The accolades on Rush Limbaugh's self-surrender to drug rehab are annoying. Rehab undertaken because prosecution looms is not "courageous." Entering rehab before the maid spills her mercenary guts to the National Enquirer would have warranted an "atta boy!" or two.
America's No. 1 radio personality was in a corner, up against a Palm Beach County investigation. Candor emerged as the vise closed. One week before taking his 30-day leave for rehab, Limbaugh spoke of the National Enquirer pain killer addiction stories, "I really don't know the full scope of what I am dealing with. And when I get the facts, when I get all the details of this, rest assured that I will discuss this with you."
What's to know? The maid is either correct or nuts. Limbaugh could verify the former. The latter would bring forward corroborating witnesses, possibly in the form of progeny of Hillary and aliens, if the National Enquirer holds true to its usual sources and genre.
Limbaugh became evasively Clintonesque when he failed to mention, as the drug stories congealed, that he had already hired high-powered lawyer Roy Black. Limbaugh's reticence was not, as he implied, from utter confusion in the eye of a media hurricane, but from a criminal defense attorney hissy fit about clamming up. Limbaugh employed the formula of his nemesis, Bill Clinton. When pushers came to pill shovelers, Limbaugh relied on the law, not the truth. Whether he's under investigation depends on the meaning of "investigation."
Praise for Limbaugh's "courage" and "class" rivals the warm and fuzzy embraces for William Bennett, following revelations about his multimillion-dollar gambling addiction. Conservatives do turn a blind eye to hypocritical misdeeds of their icons.
Now the chickens have come home to roost because OxyContin addiction found its way into the tabloids. Yes, yes, human frailty. Mega dittoes on weakness of the flesh and demands of back pain. Disappointment comes not from their mistakes but because both men had teaching moments as the spotlight glared upon their addictions to do what has brought them their popularity and wealth: inform, warn and, above all, offer no excuses.
Both men have been crafters of bright lines in a world that sees only hazy shades of moral relativism. Both men have been absolutists on everything from abortion to fidelity in marriage to drug use. Both men embrace personal responsibility and accountability. But when third parties revealed their addictions, neither man seized the moment for sounding a warning call or advancing conservative views against legalized drugs and the expansion of gaming.
Instead, rationalizations flew. Failed back surgery. Bills were paid despite the gambling. Herniated disc. Food on the table even with the millions tossed video poker's way.
Self-mastery. The rule of law. What both Limbaugh and Bennett tout somehow got lost in the confession shuffles. Limbaugh could have slammed home the notion that even legal drugs become addictive, enslaving their conquests in an unending drive for more, more, more. Bennett could have shown the costly grip ($8 million) of gambling addiction.
Both men were reduced to pitiful caricatures through addictive habits. Bennett became a laughingstock among the white-shoed casino riff-raff. Limbaugh used his former maid as a connection, meeting her in his Mercedes in a Denny's parking lot to exchange cigar boxes of OxyContin, or "Hillbilly Heroin," the drug of choice in the Blue Ridge Mountain states.
He paid his former maid with cigar box cash he called "the cabbage." The rule of law vanished at a Denny's. Dignity fled. Evasiveness was born. Finally, both men failed to seize their moments of involuntary revelations to espouse the fundamental principle for breaking addiction's stranglehold: When all the counselors, psychiatrists, rehabs programs, Betty Ford Centers and brain studies on dependence are said and done, there is but one formula for success in overcoming addiction: The addict must say no.
Limbaugh has a rough road ahead, and not just for the next 30 days. He faces a lifetime of straining for daily abstinence from a substance that gripped him for so long and so determinedly that he was reduced to risking everything he had to feed the addiction beast.
To Limbaugh: Stop the evasiveness long enough to help in the war against drugs. Let parents use your story to steer children away from the destructive and humiliating grip of drugs. To Bennett: Be a spokesperson to stop gaming's pernicious spread.
Limbaugh has often said that things happen for a reason, and only God understands that reason. God apparently used the National Enquirer as a medium in this case. There is method in this divine madness. About 14 million substance abuse addicts could use a little inspiration and a role model. El Rushbo has the potential to influence more than votes.
Yet on Friday he declared, "I am not a role model." Yes, but he should be, for a life reclaimed following addiction. Validation of opinion is one thing. Inspiration to live is a higher calling.
He could save some lives with a simple message: "Just say no. Say no initially. Keep saying no. And if addiction wraps you in its tentacles and deprives you of your freedom and dignity, say no and fight back until the bounds are broken."
Two powerful men have messages that their foibles delivered most inopportunely. While the messengers chosen and modes of revelation are indeed odd, their divine purpose in helping those who struggle should be obvious.
Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Her e-mail address is [email protected]