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Rush is deaf

By Lawrence Henry
web posted November 5, 2001

A few years back, we had a substitute priest at our church. She was typical of the contemporary Episcopal pastorate: female, overweight, with a bee in her bonnet. Her bee: "the hearing impaired community." When we sang hymns, she used to come forward and sign the words for deaf members of the congregation, never mind that we didn't have any deaf members in our congregation.

There it is, liberalism in a nutshell: An arrogant display of irrelevant virtue.

Rush LimbaughRush Limbaugh, the most famous and effective talker of our day, has gone deaf in a matter of five months, apparently from a rare autoimmune disorder. He had been making the best of it with ever-louder hearing aids, soldiering on, until the deafness grew so profound he could no longer compensate for it. At that point, he announced it to his audience, without rancor or self-pity, and proclaimed his intention of carrying on with his national radio show, which reaches an audience of 20 million.

Everyone knows Rush's voice. That voice is a schooled, stentorian, wide-ranging instrument of unsurpassed flexibility and expression, part disc jockey, part carney pitchman, part throwback to the glory days of 1940s radio. There has been nothing like it since W.C. Fields, and no radio personality so influential since Will Rogers.

Liberals hate that voice. They hate it because of its authoritative sound. Liberals hate authority, unless they themselves are wielding it. Liberals hate anyone, particularly a man, who sounds like he knows something, and is sure of himself. Liberals love doubt. Liberals love fuzziness. Liberals love process, as they call it.

We are daily inundated with the voices of liberalism: National Public Radio's Noah Adams, with his edgeless therapy-speak on All Things Considered (and his vocal disciple, Senator Tom Daschle - "Puff" Daschle, as Rush calls him); Tom Hanks' Toy Story sneer, Ira Glass's snarky, knowing smirk. Commercial voiceovers nowadays feature announcers who sound either patently, self-mockingly phony, or snottily adolescent. It is the audio embodiment of postmodernism, never really believing anything.

Along comes Rush nationwide in the past decade, reviving the triumphal certainties of H.V. Kaltenborn, and he becomes the biggest thing on radio, changes the cultural landscape, and in the process ridicules liberals and liberalism - well, of course, this man is going to be hated.

I made a slow-motion, long-term conversion to conservatism over the past decade. The first time I turned on Rush's show, I did so with a (for lack of a better word) transgressive thrill - kind of like sneaking out behind the barn with a stolen copy of Playboy. Because, you see, I "knew" about Rush.

I "knew" all the things that my liberal cohort knew about him: he was hateful, splenetic, rude, and hostile. Imagine my surprise when I actually heard Rush and found him courteous, funny, witty, and intelligent.

In recent months, the Internet has been a-buzz with speculation: What's wrong with Rush? He sounds different.

What was going on, of course, was that Rush couldn't hear himself. Few people really know what their own voices sound like. Professional performers like Rush do. Hearing themselves accurately, they alter their voices bit by bit, making the most of what they have, much as athletes use videotape to improve their performance. Now, as Rush could no longer hear, he could no longer explore all the tonal reaches of his voice, especially the lower tones. He would sometimes quack. And at times it was obvious he was no longer as quick as he used to be, no longer sensitive to the sudden shifts of conversation.

In the weeks since his announcement, Rush has gotten better - better at using voice-activated print technology to "listen" to his callers, and better at using his voice. With occasional absences for doctor visits, Rush has shown up, gone to work, and done a good job. He occasionally jokes about being deaf. He has been the very picture of a class act.

Rush has said he will consider getting a cochlear implant, an inner-ear device that can restore hearing after a fashion. It's not real, nuanced hearing, but it's hearing.

I remember talking to our substitute priest about cochlear implants. She hated them with a passion. The deaf community, she insisted, was actually superior to the hearing community. It amounted to a kind of "cultural genocide" to encourage deaf people to make use of a technology that would enable them to hear.

Which is just the kind of idiocy Rush has blistered on nationwide air for more than a decade now. Rush will regain his full strength, one way or another, in short order, without being a poster child for anybody, and without being a victim of anything or anyone.

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and a confirmed Dittohead.

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