Charles Lamb is among the greatest essayists: surely among the portraits in any pundit’s private gallery of useful reminders. He was and should still be celebrated for the subversive sublimity of his prose, which reconciles seemingly contrary qualities of smoothness and edge, the discursive and the pointed, the innocent and the astute, in a droll music that fills your head without the slightest concession to jingle.
But like any real style, it is founded on “content.” Lamb is the hero of the belle-lettrists who “take a line for a walk,” and yet he does not do this. There is a destination in view, and in essay after essay, he approaches this by what can be seen in retrospect as the shortest route. Yet he walks without hurrying his reader, and calls attention to prospects along the way, without jostling. He is the most companionable writer of an era that was full of companionable writers, and his accomplishment was the greater when one realizes that this sweet Mozart is writing out of a life shot through with tragedy and horror.
The miscellaneous Essays of Elia are a treasure house of the English language, and of solid English common sense; almost a manual of the same. The envoi to the collection is a list of 16 “popular fallacies,” seemingly collected at random. That a bully is always a coward; that ill-gotten gain never prospers; that the poor copy the vices of the rich; that enough is as good as a feast; that we must not look a gift horse in the mouth; that you must love me and love my dog—and so on. Each cliché in turn is exploded in the smallest possible space, by the master demolitionist.
“The people” have always wished to be flattered, but they do not benefit from that service. And while it is too much to go about slashing their tires, it is important to war constantly against what “everybody knows.” For what everybody knows is usually displaced some distance from the truth, and often in opposition to it. “Western Civ” was not built upon what everybody knows, but to the contrary. It was assembled in the face of darkest human nature, by the assiduous efforts of small and often persecuted minorities, trying to get at the surprising truth, and then spread it.
And their enemies have ever been the mob, that cannot bear to be contradicted; and those who offer to lead the mob, with utopian vistas.
“Everybody knows” that a certain politician is the embodiment of “hope and change,” that he inspires people to rise above themselves, having risen himself above every prejudice. Everybody knows, because he has told them, and he is so articulate and unanswerable—in audio, if not in text.
And everybody knows that Rush Limbaugh is a calculating demagogue, an excitable and self-interested practitioner of the dark talk-radio arts, who plays on the worst prejudices of his audience, and is obsessed with power. That he does not run for public office can be easily explained by the fact that everybody knows he would get his come-uppance if he ever tried.
Consider the following ugly quote:
“I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”
Rush Limbaugh said that, according to prominent commentators in mainstream media across the U.S. They got it from Wikipedia, or from people forwarding Wikiquotes, and the fact that it was quickly shown to have been made up from whole cloth and planted there, does not seem to distress them. Where retractions have appeared they are in the tone of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, who writes, “Fine, let’s play along for the time being and take him at his word that he was inaccurately quoted.” Or Wikipedia itself, which acknowledged that the quote is “disputed,” after they’d been shown it was false.
Indeed, anyone actually familiar with Limbaugh would know he wouldn’t have said such a thing, not only because he is no such fool, but because he detests race-baiting. That is not what “everybody knows,” however.
I admire Limbaugh myself, for his courage and audacity under fire, and for the way he is vexed by popular fallacies. He has defended himself directly only under the most extreme provocation, and after suffering real and consequential damage.
And while I have a strong aesthetic preference for the manner in which Charles Lamb advanced his arguments, it is the content of each argument that finally matters, and the truth of issues behind the smoke of appearances, and this quite regardless of what “everybody knows.”
Editor’s note: Here are some additional links directly from the Rush Limbaugh web site:
Truth Telling is Winning the Day!
• Rush’s Wall Street Journal Op-ed: The Race Card, football and Me
• Marcus: If Rush is a Racist, Are His 20 Million Listeners Also?
• Marcus:Letter to Limbaugh
• Steyn: Limbaugh Bad, Mao Good
• Video: CNN’s Rick Sanchez Apologizes On Air
• CNS News: NFL: "We Made No Judgment" on Limbaugh Bid
• The Admonition: Phony Racist Quotes Retracted. Damage Is Done
• NB: MSNBC Admits "Unable to Verify" False Limbaugh Quotes
• Alter, American Thinker: The Search for the Wikipedia Libelist
• Big Hollywood: NFL Owners Who Use N-Word, Wet Pants on Stage
• Cashill, American Thinker: The NFL’s Diversity Problem
• NY Post, Hondo: Struggling Hondo Keeps His Eyes on the Prize
• David Limbaugh: This Isn’t About Rush
• NRO: Rush Rammed
• National Public Radio (Yes, NPR!): NFL Fumbles Limbaugh Bid
• Powerline: What’s Divisive?
• NRO: On Race, Rush Called It Right
• NY Post, Mushnick: Revs. Don’t Always Rush to Judge
• Taranto: Can’t They Demonize Limbaugh without Making Stuff Up?
• NYT: Limbaugh Discusses Ouster, Saying He Had Been "Cleared"
• Fenig, American Thinker: What You Can Do to Protest
• Ashby, American Thinker: Limbaugh Targeted by Obama
• Hewitt: Goodell and the New McCarthyism
• MT: Punt the NFL
• Flashback: Soros Wasn’t Cut from MLB/Nats Bidding in 2005
• Investor’s Business Daily Editorial: Stopping the Rush
• Horowitz: Why Does the Left Have to Politicize Football?
• PajamasMedia: Rush Denied NFL Ownership, Five Takeaways
• Thiel, Seattle PI: NFL’s Booting of Limbaugh a Bad Precedent
• NFL Fanhouse: Limbaugh Couldn’t Get Over the Humps
• Knott, Wash. Times: Limbaugh Rejection is Simply Hypocrisy
• Trantham: NFL Gives Second Chances, Just Not to Limbaugh
• PB Daily News: Rush Limbaugh Discovers All Clubs Not Equal
• Wall Street Journal: NFL Punts to Left-Wing Political Intimidation
• AP/SI Runs Accurate Story! Limbaugh: Checketts Approached Me
• HP: HuffPo Removes Some False Quotes from Huberman Blog
• Sanchez Twitters Retraction: Man Up, Rick. Twitter Doesn’t Count!