Outhowling the howling winds

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

[NOTE TO THE READER: The following column was written in February of 1995 for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspaper where I’d been writing a column since 1981. The column is about radio talk show commentator Rush Limbaugh, who has been thus for more than 30 years. In January of 1995, he was contacted by then Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, asking him to go lightly on federal government plans to do something about the failing Mexican peso. Greenspan anticipated that Limbaugh’s anti-commentary on any plan of a Democratic administration would convince the public and Congress to not help our southern neighbor.

I was interested to discover at the time that the entertainer carried so much weight with such a weighty personage as the head of the Fed. I continue to be interested in the phenom of a yelling fellow worth more than $590 million (You think maybe he’s worth more than our President?) being cozy with men of political power and prestige.

The current President direct-messaged Rush a month ago (according to Rush on his radio show) — “The President has gotten word to me that he is getting government money for the border or he is shutting the whole thing down.” We did find out later that he was shutting the government down; but if one listened to the direct-message to the Rush, it was unclear – shutting the border down? The wall? Or the government. It is clear the President did feel a need to tell Rush something, first, before us.

On Sunday, as I write this note to accompany the old column, Rush is commentarying about global warming, worried, he says, about the really cold weather in Des Moines, Chicago, Madison, WI (he lives in Florida). “They’re going to have wind chills of minus 52 degrees!” he yells. “The real temperatures will be minus 25 or 30!” he exclamation points.

February 24 years ago, I wrote:

Every once in a while, I wind up where I least expect to be. It takes the kind of imagination I don’t want that would place me in the middle of the Midwest in the middle of the winter, but that’s where I happen to be as I write. My mom-in-law tells me it’s 20 below zero; it is the dead – and I mean dead – of winter.

The wind is out of the west today; it’s winging right off the Rockies across a thousand miles of prairie, nothing to stop it.

The front windows of the house are lacy with ice, an intricate pattern I remember from my childhood, when I’d trace these fairy drawings of castles with my finger. The wind whistles through invisible cracks and I wonder why this house didn’t fall apart last night.

I waken to the wind rattling the edge of my dreams to branches crashing off the oak tree in the backyard and the trash can rolling down the block. Drifts of snow pile against the house.

Everything exposed to the elements is coated with ice, a wonderland beyond the window, no countryside for the sane. I step onto the front stoop to retrieve the morning newspaper, lose my footing and do the splits with one foot inside and one sliding east to where the sun will not venture to rise this morning.

But I turn the radio on and am astonished at how warm I get, and how quickly: Rush Limbaugh splutters across the air waves. He makes my blood boil on the coldest day of the year. He’s good for something. I turn the dial and find him three more times within listening distance. And he says the media is overrun by liberals.

The Rush is incendiary, ridiculing, loud. He skewers facts and incites loathing and xenophobia. He picks on the homeless, the homosexual, the heterosexual (as long as they’re female and/or Democrat). As he trumpets his own wonderfulness, I wonder at those who take him seriously.

Alan Greenspan, apparently. Chair of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan consulted in private with Limbaugh three weeks ago about the Mexican peso crisis. Can you imagine telling Limbaugh anything? He is the master of monologue but a listener only to those who fawn over him.

All along I’ve thought Rush was a nonentity, a kind of kooky loudmouth listened to by unemployed guys who’d lost their jobs during the Reagan years and sat at home with time on their hands and enough anger at the unfairness of life to call in and say to Rush, “Go, boy!”

Anyone suffering through trying times can learn quickly how to blame. They can buy in to some mouth telling them to hate them feminazis and them homeless! And all them gays with AIDS. Hate Clinton. And by god pray that you don’t wake up a liberal.
But Rush gets private consultation with head of the Fed.

It boggles the mind.

Listening to Rush outwit the witless, I marvel that anyone could take him and his self-aggrandizing ways seriously. Don’t people get embarrassed listening to him? He makes me think of carney hucksters they used to have at the Iowa State Fair.

I see him smiling on TV or on T-shirts or on the jackets of books, and I think he is a hatemonger on a par with one of the century’s great loathers, Joe McCarthy. For me to believe that intelligent, thinking, altruistic, hard-working folks listen to him with nodding heads and wear his “Rush Is Right” bumper stickers on their cars is one thing. To learn that bigwigs “consult” him makes me nervous. Makes me walk on the other side of the street out of sheer self-protection.

Anyone who rouses the rabble – and then gets the leaders to kowtow – frightens me on a level way below the rationalization that relegates him to just another show-off in show biz. The man makes me want to stay inside my warm house, behind the frosted panes, hoping, at the very least, that he’ll get laryngitis from talking too much. For even when I wind up where I least expect to be, there he is, Rush the divisive, outhowling the howling winter wind.

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