Rush Limbaugh Is Just Getting Warmed Up NYTimes com

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Letters: Rush Is Just Warmed Up (July 20, 2008)

Parry for The New York Times

At one Limbaugh did his program from a Manhattan skyscraper he dubbed, tongue-in-cheek grandiosity, the Excellence in Building. These days, he broadcasts out of a studio in Palm Fla. which he calls the Command, and describes on the air as a “heavily bunker.”

In fact, Limbaugh’s emanates from a nondescript building on a boulevard lined tall palms. There even a security guard in the The elevator opens directly a pristine anteroom furnished in glass and leather. An American stands in the corner. Only a framed picture of Limbaugh, the caption “America’s Anchorman,” that this is the headquarters of one of the most admired and reviled

The anteroom was empty when I off the elevator one afternoon in mid-February. receives very few visitors at and no journalists from the hated media.” When I was buzzed the control room, I was met by Bo Snerdly a very large man in a Huey beret #151; who glared at me. you the guy who’s here to do the hit job on us?” he in a deep voice.

“Absolutely,” I

Snerdly, whose real is James Golden, held my for a long moment before into emphatic laughter.

just that we aren’t to seeing reporters here,” a woman named Dawn. She is a whom Limbaugh hired in after he went deaf. days he has a cochlear implant enables him to hear callers, but sends him real-time transcripts of conversations, just in case.

media doesn’t know this place,” she said. don’t know where we During Rush’s big drug they staked out the whole even his house, but they found us here.”

For the next I sat behind the glass panel of the booth and watched Limbaugh at in front of the “golden E.I.B. Unlike Howard Stern or Don he has no sidekicks with him in the room. He however, keep up a running with an unheard voice. I assumed that this was imaginary radio shtick. Now I saw the voice was attached to a human Snerdly, who banters with and badgers Limbaugh via an internal circuit.

After the broadcast, waved me into the studio and me a seat directly across him. The room’s acoustics it relatively easy for him to hear, but he reads lips.

I had come to to Limbaugh about his role in Party politics. During the he assailed John McCain as a conservative and apostate Reaganite. Limbaugh’s best efforts, it now that the Arizona senator be the nominee. There was speculation Limbaugh would not support him in

“I’ve never even met the never spoken to him,” said. “I’m sure are things about him I’d like if we This isn’t personal.” He delivered a litany of the presumptive personal failings #151; too too intense, too opportunistic, too liberal. he assured me, he would be with in the fall. “It’s like the Bowl ,” he told me. “If your isn’t in it, you root for the team you less. That’s McCain.”

It seemed, when I made my that McCain’s opponent well be Senator Obama, and I was to know how Limbaugh planned to on America’s first African-American nominee. “I’ll approach with fearless honesty,” Limbaugh, who speaks of himself in terms on air and off. “He’s a I oppose liberals. That’s all involved here.”

I asked if he had any tactics in mind.

“I haven’t yet that out exactly,” he said. know, I’ve had a problem substance abuse. I don’t with the future anymore. I things one day at a time.”

In this it took two. I was back in New listening to the radio, when I Limbaugh say: “Ladies and I had a conversation with a friend afternoon after the program, and he ‘Nobody’s criticizing Obama. How are you to do this? How are you going to handle the first black American to run for I said: ‘I’m going to do it the way I do it. First, at the top of the list, I’m going to do it I’m not going to bow to political correctness. I’m to do it with humor. I’m going to on the issues. I’m going to react to he says. Simple. I’m going to do it like it were any other #151; he’s a man, He’s a liberal. How do I criticize I criticize them.’ But I have ladies and gentlemen, an even creative way of criticizing Obama. I just this morning, a new position here on the staff is the Official Obama Criticizer. The Network now has an Official Obama He is Bo Snerdly.”

Snerdly introduced as an “African-American-in-good-standing-and-certified-black-enough-to-criticize-Obama guy,” and declared he was speaking, “on behalf of our E.I.B. and sisters in the hood.” The bit was typical #151; confrontational, deliberately and funny. It was also a declaration of Whatever special courtesies McCain might plan to to Barack Obama. Limbaugh is to conduct his air war, as he always by his own rules of engagement.

ON AUG. 1, WILL CELEBRATE the 20th of his national radio program. At 57, he is an icon, although his fans and don’t agree on precisely he is iconic for. I’ve him compared to Mark Twain and Gleason. the Founding Fathers and Coughlin. Serious people called him a serial liar and a philosopher, a partisan hack and a intellectual, nothing more a radio windbag and nothing than the heart of the Republican

One thing is certain: Limbaugh has a partisan force for two decades. In he was so influential in the Republican Congressional that the grateful winners him an honorary member of the G.O.P. class. He moved not only but the party itself. “Rush about the ‘Contract With before there was a ‘Contract America,’ ” Karl Rove me. “He helped set the agenda.”

Limbaugh has a factor in every national of the past 20 years, but not since the has he been so prominent. Democrats blamed him for everything from their primaries to starting rumors about Michelle Limbaugh denies the latter but he happily embraces the former. His was so-called Operation Chaos, a campaign designed to encourage to vote for Hillary Clinton and internecine fighting among

Nobody quite knows how Operation Chaos was. Rove said he thinks it tilt Texas for Clinton. She gave this some on the day after the vote by jauntily “Be careful what you wish Rush.” Howard Dean primary voters in Indiana and Carolina to ignore Limbaugh. The supporter Arianna Huffington Limbaugh and other conservative “toxic curiosities.” After won in Indiana, where 10 percent of primary voters admitted to pollsters that they really Republicans, Senator Kerry accused Limbaugh of with the primary” and causing defeat.

Limbaugh was delighted. He Operation Chaos to have all expectations” (his customary and explained once again he wasn’t supporting Clinton but trying to bloody Obama John McCain was too chicken to do it and he believed that Obama then be easier to beat in

Probably both the Democrats and overstated his actual impact. But Chaos was a triumph of interactive performance art. Limbaugh himself Supreme Commander, his listeners and turned them merry pranksters. “Rush is a at framing an issue and creating a around it,” says Estrich, who ran Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign and has since a talk-show host herself. Chaos drew a crowd, is what Limbaugh does for a It got people laughing at the Democrats, is what he lives for. ever the devout capitalist, he an extra buck by peddling Chaos gear. The stuff off the cybershelves of the E.I.B. store, the seller since his Club collection (“my mullah to Club Gitmo and all I got was this T-shirt”).

None of these jinks would have if Limbaugh were a regular personality. But he isn’t. Michael the editor and publisher of Talkers a trade publication, puts weekly audience at 14 million. himself says it is closer to 20 Either way, nobody is close. He has been the top-rated talk-show host in America the magazine started the ranking 17 ago.

Such massive and popularity makes Limbaugh a political force. “Rush has remade American politics by an alternative to the networks and CNN,” told me. “For 20 years he has the leader of his own parade.”

Harrison an even more grandiose “He’s a phenomenon like the Before Rush Limbaugh was nothing like talk He’s been to talk Elvis was to rock ’n’ roll. He the AM dial.”

“ ANTICIPATING A QUESTION ,” said when we pulled the garage of his secluded beachfront in Palm Beach, “why do I so many cars?”

I hadn’t been wondering that. rich people tend not to on transportation. For example, we drove to the from the studio, Limbaugh at the in a black Maybach 57S, runs around $450,000 loaded. He had half a dozen rides on his estate.

“I have cars for two reasons,” Limbaugh “First, they are for the use of my guests. And I happen to love fine

He also loves space. are five homes #151; all of his #151; on the property. The big house is square feet. Limbaugh there with a cat. been married three but has no children.

Limbaugh informed me I was the first journalist ever to his home. Mary Matalin. the consultant, calls the place which is one adjective that The place, largely designed by himself, reflects the things and he has seen and admired. The massive in the dining room, for example, is a of the one that hung in the lobby of the Hotel in New York. The gleaming floors are dotted with oriental carpets. A life-size oil of El Rushbo, as he often calls on the air, hangs on the wall of the staircase.

Unlike many talk-show hosts, Limbaugh not view France with On the contrary, he is a Francophile. His salon, he me, is meant to suggest Versailles. His guest suite, which I did not inspect, was designed as an exact of the presidential suite of the George V in Paris.

Limbaugh is especially of his two-story library, which is a version of the library at the Biltmore in North Carolina. Cherubs on the ceiling, leatherbound collections the bookshelves and the wood-paneled walls once “an acre of mahogany.”

A man, Limbaugh has a keen eye for detail. His staff lights candles throughout the house to his arrival from work day. Limbaugh led me into his humidor, selected two La Flor Double Ligero Chisel for us to smoke and seated me at an onyx-and-marble in the study. The room opens a patio, a putting green and a On the table was a brochure for Limbaugh’s airplane, a Gulfstream G550. It him, he told me, $54 million.

can afford to live the way he wants. we met he was on the verge of signing a new eight-year with his syndicator, Premiere Networks. He estimated that it bring in about $38 million a To sweeten the deal, he said he was getting a nine-figure signing (A representative from Premiere not confirm the deal.) “Do you know bought me all this?” he asked, his hand in the general direction of his “Not my political ideas. didn’t buy this house. and foremost I’m a businessman. My first is to attract the largest possible so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I to have great entertainment but that enables me to sell

The average AM radio station 18 to 20 minutes each hour for devotes about 5 minutes an to news and spends the rest of the on other content. Limbaugh is not paid by the stations, but his program owns five minutes of hour of airtime, which it can sell to advertisers.

Some simply run their ads. Others use Limbaugh as pitchman, which costs a premium and a long-term commitment. And he has created a new option. At a much rate he will weave a into his monologue (To a caller who he took two showers after for Clinton in Operation Chaos, responded: “If you had followed my advice and a Rinnai tankless water you wouldn’t have needed to two showers. And I’ll tell you ”)

Limbaugh is being uncharacteristically when he attributes his wealth to salesmanship. First, you have to #151; and keep #151; a “Rush is just an amazing performer,” says Ira Glass, a of the younger generation of public-radio “Years ago, I used to in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice I disagreed with everything he was yet I not only wanted to keep I actually liked him. is some chops. You can count on two the number of public figures in who can pull that trick

Glass compares Limbaugh to exceptional free-form radio Howard Stern. “A lot of people them both as pandering and and playing to the lowest common but I think that misses important about their he says. “They both through their ideas in time on the air, they have a lot more warmth they’re generally given for, they both an entire radio aesthetic.”

STARTED LOSING HIS HEARING years ago, at the age of 50. Increasingly hearing aids helped for a but eventually they stopped For almost two months he did his show being able to hear a Regular listeners began that something was wrong. I found myself going I didn’t panic,” he told me. “I was with auto-immune disease.” says he doesn’t know kind of auto-immune disorder it “Once I knew the problem, I for a practical solution,” he continued. I flew out to California and had a cochlear Luckily, it worked.” Doctors, he me, attribute this positive to the relatively advanced age when he his hearing and the short time he was

Limbaugh is known for his wicked of Bill Clinton. Ted Kennedy. McCain and others.

“How can you anyone if you can’t hear I asked him.

He touched his “I know how the muscles are supposed to when I do the voices.”

Limbaugh’s is his instrument, and he has been honing it he began his radio career as a disc jockey. He still music, although he hears it clearly in his memory. “The song I actually remember was a Luther Vandross tune,” he me. “But if I put on oldies I know how are supposed to sound.”

He still a lot of rock ’n’ roll in his broadcasts, segments with Tina ’s “The Best” or sampling an old Bo riff: “Come on in closer hear what else I got to You got your radio turned too low. Turn it up!”

We on the way to Trevini, one of Limbaugh’s favorite Beach restaurants. Once Limbaugh was at the wheel. His girlfriend, Rogers, a West Palm events planner, rode They met at a golf tournament summer and have been an since.

The Maybach was quiet for easy conversation, but the restaurant was a story. We sat at a prime corner but the place was packed, and the decibel caused him to frequently cup his hand to his and sometimes miss entire

Throughout dinner, people our table. Most were Republican men of a certain age. bless you,” they him, or, “Keep up the fight.” He and thanked them in a good-natured One elderly gent in a blue and gray slacks went a long spiel about his works on behalf of several causes. Limbaugh nodded the recitation, but when the man left he that he had not understood a word of it.

waiters buzzed around our They seemed to anticipate every wish, refreshing our serving unasked-for delicacies, checking to make sure was exactly to Limbaugh’s satisfaction.

talk focused on Limbaugh’s or rather his concern over my to it. That afternoon I wondered what a single man with no could possibly want a house that size. He obviously interpreting it as a hostile a Democrat question. Now he wanted to the topic.

“When you saw my house you probably noticed that it filled with pictures of me and people,” he said. “That’s not me. I have a home that ‘Look who I know!’ ”

“No, you a home that says, what I have.’ ”

“Why you say that?” He sounded genuinely possibly even hurt.

“It have something to do with acre of mahogany you mentioned

“My home is a place I feel in, a place for entertaining my friends and he said.

Later, his friend Ailes. a frequent guest and the of Fox News, put the Limbaugh lifestyle in “He lives the way Jackie Gleason have lived if Gleason had the Some people are irritated by

Dinner was winding down, and I for the check. It tickled Limbaugh to be out to eat on The New York Times. A few weeks he sent me a copy of an interview Jeremy Sullivan, a waiter at the KobeClub in New York. Sullivan a reporter that Limbaugh, a Missourian, was the biggest tipper in “He likes to throw down the massive tips I’ve seen. The last few times his have been $5,000.” I read this, I felt a of guilt toward the hyperattentive at Trevini. If I had only known, I have let Limbaugh leave the

LIMBAUGH WAS A FAILURE almost as as he has been a success. And although he is now an of sunshine (“having more fun a human being should be to have,” he crows on his show), he many years trying to his family #151; and himself that he wasn’t wasting his

People sometimes wonder if is a real name. It is, times He was born Rush Limbaugh III in in the Mississippi River town of Girardeau, Mo. Cape Girardeau was America, Middle Western but far South that Limbaugh’s brother David still with a discernible twang. got the voice in the family,” he told me,

The Limbaughs were local Rush’s grandfather, Rush Sr. was a lawyer who practiced law past the age of Uncle Steve Limbaugh is a judge, although he will step down as his son, cousin Steve, joins the bench. David Limbaugh, who lives in Cape Girardeau, books and a syndicated political along with handling his legal work.

Limbaugh’s Rush Jr. was a lawyer, too, a local Republican activist and the influential figure in his sons’ He served as a pilot in World War II and vehemently anti-Communist and very committed to the ideas and ideals of Protestant America. Limbaugh his father playing host to President Richard Nixon in Girardeau in the 1956 election. To day, Limbaugh calls his “the smartest man I’ve met.”

Certainly he was one of the most and autocratic. “On Friday nights my would come over to the just to listen to my dad rant politics,” Limbaugh recalls. “He was the same thing as I do today, the humor or the satire. He didn’t of making fun of presidents. He didn’t that sort of thing was

Dick Adams, Rush’s friend and high-school debate told me: “Mr. Limbaugh suffer fools lightly, just put it like that. times I was over there he called down Rush or in harsh tones. There was a string of expletives attached.”

arguments weren’t political. seems to have swallowed his monologues whole. Like the black singers of his generation, took the familiar pieties and sounds of his time and place and them to create a genre of full of humor, passion and possibility. There are many to look at Rush Limbaugh one is that he is the first white, Republican soul shouter.

But he had to get out of town.

“My father expected me to be a man,” Limbaugh told me. problem was, I hated I hated being told to do. In the Boy Scouts I never got a single badge. In school my grades terrible. I just didn’t to be there. I just wanted to be on the

Rush’s father hoped the boy grow out of this ambition. But to him, he lent 16-year-old the money for a summer course in engineering in Dallas. Limbaugh with a broadcaster’s license, he parlayed into a job at the local station. Soon he had his own show. on the radio made him a local and he never lost the taste for it.

was miserable when his father he attend college. Under he enrolled at nearby Southeast State University, where he a year. Somehow he even to flunk speech.

“My mother to drive me there and pick me up, to make sure I’d go,” he me. “But it didn’t do any good. chance I got, I was out of there.”

hit the road in a 1969 Pontiac He spent the 1970s spinning at radio stations around the under the name Jeff From the start, he had a knack for people laugh. In Pittsburgh he convinced callers he could see via a special telephone. He did voices and

Limbaugh drifted from job to He was wounded by his father’s disapproval, to make a real go of the radio and unlucky in marriage. In the mid-’80s he a job in the front office of the Kansas Royals baseball team. He was $12,000 a year, and he almost to take a more lucrative job as a distributor. “They were $35,000,” he told me. “That like a lot of money.”

Instead, he to take a last gamble on his He found a radio job in Sacramento for the first time, he started his conservative opinions and really his bombastic, politically incorrect, El persona. The show was a hit.

“In days the mainstream liberals had a monopoly,” he says. “All TV networks, CNN, Time and and the newspapers. AM radio was considered a venue. Nobody did political let alone conservative political

Limbaugh said things people had never heard on the He mocked the women’s movement was established so as to allow unattractive access to the mainstream of society”); at … education (“condoms only during the school and took on conventional wisdom federal dollars as a measure, our have not been neglected but with welfare-dependency funds”). It is to imagine, so many years how strange and rebellious, how simply such sentiments sounded.

In Limbaugh moved to New York and his show national. He came to the with the usual make-it-there, expectations. The show, carried on WABC-AM, was a national hit. But he flopped.

“I assumed there was a of broadcasting guys in New York,” he me. “I thought my success would me into a circle of accomplished Look, I admired these Peter Jennings. Tom Brokaw. Dan #151; people watched guys. I thought they welcome me as one of them. I was wrong.” Limbaugh came to a rather conclusion. “I realized that my achievements were discounted of my conservatism and my constant criticism of who I thought would welcome

Why on earth did he expect people he was on the air to embrace him, I asked.

he said. “I was shocked by the visceral Nobody hated me growing up. hated me in Kansas City. in Sacramento, which is a liberal nobody hated me. That happen until I got to Manhattan.”

Not in the big city gave Limbaugh the shoulder. William F. Buckley the publisher of The National Review, saw the broadcaster’s star power and Limbaugh into his orbit. was honored by the attention.

“I grew up on National Review and Mr. Limbaugh told me. “Aside my father, he’s the most man in my life.” In Buckley’s circle he was an figure #151; provincial, and full of déclassé rock-and-roll But Buckley took Limbaugh cultivated him, promoted him and saw to it he connected with the right

Buckley died a few days my first visit to Limbaugh in Limbaugh mourned him on the air and off. But he had a sense that, with passing, he now became the movement’s statesman. Jay Nordlinger, a senior at The National Review, watched tutelage under Buckley, and he Limbaugh seriously as a polemicist and intellectual. “I hired a lot of people the years, fancy kids elite schools, and I always ‘How did you become a conservative?’ of them said, ‘Listening to Limbaugh.’ And often they’d ‘Behind my parents’ back.’ ”

audience is often underestimated by who don’t listen to the show 3 percent of his audience identify as “liberal,” according to the nonpartisan Pew Center for the People and the Press). Pew reported that, on a series of knowledge questions,” Limbaugh’s #151; the defiantly self-mocking for his faithful, supposedly brainwashed, #151; scored higher NPR listeners. The study found “readers of newsmagazines, political and business magazines, listeners of Limbaugh and NPR and viewers of the Daily and C-SPAN are also much likely than the average to have a college degree.”

For his Limbaugh sees himself as a as well as showman. “I take the that comes with my very seriously,” he told me. “I to persuade people with I don’t walk around about my power. But in my heart and I know I have become the engine of the conservative movement.”

In Limbaugh is less a theoretician a popularizer of what he regards as the conservative responses to contemporary Most of his concerns are economic. “I myself a defender of corporate he told me. Limbaugh is admired by the right, but he is far from pious on of … behavior. He is also one of the few #151; left or right who never speaks cloyingly America’s obligation to its children and

Recently, I sent Limbaugh an message, his preferred means of communication, asking what his own agenda would look His answer reflects his actual A Limbaugh administration would to:

1. Open the continental shelf to Ditto the Arctic National Refuge.

2. Establish a 17 percent tax.

3. Privatize Social

4. Give parents school to break the monopoly of public

5. Revoke Jimmy Carter ’s while he is out of the country.

6. Abandon all policies based on the hoax of global warming .

No. 5 was a joke. I

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EVERY APRIL, LIMBAUGH A WEEKEND at his Palm Beach for his closest friends. This the guest list included Ailes, Mary Matalin and Surnow, a creator of the television “24” and a leader of the small conservative community. The event is but hardly nonpolitical.

Anyone for an informal gathering of the Vast Wing Conspiracy could do than this. Limbaugh is close to Karl Rove, who with him a few weeks earlier in Justice Antonin Scalia year he attended a dinner at Steve Limbaugh’s Cape home); and Justice Clarence (who officiated at Limbaugh’s wedding). He describes his fellow Matt Drudge as a buddy. H. W. Bush invited Limbaugh to in the Lincoln Bedroom.

More Dick Cheney toasted at a dinner party; a copy of the president’s remarks hangs on wall at home. But Limbaugh’s hero and constant role is Ronald Reagan .

Limbaugh many aspects of Reaganism, but he is animated by his belief in American “Reagan rejected the notion liberals and conservatives alike for different reasons, believed was in a permanent state of decline,” he to me in an e-mail message. “He had faith in the of the American people. He knew wasn’t perfect, but he also it was the most perfect of nations. was an advocate of Americanism.” In response to a question, he wrote: “America is the to the world’s problems. We are not the problem.”

said he believes that George W. Bush is well but far from the Reagan standard of “I like President Bush,” he me, “but he is not a conservative. He is conservative on things, but he has not led a movement as Reagan did day of his career. Bush’s unpopularity is due to his reluctance to publicly defend and his administration against attacks the left. The country has not tilted to the in my view. What has been is elected conservative leadership the White House down to the

Needless to say, Limbaugh see John McCain as the answer to problem, and it infuriates him when claims to be a Reaganite. “McCain and do not belong in the same sentence,” he

Of course, his problems with won’t prevent Limbaugh trying to defeat Obama or trying to push McCain his views. Some think he is succeeding in the latter mission. Matalin, who has a great belief in powers of persuasion with the said: “Why do you think changed on the immigration issue? of his advisers ?”

Karl Rove he thinks Limbaugh’s greatest in this election cycle be as a backbone-stiffening agent: “He’s a Rove said. “If Rush on an issue, it gives others to engage.”

It is a tough job this and Limbaugh said he knows it. his insistence that Obama is another liberal, attacking and him will be delicate work. is nothing worse than branded a racist,” he told me at the end of our meeting in Florida. “That’s Bill Clinton tried to do to

At the first White House dinner of the Clinton administration, the cracked that Limbaugh had up for Attorney General Janet but he “only did it because she was attacked by a guy.” (The “black being Representative John .)

Limbaugh was in the audience, and he was livid. He and received, a White House It was reminiscent of the time F.D.R. after the legendary H. L. Mencken at a Club dinner in 1934. took it as a warning. “If they tar you as a racist, you are David Duke,” told me.

On May 16, Limbaugh delivered a on what you can’t say about “With Obama we started we couldn’t talk about his big ’cause that made him We’ve gone from to this: Not only can we not mention his we can’t talk about his We can’t talk about his We can’t talk about his unless he does, brings her up as a white person.’ We can’t about his wife, can’t about his preacher, can’t about his … friends, talk about his voting can’t talk about his We can’t talk about We can’t talk about we can’t talk about of color. We can’t talk race. We can’t talk bombers and mobsters who are his friends. We talk about schooling. We talk about his name, We can’t talk about his of experience. Can’t talk his income. Can’t talk his flag pin. This out we can’t call him a liberal. It out we just couldn’t talk his ears. Now we can’t say anything him.”

So far Limbaugh’s tactic has to frame his attacks on Obama in the of liberals themselves. Among the parodies, which he writes the comedian Paul Shanklin, in his is “Barack the Magic Negro,” to the tune of “Puff the Magic by a …-on Al Sharpton impersonator. The was met by indignation when he first it in March #151; until revealed that the title and the of Obama as a redemptive black man à la Poitier #151; came an op-ed piece written by a commentator, David Ehrenstein, in The Los Times.

Sharpton is too much a of such signification to miss the art in boomerang trick. “I despise his Sharpton told me, “but is a lot smarter and craftier than Don Limbaugh puts things in a way he can’t be blamed for easy Some of the songs he does me just make me laugh. But the most dangerous guy we have to with on the right, including and Imus. They come at you an ax. He uses a razor.”

THE ATMOSPHERE in the on the morning after our dinner at was relaxed, even festive. I arrived around 11, Limbaugh was at his wearing shorts and doing

Augusto, his personal chef, was preparing lunch, signaling an Limbaugh skipped the meal, that he doesn’t eat close to time for reasons of “burp Snerdly, Dawn and the engineer me in the dining room, which as if it were decorated by Nancy ’s fussy aunt.

Limbaugh’s that day was, as usual, a performance. He took a few calls, but he delivered a series of monologues on and cultural topics. Limbaugh extemporaneously. He has no writers or script, notes and a producer on the line New York with occasional of information. That day, and day, he produced 10,000 of fluent, often clever talk.

There was nothing he that was startling #151; he parts of the show mocking “change” mantra and excoriating who believe in global warming and about foreign affairs. But if you it is easy turning ancient the influence of the teachers’ unions or in E.U. foreign policy polemical comedy that hold an audience for three #151; try it for 15 minutes at your cocktail party.

Limbaugh but he also instructs. He provides his with news and views can use, and he teaches them how to it. “Rush is an intellectual-force multiplier,” told me. “His listeners themselves, communicators.”

After the Limbaugh and I sat in the studio for several talking. He was in an expansive mood, and he duck when I asked him the most infamous chapter of his his drug bust. In 2006, years of addiction to painkillers, was charged in Florida with shopping” prescriptions. He pleaded not and cut a deal; the charges would be after 18 months if he continued and treatment with a therapist.

to say, the case became a scandal. His enemies jeered the white knight of American was a junkie. His fans feared the might end his career. Some for him. Limbaugh’s lawyer, Roy hired a Florida psychologist, Strumwasser, to evaluate his client.

“I Rush, and I saw he had a problem he couldn’t Strumwasser told me in a phone authorized by Limbaugh. “I knew his and what he did for a living, but that’s it.”

Strumwasser recommended Limbaugh check into the in Wickenburg, Ariz. a rehab that specializes in celebrities.

guarded his privacy, but other that, he was treated like else,” said Strumwasser, who with him to Arizona and checked him in. did individual therapy, took in group sessions and got along everybody.”

According to Strumwasser, had previously tried twice to using drugs on his own and failed. “It most people a lot of time to personal responsibility for an addiction,” he “Especially in a case like where there is a professional involved. But by the time I met him, wasn’t denying his problem at He went about getting in a very passionate way.”

The was muted when Limbaugh to the air, after six weeks. He but drily, discussed his addiction and status, told his listeners he was not a victim and then went on the broadcast.

In the studio the day we spoke, was more emotional. “I thank God for my he told me. “It made me understand my

Being Limbaugh, he said he that most of these stemmed from his inability to himself sufficiently. “I felt who criticized me was right and I was wrong,” he But, he says, he left his behind in Arizona. “It’s not to offend me now,” he said. “I give people the power to do it My problem was born of immaturity and my desire for acceptance. I learned in rehab that this was and unrealistic. I was seeking acceptance the wrong people.”

Limbaugh told me he is no longer about the opinions of his colleagues and and he makes no effort to disguise his for most of them. Michael ranked No. 3 among talk-radio by Talkers magazine? “He’s not in my rearview mirror.” Garrison “I don’t even know to find NPR on the dial.”

At dinner the before, Bill O’Reilly ’s came up, and Limbaugh expressed his of the Fox cable king. He hadn’t sure at the time that he it on the record. But on second thought, got to say it,” he told me. “The man is Ted

Limbaugh does have his He admires Ann Coulter ’s ability to liberals. He is a fan of the columnists Camille and Thomas Sowell, both of he considers honest thinkers. And he is impressed by the essays of Christopher “He’s misguided sometimes, but you read him, you finish the article.”

Limbaugh has a deeply attitude toward Sean his one-time stand in and now perpetual No. 2 on the list. He speaks of the younger man the same condescending affection Muhammad Ali once showed Ellis, a former sparring turned challenger. But he wanted me to who is the Greatest. “I have no competitors,” he “Hannity isn’t even to me.”

Hannity became a issue in the late spring. For than a year he was on what to be a quixotic campaign to raise the of Obama’s controversial pastor, Wright. Then the story Not only that, Hannity led the pack on Obama’s connection to the Weatherman leader William Operation Chaos was still attention and amusing listeners, but the news was being made

From New York, I sent a teasing e-mail message: has been first and hardest on the Wright controversy and the Bill thing. Is it possible that he is a separate Operation Chaos superior intel?”

Limbaugh dispute that Hannity was on the Wright and Ayers controversies. he wrote: “Things only off when I mention them. is the point.”

Two weeks later, The Telegraph in London published a of America’s most-influential pundits. finished fourth, behind Once again I wrote a to Limbaugh: “Are we looking at a of the guard on the right side of the

Limbaugh scoffed. “Since have I cared what the says?” he wrote. “Media are not the measure. Ratings ‘polls’ and are. And it still ain’t

I couldn’t resist. “I wasn’t about the media,” I wrote “I was asking about Hannity. can fairly take credit (as he now, every night) for more influential than any commentator in changing the course of election. That strikes me as Or am I wrong?”

At which point who patiently and graciously answered of my questions, allowed me to invade his and his castle, shared hours of his permitted me access to his closest and most-intimate friends, even his had enough. “Write what you he snapped across cyberspace.

AS A BOY . Limbaugh always preferred the of adults, and it seems to me he doesn’t liberals to be real grown-ups. are destructive of the institutions and traditions make this country he says. “I want to reduce to a small group. I want no than 10 to 15 of them in Congress.”

has no illusions that this be the result of the 2008 election. conservatism wins every it’s tried,” he told me. the party has abandoned conservatives as a McCain doesn’t want to Democrats; he wants Democrats to for him.”

The oddity is that himself makes this possible. Why, after should John McCain the low road, antagonize independents and embroiled in racial controversy he can count on Limbaugh to become the most-effective unofficial Obama

If McCain wins, Limbaugh spend the next four tugging him to the right. If he loses, it not be, in Limbaugh’s estimation, Limbaugh’s and it won’t be the end of his world either. A of Limbaugh’s success is that his often harsh ideas are by a basically friendly temperament. He is like his angry father his … role models, and Reagan, for whom sociability and fun integral to their conservative view.

And increasingly, he has other He’s been spending time with his extended in Cape Girardeau, where so popular that the municipality a Rush Limbaugh tour for He toys with the idea of an N.F.L. franchise. His friend Surnow says that if were a Rush Limbaugh it would be something along the of “Citizen Kane” meets Stern.

As for politics, Rush has picked his candidate for the Conservative Gov. Bobby Jindal of a 37-year-old prodigy whom considers to be a genuine movement in the Ronald Reagan mold “fresh, energetic and optimistic in his of America.” In the meantime, though, the Democratic convention in Denver to around in, and then the main in November. Operation Chaos is but Rush will come up something new to delight his fans and his foes. Presidents rise and fall, but “The Rush Show” will go on, weekdays at Eastern Time.

Zev Chafets is a contributor to the magazine. His last story was about Mike

More Articles in Magazine A version of this article in print on July 6, 2008, on MM30 of the New York edition.

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