Don't waste candidates' time asking about Limbaugh

By Jayson Jacoby March 09, 2012 09:47 am

So Rush Limbaugh went on the radio and insulted someone.

That this qualifies as a major national story has got me to wondering how soon until I hear this teaser for the nightly news:

“Sun rose as predicted this morning! What was Stephen Hawking’s reaction? More at 11!”

Now I understand that Limbaugh, in lambasting Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke for lobbying for contraceptive coverage in healthcare plans, uttered a couple of nouns which, to American ears accustomed to the peculiar, strained civility of political discourse, sounded sort of harsh.

Limbaugh refused to stoop to the banality of euphemism.

He came right out and called Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut.”

But here’s the thing: Limbaugh never stoops to euphemism.

(Well, maybe he does on occasion, while defending a Republican.)

Limbaugh built the most popular radio program in the U.S. by pontificating, not parsing. His millions of listeners don’t tune in to hear Rush follow his every diatribe with “but on the other hand, you have to credit the Democrats for....”

Even the Democrats, I’d expect, don’t want that sort of temporizing.

This is a guy whose broadcast lexicon includes such classics as “feminazi” and “environmentalist whacko.”

(Still skeptical? Ask Bill Clinton if he thinks Limbaugh carefully weighs the possible effect of every word he utters.)

I don’t mind that Limbaugh’s latest gaffe — a fair word, I think, seeing as how he publicly apologized to Fluke this week — garnered a lot of headline ink.

He’s a celebrity, after all.

And we want to know when our celebrities get up to dickens, verbal or otherwise.

(As an example of the otherwise, let’s say legal troubles related to Oxycontin, something with which Mr. Limbaugh is familiar.)

What annoys me about this brouhaha is that Limbaugh’s verbal diarrhea, with the complicity of the pestiferous news media, has infected a vastly more important, and serious, matter: the presidential campaign.

Reporters covering the preparation for this week’s Super Tuesday primaries repeatedly asked the Republican front-runners, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, about Limbaugh’s upbraiding of Fluke.

These questions were as unnecessary as they were predictable.

I get that Limbaugh, with his ubiquity on the AM dial, is a particularly visible (or audible, anyway) apologist for the GOP.

(Never mind searching for places cell phones haven’t infiltrated; try to get out of Rush’s range.)

But he’s not a candidate.

He doesn’t work for any candidate’s campaign, or for the party’s national apparatus.

Pressing Santorum and Romney for a response to Limbaugh’s juvenile antics is more quixotic than journalistic.

They have to answer, of course — no candidate can remain relevant for long who stands mute before the cameras and the microphones.

Yet their responses to the Limbaugh fiasco inevitably have as much meaning as the babbling of an infant.

I don’t want to hear the candidates’ nuanced, focus-group-endorsed, folded, spindled and mutilated talking points about a radio talk show host who put his foot in the familiar moist warmth of his own mouth.

I want to hear the candidates talk about matters they might actually have an influence on.

These statements will be just as thoroughly massaged by the candidates’ handlers, of course, and equally devoid of spontaneity.

But at least we’re back in the realm of subjects which, unlike Limbaugh, might affect me.

You know what I mean — inconsequential matters such as the economy, and whether I should try to refine my garden’s bounty into vehicle fuel this summer so I can keep driving.

If Limbaugh was merely a brief distraction, an episode of levity amid the grueling campaign, I’d be more sanguine.

But I don’t know that this is the case.

President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, has already suggested that Limbaugh’s criticism of Fluke could hurt the Republican candidate if voters perceive that that person’s repudiation of Limbaugh lacked vigor.

(And who might encourage such a perception? Not Mr. Axelrod, certainly. Nor the political reporters.)

Of course that’s just politics — surely the dirtiest game contested by people who bathe frequently.

Still and all, there’s no good reason for reporters to heave figurative mud into this already messy ring by acting as though Rush Limbaugh’s on-air tantrums are a legitimate campaign issue which the candidates must address.


. . .


There is a common conceit in our culture, and particularly the pop culture subcategory, which turns the anniversary of epochal events into something like a holiday.

I’m a sucker for this sort of thing.

Especially when it’s applied to music.

As a symbol of the passage of time, it seems to me that the arrival of a significant album is more effective than, say, an assassination or a natural disaster.

Take for instance the death of John F. Kennedy.

Pretty much everyone who was old enough to retain memories from that day, Nov. 22, 1963, can recite an anecdote.

The question — “where were you when you heard the news? — has become a cliché.

An album is quite a different thing.

If it’s good — and why would you care to remember the latest audio sludge from the likes of Lionel Richie? — you play an album over and over again.

And so the music comes to represent not an instant in time, as with JFK’s death, but rather a period.

It occurred to me recently that 2012 marks 25 years since U2’s finest record, “The Joshua Tree,” was released.

(This is purely coincidental, but the album came out on this very date, March 9, in 1987.)

I don’t recall when I bought the record (actually it was a CD, one of the early additions to my collection).

But I do remember, and quite vividly, how integral the music on that disc was to the next several months of my life, a span that connected my junior and senior years of high school.

The sense of freedom that permeates “The Joshua Tree,” the way many of its songs distill the ecstasy of open spaces in a Western landscape, are to me its greatest attributes.

Probably this isn’t quite as magical as it seemed to me then.

How many 16-year-olds, after all, can’t relate to a song titled “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”?

The album’s namesake is a tree of the Southwest deserts.

Yet the place I imagine, when I listen to “Where The Streets Have No Name,” is the sagebrush steppe of Eastern Oregon, where there are no Joshua trees.

(To be fair to the lads, “The Juniper” isn’t a very evocative name for an album.)

I don’t know how four Irishmen, who hail from land distinguished by an abundance of rain rather than a lack, managed to pull this off.

But for me “The Joshua Tree” smells more strongly of sage than dozens of American country records, whose pedal steel riffs and homespun lyrics create a veneer of rural life that’s as convincing as the fake wood on the dashboard of a ’77 Dodge.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.