This morning on National Public Radio, Rush Limbaugh’s biographer Zev Chafets equated the object of his affection to boxing’s own Muhammad Ali. This is not a joke
As Chafets said, “In the book I compare him to Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali was, in public, a very bombastic guy. And in private people say he was very soft-spoken and that his public persona was just a ramping up of his real personality, and that he did the public persona to gather a crowd. And I think that’s very true of Limbaugh also."
The historical and ethical problems with Chafets’s comparison abound. Yes, both Limbaugh and Ali belong in a Talkers Hall of Fame and both used a larger-than-life public persona to “gather a crowd.” But Limbaugh used this skill to become richer than Croesus by exploiting fears based upon race, religion, gender, and sexuality. He’s the great exemplar for all conservative media celebrity: revel in bigotry; become unbelievably wealthy; blame liberal media as your quotes are circulated; rinse, repeat.
Ali in contrast sacrificed. He sacrificed millions of dollars, national heroism, and in the end, his very motor functions, because he was a militant opponent of racism and the war in Vietnam. The only thing Ali and Limbaugh have in common is that they both did what they had to do to avoid military service in Nam. The slight difference of course, being that Ali risked five years in Leavenworth while Limbaugh claimed he couldn’t wear the uniform because "pilonidal cysts" (anal abscesses rfrom ingrown hairs") prevented him from service. To say that they have a lot in common because they are both “big personalities’ is like saying I have a lot in common with Lebron James because we both play hoops.
Here are some other people with "outsized personalities" who Chafets could also have used to compare to Limbaugh; Hulk Hogan, Harvey Fierstein, Benito Mussolini… the choices are really endless. So why choose Ali? I fear that Chafets chose Ali for the same reason that Tom Horne, Superintendent of Arizona schools, said he was moved to abolish the Tucson ethnic studies program: because “Martin Luther King gave his famous speech in which he said we should be judged by the quality of our character, rather than the color of our skin."