Rush Limbaugh Is Just Getting Warmed Up NYTimes com

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Maybach 57S

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 been a factor in national election of the past 20 but not since the mid-1990s has he been so Democrats have blamed him for from invading their to starting scurrilous rumors Michelle Obama. Limbaugh the latter accusation, but he happily the former. His vehicle was so-called Chaos, a radio campaign to encourage Republicans to vote for Clinton and prolong internecine among liberals.

Nobody knows how effective Operation was. Karl Rove he thinks it helped tilt for Clinton. She herself gave some credence on the day after the by jauntily saying, “Be careful you wish for, Rush.” Dean implored primary in Indiana and North Carolina to Limbaugh. The Obama supporter Huffington called Limbaugh and conservative hosts “toxic After Clinton won in Indiana, 10 percent of Democratic primary admitted to exit pollsters they were really Senator John Kerry Limbaugh of “tampering with the and causing Obama’s defeat.

was delighted. He deemed Operation to have “exceeded all expectations” customary self-evaluation) and explained again that he wasn’t Clinton but merely trying to Obama because John was too chicken to do it and because he believed Obama would then be to beat in November.

Probably the Democrats and Limbaugh overstated his impact. But Operation Chaos was a of interactive political performance Limbaugh appointed himself Commander, deputized his listeners and them into merry “Rush is a master at framing an and creating a community around says Susan Estrich, who ran Dukakis’s 1988 presidential and has since become a talk-show herself. Operation Chaos a crowd, which is what does for a living. It got people at the Democrats, which is what he for. And, ever the capitalist, he turned an extra by peddling Operation Chaos The stuff flew off the cybershelves of the store, the biggest seller his Club Gitmo collection mullah went to Club and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”).

of these high jinks have mattered if Limbaugh a regular radio personality. But he Michael Harrison, the editor and of Talkers magazine, a trade puts Limbaugh’s weekly at 14 million. Limbaugh himself it is closer to 20 million. Either nobody else is close. He has the top-rated radio talk-show in America since the magazine the ranking 17 years ago.

massive and consistent popularity Limbaugh a singular political “Rush has completely remade politics by offering an alternative to the and CNN,” Rove told me. 20 years he has been the leader of his own

Harrison offered an even grandiose view: “He’s a like the Beatles. Before Limbaugh there was nothing talk radio. He’s to talk what Elvis was to ’n’ roll. He saved the AM dial.”

“ A QUESTION ,” Limbaugh said we pulled into the garage of his beachfront mansion in Palm “why do I have so many

I hadn’t actually been that. Very rich tend not to stint on transportation. For we drove to the house from the Limbaugh at the wheel, in a black 57S, which runs $450,000 fully loaded. He had a dozen similar rides on his

“I have these cars for two Limbaugh said. “First, are for the use of my guests. And two, I happen to fine automobiles.”

He also space. There are five #151; all of them his #151; on the The big house is 24,000 square Limbaugh lives there a cat. He’s been three times but has no children.

informed me that I was the first ever to enter his home. Matalin. the Republican consultant, the place “aspirational,” which is one that fits. The place, designed by Limbaugh himself, the things and places he has seen and The massive chandelier in the dining for example, is a replica of the one that in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in New The gleaming cherry-wood floors are with hand-woven oriental A life-size oil portrait of El Rushbo, as he calls himself on the air, on the wall of the main staircase.

many right-wing talk-show Limbaugh does not view with hostility. On the contrary, he is a His salon, he told me, is meant to Versailles. His main guest which I did not personally inspect, was as an exact replica of the presidential of the George V Hotel in Paris.

is especially proud of his two-story which is a scaled-down version of the at the Biltmore Estate in North Cherubs dance on the ceiling, collections line the bookshelves and the walls were once “an of mahogany.”

A fastidious man, has a keen eye for domestic detail. His lights fragrant candles the house to greet his arrival work each day. led me into his private humidor, two La Flor Dominicana Double Chisel stogies for us to smoke and me at an onyx-and-marble table in the study. The opens onto a patio, a green and a beach. On the table was a for Limbaugh’s newest airplane, a G550. It cost him, he me, $54 million.

Limbaugh can afford to the way he wants. When we met he was on the verge of a new eight-year contract with his Premiere Radio Networks. He that it would bring in $38 million a year. To sweeten the he said he was also getting a signing bonus. (A representative Premiere would not confirm the “Do you know what bought me all he asked, waving his hand in the direction of his prosperity. “Not my ideas. Conservatism didn’t buy house. First and foremost I’m a My first goal is to attract the possible audience so I can charge ad rates. I happen to have entertainment skills, but that me to sell airtime.”

The average AM station reserves 18 to 20 minutes hour for advertising, devotes 5 minutes an hour to news and the rest of the time on other Limbaugh is not only paid by the but his program also owns minutes of every hour of which it can then sell to

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 sex education (“condoms work during the school year”); and on conventional wisdom (“using dollars as a measure, our cities not been neglected but poisoned welfare-dependency funds”). It is hard to so many years later, how and rebellious, how simply wrong, sentiments sounded.

In 1988, moved to New York and took his national. He came to the city the usual make-it-there, make-it-anywhere The show, carried locally on was a national hit. But socially, he

“I assumed there was a fraternity of guys in New York,” he told me. “I my success would launch me a circle of accomplished people. I admired these people. Jennings. Tom Brokaw. Dan Rather people watched these I thought they would me as one of them. I was wrong.” Eventually came to a rather obvious “I realized that my professional were discounted because of my and my constant criticism of those who I would welcome me.”

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

“Immaturity,” he “I was shocked by the visceral hatred. hated me growing up. Nobody me in Kansas City. Even in which is a liberal town, hated me. That didn’t until I got to Manhattan.”

Not everyone in the big gave Limbaugh the cold William F. Buckley Jr.. the of The National Review, saw the young star power and took into his orbit. Limbaugh was 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 adult 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

Maybach 57S

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 terrorist 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 dead-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 mature 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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