Great sadness came with Rush Limbaugh’s announcement that he needed to take a break from his wildly successful radio career to conquer a prescription-drug addiction. Few things can be more humiliating than to have to admit in front of an entire nation that you are ... a junkie. And yet that’s exactly what Rush did -- with no excuses. Humiliating, maybe. But also highly courageous. From coast to coast, the Limbaugh nation is hoping and praying that, after taking 30 days off for rehabilitation, he’ll be bouncing back, liberated from his demons, sharper and happier.
A few hours after Rush made his explosive announcement, Chris Matthews asked me to be his guest on "Hardball" that evening. On the set before the start, I told Chris I just wasn’t up for the high-voltage debate style that’s made his "Hardball" show famous. Thankfully, Matthews was in full agreement and conducted what was a difficult interview with a level of professionalism -- and grace -- one rarely finds in the media today.
He wondered how Rush’s fans would react to the news. The truth, I think, is that this is the very least of Limbaugh's worries. Rush Limbaugh enjoys the greatest well of sympathy for any public figure in the conservative firmament, with the exception of Ronald Reagan. Contrary to caricatures from liberals who never listen, Rush has been an inspirational leader, a great popularizer of the conservative cause, and an oasis of hope and humor for the millions who feel their causes and heroes are pounded unmercifully by the liberal press. Twenty million listeners are indebted to him and will repay him with their affection.
Then, Matthews stated his concern that some on the left would greet the news with glee. How right he was.
Some liberals have tried to restrain their glee, but their feelings of moral superiority -- or arrogance, for short -- still came shining through. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Richard Roeper responded to a listener telling Rush "we all make mistakes" with this rejoinder: "I don't think that's the general philosophy of Limbaugh or his audience when it comes to his targets. It sounds a lot more like something a liberal caller might say to an NPR host, doesn't it?" Liberalism equals compassion, understanding and forgiveness.