"Suck it up, fatso, and stop taking 100 pills a day." That was part of shock-talk radio host Don Imus's Oct. 13 rant about Rush Limbaugh confessing his addiction to prescription pain killers: "Rush is a fat, pill-popping loser and an undisciplined slob ... and -- as soon as he gets caught -- he starts whining."
Most readers of World magazine, which I edit, probably (and rightfully) abhor such a sentiment. Many are fans of the conservative talk show host, share much of his viewpoint and wince that his drug addiction, which began after a failed back operation, gives moral relativists a chance to gloat about "hypocritical conservatives" who purportedly accuse others and excuse themselves.
The hypocrisy charge -- an addicted Limbaugh criticizing other addicts -- is not surprising. Conservatives such as Gary Bauer logically differentiated between the abuse of legal drugs for physical pain and the use of illegal drugs for spiritual or psychological problems, but that distinction did not register with Al Franken, author of the unsubtly titled "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot." He had a good time roasting Limbaugh for having knocked street drug sellers as well as celebrity addicts such as baseball's Darryl Strawberry and music's Kurt Cobain.
Attacking hypocrisy is almost always a winner for philosophical liberals because if it is the homage vice pays to virtue -- that's what 17th century French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld declared -- then believers in ethical relativism are inoculated against it, since for them no universal virtues exist. For example, a person who defends marriage can rightfully garner criticism for falling into adultery -- a person who approves of adultery is immune. It works the same way with drug use.
Nor should liberal gloating about Limbaugh's plight by presidential candidate John Kerry and others come as any surprise. For the left, everything is politics: the downfall of an important conservative figure is an occasion for celebration, the death of a liberal leader (like the late Sen. Wellstone) an opportunity for a political rally.
But what conservatives should ponder is a pledge by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter to give "bully boy (or girl) conservatives ... a taste of their own bitter medicine." Yes, the revenge-seeking Alter should be reminded that he who digs a pit falls into it. Nevertheless, we should ask: Have some conservatives been bully boys, rejoicing in the personal degradation of political adversaries such as Bill Clinton?
If so, that's a problem, particularly for Christians. Top preachers say "we sinners," not "you." They remind listeners that there's plenty of sin to go around, and also lots of grace. We can take positions on moral issues without becoming holier-than-thou if we remember that sin is crouching at our door. We are to pray for enemies, realizing that even those most scornful of God may, like the apostle Paul and some ex-abortionists today, become premier evangelists.
News items about Limbaugh's fall should lead to more gospel, not more gossip. The fall of those who cast a large shadow should remind us of the shadows in our own lives and our dependence on God's grace every day. That consciousness should also free us from any tendency to demonize opponents. Satan is utterly evil and will remain that way, but we have no such knowledge about any human being.
Are we left unable to take public positions on moral questions because we cannot find a perfect man or woman to uphold the standards? Of course not -- and conservatives should insist that if Limbaugh did anything that merits a legal penalty, he should pay it. The Bible is clear that justice should be impartial, and that wealth or prominence shouldn't exact a higher or lower penalty. But the Bible also contends that when the mighty have fallen, the nation should lament.