October 16, 2003,
This week the part-time comedian and full-time conservative basher Al Franken, in Washington to promote his new book, entertained fans at a local restaurant by imagining Rush Limbaugh undergoing drug rehabilitation.
Franken performed "a great impression of Rush Limbaugh in a 12-step program," one admirer told the Washington Post. "He said, 'Rush is having problems with the step where you acknowledge a higher power. He's wondering if you can acknowledge yourself as a higher power.' It was hilarious."
A few weeks ago, when The National Enquirer published its expose of Limbaugh's drug use, Franken said that if the allegations were true, "I'm looking forward to the perp walk."
"I'll be switching channels to get it from every angle," Franken told the New York Daily News. "My favorite part is when they push their heads to get them down into the car."
In the days since Limbaugh admitted that he is addicted to prescription drugs, some liberal commentators have shown more self-control than Franken; as much as they dislike the conservative radio star, they don't want to be seen as kicking him when he's down.
But others have been unable to hide their happiness. A headline in the popular left-wing site Buzzflash.com read: "Phony Gucci-Shoed Populist Rush 'Pigboy' Limbaugh Admits He's a Junkie." And Newsweek's Evan Thomas used the occasion to call Limbaugh a "twice-divorced, thrice-married schlub whose idea of a good time is to lie on his couch and watch football endlessly." (And that was not in an opinion column but in the magazine's news account of Limbaugh's problems.)
Part of the reason some on the left are delighted by Limbaugh's troubles is that they're still angry over his relentless criticism of Bill Clinton. They believe Limbaugh's problems have revealed him for the hypocrite he's always been.
They can't be convinced otherwise. But just to remind them of the record, these are some of the things that Limbaugh has not done:
He has not denied that he was addicted to prescription drugs.
Whatever that says about Limbaugh, it certainly shows he has not taken the advice of anyone who served in the Clinton White House counsel's office.
It is not clear what the legal consequences, if any, will be for Limbaugh. From what is publicly known, it appears unlikely he will go to jail; the criminal investigation in which he was entangled mostly focused on drug dealers, not users.
In addition, there are plenty of cases in which public figures who have engaged in extensive drug use did not go to jail.
Aaron Sorkin, the creator of NBC's The West Wing, has long had a drug habit. Sorkin's addiction, unlike Limbaugh's, apparently began with recreational use. But Sorkin has acknowledged his problem for years, and in 1995 was treated at the Hazelden Institute in Minnesota.
In April 2001, Sorkin was arrested when authorities found crack cocaine in his luggage at the Burbank Airport. It was his first arrest for drugs. In June of that year, he pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to treatment, not jail.
Even multiple offenses often do not result in time behind bars. The actor Robert Downey Jr. messed up repeatedly was caught several times with crack, heroin, other drugs, and, occasionally, a concealed gun before being sent to jail.
Once there, Downey won early release. And then, out on parole, he was arrested again on drug charges and still didn't have to go to jail.
So in Limbaugh's case, Al Franken might well be disappointed.
But Limbaugh is going to have to deal with a lot of criticism. A couple of years ago, here in NRO, the New York Post's John Podhoretz wrote of Sorkin's preachy television show: "I don't know about you, but I don't need any lessons on theology, destiny, public service, job creation, pay equity or conservative ideology from a crack addict."
Limbaugh can expect plenty of comments like that from the other side.
And then there's Franken, who made a good deal of money with his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.
On the day Limbaugh announced his addiction, Franken appeared on CNN to discuss the news. Franken argued that Limbaugh cannot possibly recover from his drug addiction and still do his radio show.
"If he's going to go into recovery, he's got to work on a 12-step program," Franken said. "Those programs are based on rigorous honesty. Then, I don't think he'll have a show."
"Why?" asked host Aaron Brown.
"I don't think he can do a show based on rigorous honesty, frankly," Franken replied. "He won't have anything to do."
"You don't think he can be, in his mind, honest, in his mind, and do the program that he's been doing?"
"No," said Franken. "He's a dishonest demagogue."
That's to be expected from Franken; after all, he's been calling Limbaugh a dishonest demagogue for years now.
And besides, none of it will matter if Limbaugh can 1) beat his addiction, and 2) tell his listeners the truth about his problems.
If Limbaugh's fans sense he is leveling with them, they'll keep tuning in. But if they believe he is being evasive or legalistic Clintonian they'll leave.
Most, no doubt, feel certain he'll do the right thing.