Washington. -- Rush Limbaugh doesn't need me to defend him. He does well enough speaking for himself on the 648 radio and 250 television stations that carry his message, and in the 6 million copies of his books that are in print. He is a network to millions of people who have for years wanted something or someone in the media to reflect their views and values. Now that they've have found him, they are rewarding Mr. Limbaugh with their allegiance, which translates into big ratings and lots of book sales.
In recent weeks, his detractors have begun to try to discredit him. Newspaper columns and paid newspaper ads allege "factual errors" in some of his comments. (Would that someone held the big media accountable for their factual errors and unprofessional editorializing disguised as reporting.)
The liberal counter-attack on Mr. Limbaugh is flawed in at least two ways. They are lowering themselves to the very name-calling they claim he engages in, and by labeling him a "jerk" and "charlatan," they are demeaning the middle class people who are his greatest fans. Message? If he's a jerk, the big media must think those who like him are jerks, too.
From what his critics write, it seems clear they have not listened to his show, at least not long enough to become familiar with its rhythms and the deeply held beliefs of those who call and who truly love him.
Yes, that's right, love him. The intensity of their loyalty and gratitude for expressing what they believe, but can never communicate to a mass audience because the elite media block or distort their voices, is misunderstood by the left at its own peril.
Mr. Limbaugh's critics are furious that he has beaten them at their own game. They are angry that he is exposing what they have tried to cover up: namely, fraud and hypocrisy in their own government and inside the education, political and media establishments.
And the critics are especially furious that Mr. Limbaugh does not fit the conservative stereotype they have worked so long and hard to create: a three-piece-suit-wearing, white-sock-clad, Bible-thumping, snake-handling, book-burning, uneducated, humorless dunderhead, who drives a pickup truck with a gun rack and a pro-gun bumper sticker.
In fact, Mr. Limbaugh is intelligent, quick-witted -- and he is having a good time while making gobs of money. His roots are Midwestern. I met his mother and his brother, an attorney, on a trip to his home town, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. They are salt-of-the-earth people with senses of humor, the type most hard-working Americans would identify with. They aren't flashy, just decent folk who go to church on Sunday and think their government wants to replace God as the most powerful force in their lives.
Mr. Limbaugh is a humorist and satirist -- with more bite than Will Rogers. He hasn't used his invented word "femi-Nazi" on the air in a year because, he says, he wanted to see how many of his critics were actually listening. Not many, it appears, as most who write or speak against him constantly mention the term, which he has said was never intended to smear all women or even all feminists -- just the tiny core of the most radical among them.
In a USA Today column, Mr. Limbaugh says he thinks jealousy is the reason most liberal journalists enjoy attacking and misquoting him. That's part of it, but there is a more profound reason. The left knows it has lost the culture war and the idea war over America's political, economic and foreign-policy direction. To keep from being held accountable, it must create bogeymen (bogeypersons?) to shift the public's attention from its failed record to the perceived "threat."
On rare occasions when a critic debates him on "Nightline" or some other forum, Mr. Limbaugh blows them away in an avalanche of facts and pugilistic rhetoric. It is an awesome sight to see, something like watching Margaret Thatcher destroy her Labor Party adversaries during debates in the House of Commons when she was prime minister. And so their only hope is to engage in misquotation and misrepresentation.
Mr. Limbaugh should challenge some of his most visible critics to a public debate, not about him, but about the mess they have made of America. If they want to blast the generation that gave us Ozzie and Harriet, let him make the liberals defend Beavis and Butt-head.
Keep it up, Rush. Their words can never hurt you, but your verbal sticks and stones are killing them.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.