Rush to Judge Rush Gives Critics a Rush

Posted: Oct 19, 2003 12:00 AM
Let me admit, right away, that I commit ten sins before breakfast. Yo soy imperfecto.

So why do I still feel entitled to cast stones?

Because I'm in the opinion biz, the social change biz. You can't promote social change unless you see things needing to be changed which you then report on and criticize. And unless you're some kind of Marxist, it's not impersonal "forces of history" you're criticizing, but people and their choices. Critics would be nowhere if they couldn't criticize. Besides, it is human nature to complain. Also our right. (Here's my wife again, late with the pipe and slippers. Honey, I know you're doing your best.)

But I don't feel I'm lording it over anyone unfairly. Indeed, just as soon as I say something, whether here at Townhall or in my Common Sense e-letter, evidence rapidly emerges that there are plenty of other critics out there. Do I opine that pilots should have guns, and that TSA is wrong to thwart them? Blam, right away I get an admonishing epistle about the hazards of bullets bouncing around the cockpit. Then, blam, another reader rebukes me for failing to propose that each passenger receive an airline-issued gun as he steps on board the plane. Then, kapow, another takes me to task for omitting the technical details of frangible bullets. 

I say: Bring it on. Let us judge, and be judged. Nor do I demand moral perfection from you before I will consider your observation or objection. I won't investigate you. I won't ask for your resume and I won't demand to know what groups you're allied with, who's "behind you," who's "funding you." I don't care. And I don't care whether you sometimes feel lonely or consume too much coffee. All I care about is whether your argument makes sense.  

Sure, it can be important to judge character. In certain cases--if, say, you wish to work for me, become my spouse, or represent me in Congress--it is even mandatory for me to assess your moral fiber. All I'm saying is that even if you're imperfect, this does not, by itself, mean that you should shut up and never be heard from again. Or that you're a "hypocrite" if you criticize people for doing wrong things yet sometimes do wrong things yourself. If infallibility were a moral prerequisite of criticism, nobody would ever be entitled to criticize. And we'd never get any new information about anything that's wrong, or how to fix it.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh did something wrong, he says. Something to do with back pain and painkillers. I have my opinions on the matter and the ancillary policy issues. For example, I believe it would be a boon to mankind if Rush were to support a ceasefire in the misleadingly named War on Drugs, really a War on People. But my point right now is that even if Rush Limbaugh is a fallible human being, which we can all concede, it doesn't mean he "lacks the moral authority" to challenge the moral failings of others.

It's been Dump-on-Rush Week. Typical of the pilers-on is Evan Thomas, scribbling in Newsweek about how Rush Limbaugh's "hard-right rants" built an "army of admirers." (We're not a tad envious of Rush Limbaugh's success, are we?) Sadly, though, Rush always "had more followers than friends," muses Thomas, as if all other talk show hosts with mass audiences are bosom buddies with each one of the millions. (
Ann Coulter telepathically stole this observation from my unpublished draft of this column and rushed to print with it before I could, darn you Ann. Not that the absurdity is so hard to grasp for the non-Thomas among us.) Also according to Thomas, Rush Limbaugh could be bombastic on air, reticent in private. It seems that in public he's a public man, but in private a private one. So on.

Perhaps most damningly, Rush Limbaugh "clung to the ideology of self-reliance to the last," pouts Thomas. The verb "clung" suggests the spectacle of a man whose "ideology"--really, morality, if we're referring to a code of moral responsibility apart from politics--has been devastatingly contradicted. So does Thomas believe that whenever we blunder, the sheer fact of the blunder proves we're not responsible for our conduct? Or is it the acceptance of self-responsibility that proves we're not self-responsible?

"The fall of a moralist is always a great American spectacle," burbles Thomas, practically smacking his lips as he pours himself another cognac. He concludes: "Limbaugh’s long-running act as a paragon of virtue is over. Now the question is whether he can make a virtue out of honesty."

Rush Limbaugh was never in the Calvinist mold of social critic. Does he pursue Excellence in Broadcasting? Yes. Is he bombastic? Yes. Does he speechify with deep and rolling voice? Yes. Is he ever at a loss for words? Rarely. Is he right-on in his critique of culture, society and politics? At least 55 percent of the time.

But he never claimed to be perfect. Never claimed to a "moral paragon" or "the epitome of virtue"--unless with a transparent, rollicking facetiousness that only someone deliberately attempting to misconstrue could misconstrue. The sad truth is that his foes not only want Rush to eat humble pie, they want to shove his face in it. They indict only themselves thereby, not Rush Limbaugh.