry at his tormentors and strike out in a highly emotional manner.”

Rush’s mother described him as “passive-aggressive.” She recalls that he wouldn’t even leave his room on Halloween. Rather, he would drop water balloons on trick-or-treaters from his bedroom window.

Obviously, just listening to his radio program for a few minutes is demonstration enough of Limbaugh’s anger. He is famous for it. For example, he once called Kurt Cobain, another prominent drug user, “a worthless shred of human debris.” He also said that: “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” (In general, the three-times married Limbaugh seems to favor the idea that women exist to exert their will over men.)

Is it odd or disrespectful to compare a public figure with a cartoon character? If it once was, maybe its not anymore. Because, in the world of politics, who can say what distinction remains between fiction and reality? (Which makes you wonder which comes off worse in the comparison.)

Limbaugh was especially put out about President Clinton’s involvement with Monica Lewinsky. More than anything, what he couldn’t stand was Clinton’s deceptiveness, his duplicity. There is a phrase Limbaugh grew especially fond of throughout that period. “There’s a pathology here, folks,” he used to say. “There’s a pathology here.”

The man definitely knew what he was talking about.

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