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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT