The Other

David Limbaugh, the David Limbaugh, was at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace last week, promoting his new—well, only—book, Absolute Power. He spoke before a packed house in the library's auditorium, an audience no doubt attracted by the fact that he is the brother of radio personality Rush Limbaugh. But David Limbaugh is also a lawyer and a syndicated columnist, or so the morning's moderator claimed, and it was clear that people were willing to accept him as his own man—as long as he is a man who is the brother of Rush Limbaugh.

That was clear just walking up to the library, where a long line of people waited for tickets, special tickets reserved for members of the National Rush Limbaugh Fan Club, tickets that got fan club members the best seats in the house. After introducing the president of the National Rush Limbaugh Fan Club and a man who arranges Rush Limbaugh cruises, the moderator introduced David as having "credentials beyond being Rush's brother," which gave everyone a good laugh, including David, who'd come to the stage wearing a Rush Limbaugh necktie.

It could be a hard thing living in the shadow of a more famous, much more famous (immeasurably much more famous) brother. The kind of thing that would cause some men to keep it a secret so that they might make it on their own. But to the continuing benefit of the Fox Network, not everyone is encumbered by such pride—Roger Clinton, for instance. Or Gallagher's brother, who stole his sibling's act and took it on the road, as if just anyone could bash produce with oversized hand tools.

David Limbaugh is proof that not just anyone, including a Limbaugh, can get laughs, or much of a response, from bashing liberals, even when the audience is from Orange County and ranges in age from "You kids stay outta my yard!" to "In my day . . ."

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Nasally and nervous, Limbaugh shifted from foot to foot throughout his 45-minute presentation, speaking quickly and then drawing in deep, labored breaths. Absolute Power deals with the Clinton administration and touches on such hot-button topics as Travelgate, Linda Tripp and Janet Reno. It seems a book out of date about people out of power, which, of course, made David Limbaugh the perfect choice to write it.

(If you're going to write a book and want to sell it at 26 percent markup, by the way, the Nixon Library and Birthplace is the perfect place to do it: though Absolute Power retails at a hefty $27.95, the library was selling it, with autograph, for $37.95.)

Limbaugh—David, not Rush—began by summarizing the book's chapters, starting with an apology for the tobacco industry, mentioning that his mother, Millie, who'd spoken at the library in 1996, had died of lung cancer. He said his mother's death wasn't the tobacco company's fault—"She did it on her own." Which seemed to take the audience's collective breath away because, though many no doubt agreed with his point, he was still talking about his dead mother. He then explained that his mother had not died in vain, that by dying early, smokers actually save taxpayers money. It wasn't clear if that was a point of fact or a rebuke to the many active seniors present.

Not long after, he made a remark about people in Arkansas practicing incest. When people groaned, he explained he could make that crack because "my mother's from Arkansas."

As he finished talking about Travelgate, he actually checked his watch, and one could hear a chorus of seat springs shifting under the weight of weary fannies. But the lecture continued. Bill Clinton, evil. George Bush, good. Al Gore, evil. John Aschcroft, good. Janet Reno? He said he didn't want to unnecessarily bash her because he'd yet to decide whether she was evil or just stupid.

Anyway, it went on like this, Limbaugh continually describing whatever he was about to say as "shocking" yet never delivering on his promise. He did get a laugh when he asked, "It's fun to bash Clinton, isn't it?" but that was easy, can't-miss material with this crowd, the verbal equivalent of Ted Kennedy slipping on a banana peel or Jesse Jackson getting a cream pie in the face.

Sadly, Limbaugh, besides not being very funny or famous or comfortable in front of people or Rush Limbaugh or able to pick subjects to write or talk about that people really care about anymore, is also lacking in the ability to recognize irony. That's unfortunate, since his talk would have been no doubt energized if when he said that Clinton had demonized special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, he had added, "Isn't it ironic that I say that here, in the library of the man who ordered the firing of Archibald Cox?" When he said that Clinton had sent his underlings after Linda Tripp as well as other accusers, describing such actions as that of "a tyrannical regime," he would certainly have garnered a response by adding, "Isn't that an odd juxtaposition—talking about tyrannical regimes here in the library of Richard Nixon, the man who loosed his underlings to destroy the reputations of Edmund Muskie, Daniel Ellsberg and John Dean?"

But Limbaugh is irony-free, and alas, when he said Clinton had no respect for the separation of powers, he failed to ask, "What a place to be saying that, huh? Here in the library of Richard Nixon, the man who used the FBI as his personal police force and the IRS as his KGB and who defied U.S. courts."

But he didn't say any of that. The talk went on, and then it was over. Three people actually stood while applauding, though it turned out one of them was just getting up to leave. Limbaugh then took questions from the audience. One asked if Clinton had committed treason, and another asked about Rush possibly going to CNN. David said he hoped his brother went to Fox News. The audience applauded. He said they must fight against the liberal media and all those lawyers who "prostitute" themselves on Geraldo Rivera. Then, for the dozenth time, he asked them to buy his book.

Finally, the moderator said there would be one final question. A woman stood and thanked David for coming. She said she had been at the library in 1996 when Millie had spoken and assured the audience that Millie had made a point of saying, "I have this other son who I love very much."

The fact that Millie Limbaugh, who smoked herself to death, recognized she had another son seemed to give everyone a warm feeling. The woman let it sink in, and then got to her question. "Is there any chance," she asked, "of getting Rush to come here?"

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