Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

At 25, Limbaugh show still rules GOP

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
August 1, 2013 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
Rush Limbaugh, conservative and influential radio talk show host, makes a point.
Rush Limbaugh, conservative and influential radio talk show host, makes a point.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: President Bush in 1992, seeking Limbaugh's support, carried his bags
  • GOP has been Rush Limbaugh's bellhop ever since he got influential, he says
  • LZ: Rush throws around half-truths and insults. Some are disgusted, others entertained
  • LZ: But it's destructive when people, politicians make him some sort of spokesman

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a CNN contributor who writes a weekly column for CNN.com. The former Hechinger Institute Fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He is also a senior writer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- If you want to know why there's little cooperation in Washington these days, I'd start with a campaign promise made in 1988 by presidential candidate George H.W. Bush.

"Read my lips: No new taxes."

So, when he raised taxes two years later, quite naturally, voters, particularly conservatives, were upset.

If you want to know why so little is being accomplished in Washington these days, I'd start with that broken promise and what Bush did in an attempt to get those conservatives back.

He carried Rush Limbaugh's bags.

That's right. In 1992, President Bush invited Limbaugh for a sleepover and personally brought his guest's bags into the Lincoln bedroom for him

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

They were not friends.

In fact, Limbaugh didn't care for Bush that much, and "41" knew it. But Bush was seeking re-election. He was saddled with a slumping economy and locked in a tough battle with Gov. Bill Clinton and businessman Ross Perot.

He believed he needed Rush Limbaugh.

The party has been carrying Limbaugh's bags ever since.

So, if you want to know when Washington became so polarized, maybe we should circle August 1, 1988, exactly 25 years ago. That was the day a satirical talk show host syndicated his act and, in the process, made a lot of money and became one of the most influential figures in American politics today.

Joyner: Limbaugh shouldn't say N-word
Limbaugh: Conservatives lost gay marriage

"Have any of you heard of an individual by the name of LZ Granderson?" Limbaugh asked on his show in June 2012. "Snerdley? He has not heard of LZ Granderson. Dawn, have you? Brian, have you heard of LZ Granderson? Prior to last night I had not heard of LZ Granderson."

Which isn't true.

In June 2011, Limbaugh brought me up on his show as well, going so far as to say, "You can blame me, LZ Granderson, all you want, and I'll take it."

It only takes a few seconds on "The Rush Limbaugh Show" website to find out those facts. But Limbaugh isn't on the air to provide facts, he's there to entertain. Many of his listeners understand that.

And many of them don't.

A 1994 New York Times article leading into the midterm election called Limbaugh "a kind of national precinct captain for the Republican insurgency of 1994" and documented caller after caller legitimately asking the Mahi Rushie -- he calls himself that on occasion -- for guidance.

Not much has changed.

During the Affordable Health Care Act debate, callers were actually asking Limbaugh, a shock jock in the mold of Howard Stern, what was in the bill. He even threatened to move to Costa Rica if it was implemented, which seemed counterintuitive, considering Costa Rica has universal health care.

But it's moments like that when you remember that Limbaugh's purpose isn't to provide thoughtful political discourse. It's to vent on his listeners' behalf, to appeal to their censored side. The side that wants to hear a white man say "nigga" in public or call a woman a "slut" without getting fired.

If that makes you laugh, then he's doing his job.

If that disgusts you, well that's his job, too.

Limbaugh has had us on this yo-yo since the moment he assumed the role of Gabriel in the Kingdom of Reagan 25 years ago. Back then, it was only offensive, because he was the party's megaphone, warning listeners about the impending invasion of welfare queens with his mixture of righteous indignation and half-truths. It became destructive when listeners and politicians alike made him its spokesman: a pseudo-politician free from the burden of actually having to do anything.

Like use facts.

In rebutting the legitimacy of climate change, Limbaugh once told listeners the United States had more acreage of forest land today than at the time the Constitution was written. That wasn't true, of course, but it sounded good.

Not too long ago, he read what he believed to be passages from Obama's senior thesis, passages that expressed a disdain for the U.S. Constitution. Sadly, the whole thing was made up by a blogger. And while Limbaugh did sheepishly tell listeners what he had read earlier was false, the host still found a way to justify reading it by saying, "We know he thinks it."

Some folks eat that kind of stuff up.

Some get riled up about it.

And the folks in Washington? Well, after 25 years, they're still not quite sure what to do with it or him. If you're a Democrat, do you ignore him? If you're a Republican, do you carry his bags? I imagine it's like that feeling you get when someone tells you something that you can't determine is a joke or not. You just stand there half-smiling like an idiot.

So, if you want to know what the folks in Washington are doing about the economy, I'd start there.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT