Rush Limbaugh Fakes Stupidity
You may think he's dumb as a chair, but it's all an act.
Many people have concluded, from Rush Limbaugh's recent disparaging comments about Michael J. Fox and Parkinson's disease, that Limbaugh must be an utter fool. But of course that's exactly what Rush wants you to think. Does the man's capacity for manipulation know no bounds?
Limbaugh's tirade was in response to a TV ad Fox appeared in for Claire McCaskill, Missouri's Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. (To view the spot, click here.) Fox also appeared in a similar ad for Rep. Ben Cardin, D.-Md., * who is running for the Senate. (To view that spot, click here.) Here is what Limbaugh said:
Now, this is Michael J. Fox. He's got Parkinson's disease. And in this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it's purely an act. This is the only time I have ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has. I know he's got it and he's raising money for it, but when I've seen him in public, I've never seen him betray any of the symptoms. But this commercial, he—he's just all over the place. He can barely control himself. He can control himself enough to stay in the frame of the picture, and he can control himself enough to keep his eyes right on the lens, the teleprompter. But his head and shoulders are moving all over the place, and he is acting like his disease is deteriorating because Jim Talent opposes research that would help him, Michael J. Fox, get cured. [To listen to the audio clip, click here.]
Limbaugh later retreated to the position that Fox didn't fake the symptoms, but rather that he refrained deliberately from taking his medication, something Fox apparently did seven years ago to demonstrate the effects of the disease while testifying before Congress. It's certainly possible that Fox once again skipped or delayed taking his meds to achieve the same goal (though Fox's public response to Limbaugh suggests not; during a public appearance for yet another political candidate, Fox appeared steadier and said, "My pills are working really well right now"). The obvious retort to Limbaugh is: So what? Whether Fox takes his meds or doesn't take his meds is nobody's business but Fox's, and there would be nothing counterfeit about Fox filming an ad unmedicated. He's been known to twitch, OK?
Limbaugh's continued refusal to drop the matter as more commentators become aware of his stunningly boorish remarks has inevitably led some of these commentators to conclude that Limbaugh is mentally defective. Who but an absolute moron would attack a Parkinson's sufferer for displaying impaired muscle function?
It's a classic trap, right out of the right-wing playbook.
Ever since the resignation of Richard Nixon, a very smart man who got caught abusing his executive power, the GOP has deliberately avoided nominating conspicuously intelligent people for president. Gerald Ford was smarter than he looked, but he was unable to dispel his buffoonish image. Ronald Reagan was famously checked out and ill-informed. George H.W. Bush, though clearly smarter than Dubya, is not exactly imposing in the brains department, and he's demonstrated almost as much difficulty as his son in formulating a coherent sentence. And George W. Bush? Let's just say the guy is either mentally lazy, not very bright, or some combination of these two. I've never felt it necessary to refine that diagnosis; the term I favor is "functionally dumb."
Two things must be said about my assertions in the previous paragraph. One is that they are all unmistakably true. The other is that whenever a liberal repeats any one of them out loud, that liberal—and contemporary liberalism generally—come under attack, along with the Democratic party, the New York Times, Harvard, the AFL-CIO, the Council on Foreign Relations, the three major TV networks, and the Sierra Club. If a liberal is deciding whom to hire to answer phones and return papers neatly to a metal filing cabinet, it's considered legitimate for that liberal to formulate a judgment as to the candidates' intelligence. If a liberal is deciding whom to vote for in a presidential election, it is not. Merely to raise the issue is seen as conclusive evidence that one is snobbish and effete, and that the subject of one's skeptical inquiry isan authentic man of the people.
Nobody knows this better than Rush Limbaugh, who has said so many idiotic things on his radio show over the years that Al Franken, a famous liberal comedian/talk-radio host, walked right into the trap by penning a book titled Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot. Which of course made Limbaugh an even bigger hero to the dittohead faithful.
I'm not saying Limbaugh isn't a little bit stupid. I'll give him that. But give me a break. On the subject of Fox's Parkinson's, he's just all over the place making one asinine comment after another! He can barely control himself! But you'll notice Rush can still cut to a commercial when his engineer tells him to. I'm telling you: Limbaugh's moronic blowhard routine is purely an act. Limbaugh is exaggerating his stupidity to advance political ends, and I find that despicable.
You think Rush Limbaugh is dumb enough to lay into a person for exhibiting symptoms of a debilitating disease? Come on. Nobody's that dumb. You think Rush doesn't know that over time the medications that a person takes for Parkinson's can reduce motor control rather than increase it? Oh, please. You just have to read the papers to know that when he sets his mind to it, Limbaugh can navigate his way around the PDR very adeptly, thank you very much.
Take it from me. Rush Limbaugh wants you to think he's a dumbass, a pea-brain, an absolute yutz. It's a con job. Don't fall for it.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Michael J. Fox by Scott Olson/Getty Images. Photograph of Rush Limbaugh on Slate's home page by Win McNamee/Getty Images.