The Washington Post Sunday

Rush Lim­baugh taught me to be a fem­i­nist

Jour­nal­ist Amanda Uhle grew up un­der the vexed in­flu­ence of a ‘Dit­to­head’

- Amanda Uhle is the pub­lisher and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of McSweeney’s. Bullying · War · Society · Warfare and Conflicts · World Politics · Politics · Rush Limbaugh · Democratic Party (United States) · Detroit · Donald Trump · Bill Clinton · Walt Whitman · Sonic Youth · Sonic Youth · Fugazi

Iwas a teenage girl in the 1990s, and my fa­ther was deep in Rush Lim­baugh’s sway. Dad would pick me up from school with the Buick’s AM sig­nal crack­ling and buzzing, Rush pound­ing home a point about the Gulf War.

Dad was a “Dit­to­head.” He wasn’t a reader, but he bought Lim­baugh’s “The Way Things Ought to Be” in hard­cover, where it sat — dis­played but un­touched — on a liv­ing room end ta­ble un­til I could write my ini­tials in the dust on top. He rarely cried but did, in dev­as­ta­tion, the Novem­ber night in 1992 when Demo­crat Bill Clin­ton was elected pres­i­dent, claim­ing the next weeks would bring “the very end of the world.”

One Satur­day when I was 14 years old, our whole fam­ily trekked to an an­tiabor­tion protest, where I was given an aqua T-shirt to wear with a pic­ture of a fe­tus on it. I gri­maced, and Dad wasn’t an­gry but looked at me, his brown eyes open wide with deep­est dis­ap­point­ment as he asked, “You’re not go­ing to end up one of these ‘fem­i­nazis,’ are you?”

I ended up a much dif­fer­ent kind of adult than the adults who raised me, and I give par­tial credit for that to Lim­baugh, who was ef­fec­tively one of those adults.

Like many teenagers, I grasped at var­i­ous ideas I sus­pected would dis­may my par­ents, such as swear­ing off TV en­tirely from 1995 to 1998 and wear­ing the same pair of elec­tric-blue Dr. Martens shoes ev­ery sin­gle day of my se­nior year in high school.

I wrote in­suf­fer­able poetry, read Walt Whit­man, snuck out to

late-night con­certs and gen­er­ally flirted with re­bel­lion for its own sake. These were sim­ple ges­tures at defin­ing my­self at a time when 15 mil­lion lis­ten­ers per week — in­clud­ing my dad — were in thrall to a vivid, per­son­i­fied ver­sion of an ide­ol­ogy I was grow­ing to re­ject.

From his hate­ful views to the odd way he cap­tured my fa­ther’s at­ten­tion, Lim­baugh taught me more about my­self than al­most any­one else did. His years of great in­flu­ence were the years when I was fig­ur­ing out how I wanted to con­duct my­self in the world. He taught me how not to be.

The Lim­baugh in­flu­ence was so deeply in­ter­wo­ven into our fam­ily cul­ture that I still have trou­ble pulling apart the threads. My par­ents loved me fiercely while em­bed­ding deeply prob­lem­atic ideals about how we lived and how we should plan for my fu­ture. Did my par­ents ex­ult in Lim­baugh’s bom­bas­tic di­a­tribes be­cause he em­bod­ied their be­liefs, val­i­dat­ing them by shout­ing his mes­sage into ra­dio waves with his­tor­i­cally mas­sive lis­ten­er­ship? Or did those di­a­tribes shape my par­ents’ be­liefs and the way they raised their kids?

My lit­tle brother needed or­thodon­tia more than I did, ob­jec­tively, but we could af­ford only one set of braces. I got them, for rea­sons later ex­plained to be re­lated to mar­riage­abil­ity, as though we were liv­ing in an era of dowries in­stead of early 1990s Mid­west­ern This was not long af­ter Lim­baugh pro­claimed that “fem­i­nism was es­tab­lished so as to al­low unattrac­tive women ac­cess to the main­stream of so­ci­ety.”

My brother and I could both con­clude that the braces were a kind of in­sur­ance for my fu­ture. Much later, in 2009, when I was sign­ing my daugh­ter up for day care, my par­ents blanched at my blas­phemy. “How many mass shoot­ers went to day care?” Lim­baugh once asked his lis­ten­ers.

It wasn’t al­ways easy to tell when a com­ment my fa­ther made was his own. Once, dur­ing a se­mes­ter when I was tak­ing a ce­ram­ics class, he be­came very con­cerned about my fin­ger­nails, which he said men would like bet­ter if they were longer and filed into half-moons. There is a ra­zor-sharp right­eous in­dig­na­tion spe­cific to 17-year-olds, which I un­leashed mer­ci­lessly on my fa­ther that af­ter­noon. He was sur­prised. “I was try­ing to help you,” he said, in a meeker voice than he had used to de­liver the groom­ing ad­vice.

Twenty-first cen­tury teenagers’ re­bel­lion and in­dig­na­tion, which I cel­e­brate, are justisub­ur­bia. fied by the many wrongs in our world, some of which I couldn’t even imag­ine 25 years ago. The coura­geous teens or­ches­trat­ing cli­mate and racial-jus­tice protests now of­ten have men­tors, some­times slightly older ac­tivists who have cut their own path to­ward jus­tice and who are com­mit­ted to do­ing their own work while rais­ing up a new gen­er­a­tion of change-mak­ers.

As a White girl grow­ing up in the Detroit sub­urbs in the late ’90s, I didn’t see such rev­o­lu­tion­ary think­ing in my com­mu­nity. It fil­tered in through my Sonic Youth and Fugazi tapes, and through the oc­ca­sional over­heard con­ver­sa­tion at the cof­fee­house where I wait­ressed. A much more pow­er­ful force was Lim­baugh, whose pro­gram ran three hours each week­day. I hated ev­ery­thing I heard him say. I wanted the world to be dif­fer­ent from the one he painted for his lis­ten­ers. I may not have had a dis­cernible leader to fol­low, but I did have a crys­tal-clear an­tag­o­nist, a night to my day, a right to my left. My val­ues came to be de­fined from an up-close look at Lim­baugh and an in­sis­tent voice in my teenage brain: “Hell, no. I don’t be­long to this.”

Nei­ther of my par­ents lived to see for­mer pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s rise and the nearim­mo­la­tion of our govern­ment that fol­lowed, for which Lim­baugh laid the fuel. I of­ten won­dered when or if they might have had their own “Hell, no” mo­ment, stand­ing up for their Chris­tian val­ues or just plain hu­man­ity, which was no­tably scarce in both Lim­baugh’s and Trump’s rhetoric. They did live to see me be­come a veg­e­tar­ian, fem­i­nist, work­ing-mother Demo­crat, a liv­ing it­er­a­tion of their dark­est fears. I’m not happy I dis­ap­pointed them, but a few decades on, I have to give Rush Lim­baugh a lit­tle credit.

 ?? WIn McnaMEE/GETTy IM­aGES ?? Rush Lim­baugh, who died Wed­nes­day at age 70, built a loyal fol­low­ing over decades as a con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio host.
WIn McnaMEE/GETTy IM­aGES Rush Lim­baugh, who died Wed­nes­day at age 70, built a loyal fol­low­ing over decades as a con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio host.
 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush talks with ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh at WABC stu­dios in New York in Sep­tem­ber 1992.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush talks with ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh at WABC stu­dios in New York in Sep­tem­ber 1992.

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