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At 25, Limbaugh show still rules GOP

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Thu August 1, 2013
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.

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"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.

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