Rush Limbaugh's Conservative Charge Former New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets has written a new biography of the conservative radio host, whose talk show has been the most popular in the country for nearly 20 years. Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One tracks Limbaugh's career and his attitude toward his newest liberal opponents in the Obama White House.
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Rush Limbaugh's Conservative Charge

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Rush Limbaugh's Conservative Charge

Rush Limbaugh's Conservative Charge

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Recognize this voice?

Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH (Radio Talk Show Host): (As Bachelor Jeff Christie) And that's the 14th - the 14th in row. You know how many minutes of solid music we just had? Forty-eight-and-a-half uninterrupted minutes of music in one hour. Seventy degrees now, the skies are cloudy. It's going to be hot...

GREENE: That is Bachelor Jeff Christie, the morning drive time DJ on WIXZ-FM in McKeesport, Pennsylvania back in the early 1970s. Now Bachelor Jeff goes by a different name, and he happens to host the most popular radio show in America.

(Soundbite of radio show, "The Rush Limbaugh Show")

Mr. LIMBAUGH: What a day. Ladies and gentlemen, greetings. Great to have you with us. I am Rush Limbaugh, and this is the one-and-only Excellence in Broadcasting Network, and we've got broadcast excellence for the next three hours.

GREENE: Rush Limbaugh, of course, is much loved. He's also much hated. But no matter what you think of him, it is hard to deny that he is a tremendous influence. And our next guest got some rare access to Limbaugh for his new book, "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One."

Zev Chafets, welcome to the program.

Mr. ZEV CHAFETS (Author, Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One"): Thank you.

GREENE: You write a book about the personal side of Rush Limbaugh. Are your liberal friends still inviting you over for cocktails these days?

Mr. CHAFETS: Yeah, they invite me over, and they're curious about Rush. Most of them don't listen and have never listened to him. And so they're interested, I think, sometimes to know what it is he actually says and how it is that he manages to keep such an incredibly large audience.

GREENE: And I think a lot of people out there do wonder that: What is this guy's appeal? And what would you say to them? I mean, you get into this in the book, but what would tell people who just don't get it?

Mr. CHAFETS: Well, you know, Martin Luther King once said - and I hate to be one of these guys who quotes Martin Luther King.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Go right ahead.

Mr. CHAFETS: But he said that 11 o'clock in the morning on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. And I would say that between noon and three, Monday through Friday, when the Limbaugh show is on, is the most politically segregated hours in America. The country is really divided into people who listen to Limbaugh or who don't listen to Limbaugh.

GREENE: And so who's listening in that window?

Mr. CHAFETS: Well, it's as male as Oprah's audience is female.

GREENE: Interesting.

Mr. CHAFETS: It is at least as well-educated as any mainstream publication or show, and older, conservative, Republican people, mostly in the heartland -although Limbaugh is the most popular show in most of the coastal cities, including New York.

GREENE: You know, it's not a secret. I think a lot of people would be surprised about one thing that you tell us in the book, and that's, you know, here we have one of the most heard voices in America, but Rush Limbaugh is actually almost deaf.

Mr. CHAFETS: No, he's stone deaf. He can't hear a thing. He went deaf on the radio. I mean, it was a process of some time, but he gradually went deaf. In the last few months of his deafness, he was broadcasting every day. And then he went and got a cochlear implant...

GREENE: That's an implant that let's him hear some things, some voices?

Mr. CHAFETS: Yes. If you sit with him in a quiet room face to face, you can talk with him easily. He almost never talks on the phone. I went out with him one night with him and his girlfriend, now his fiancee, and we sat at a quiet table, but he couldn't hear a thing.

GREENE: You also use the word charming to describe Rush Limbaugh, and I can hear more liberal listeners cringing right now. How do you convince them that that's even possible?

Mr. CHAFETS: Well, you know, first of all, he's different from his on-air persona. He's much less bombastic. He's much less outspoken. In the book, I compare him a little bit to Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali was, in public, a very bombastic guy. And in private, people say that he was soft-spoken and that his public persona was just a ramping up of his real personality, and that he did the public persona to gather a crowd. And I think that that's very true of Limbaugh, also.

The other comparison I make between Limbaugh and Muhammad Ali is that they both are natural-born fighters and they love to take on big opponents. Limbaugh's favorite fights have been with presidents of the United States or heads of the Democratic Party. These are his Joe Fraziers and his George Foremans.

GREENE: To keep the boxing analogy going, what would your guidance be to someone who comes to you and says, you know what? I listen to Rush Limbaugh for, you know, advice on how to develop my political opinions. I mean, if a lot of what he's doing is for pure politics, I mean, would you say that that's okay? Or would advise someone to be, like, you know what? Listen to him for entertainment, but find some policymakers. Find some others to sort of, you know, help mold your political views.

Mr. CHAFETS: Well, Limbaugh is both a political figure and an intellectual figure. His view of the world is a view which has educated many millions of Americans. What view is that? The easiest way to put it is to say that it's Reaganism. Limbaugh believes in smaller government. He believes in less government. He believes in the Republican Party as the instrument of that. He's a spokesman for corporate America. He's a hawk abroad. He believes in American exceptionalism.

He's less of a social conservative. He's certainly not a member of the Christian right. But I think that it's very important for a democracy to have very clear enunciations on both ends of the spectrum of these kinds of policy opinions.

GREENE: You argued in a recent New York Times piece that Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh. And I guess my question is what, if any, risk there is for Republicans following one man, one voice so closely, if this is someone who never has to stand for election?

Mr. CHAFETS: Well, they have to stand for election on Limbaugh's principles...

GREENE: Republican candidates do.

Mr. CHAFETS: Republican candidates do, if they choose to. And then they'll be tested.

Now, Limbaugh has a mantra: Real conservatism wins every time it's tried. By real conservative, he means Reaganite conservatism. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen. But it looks to me like it's going to be tested in 2010. And if the Republican Party, having moved to the Limbaugh-Reagan right, scores a big victory, I think that's going to be interpreted in the Republican Party as a vindication of Limbaugh's belief.

GREENE: Zev Chafets is the author of the new book "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One." Thanks so much for being with us on the program.

Mr. CHAFETS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: If you want to read an excerpt of "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One," you can go to our website: If you've got thoughts you'd like to share with us, you'll find us on Facebook at nprMORNINGEDITION, or on Twitter @MORNINGEDITION.

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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