TO COOLER HEADS AND CALMER HEARTS, he is an infuriating loud-mouth not to be taken seriously. But for most of his eight million listeners, he's hot, he's right, and he's the best thing they've heard in a long time.
Five years ago, Rush Limbaugh was an unknown San Diego talk show host just beginning to work on a risky and untried liberal-bashing schtick. The concept was simple: Put down anything that's not a part of the American feel-good myth.
Now, ensconced at New York's WABC, he's moved to three hours of daily prime time as America's most popular radio personality. His midday fireside spats go out to more than 400 radio stations, and his rantings can only get more pronounced as he readies a syndicated weekly television show, to be launched sometime this spring.
America loves this guy. In a country where political discourse has mainly been the domain of media cogniscenti and elected double-talkers, Limbaugh is refreshingly blunt about what he likes (very little) and what he won't stand for anymore. Where media etiquette has required talk show hosts to take the polite middle ground, Limbaugh is potty-mouthed and partisan. His long list of pet peeves includes uppity women, uppity blacks, uppity foreigners, poor people, the unemployed, the homeless, and anyone who would come to the defense of the above.
He's the John Sununu of the air waves, a populist bully who delights in offending and taking offense. He's the kid in junior high that nobody liked, and now he's getting back at us.
His favorite targets, of course, are liberals, a word he cannot pronounce without sounding like a man wincing from the taste of rancid meat. And his daily critiques of Democratic mood swings may be the most important ally the Republican Party has in its arsenal of election-year propaganda.