For the better part of this century, the Limbaugh family of Cape Girardeau has been at the narrows of power and influence in Southeast Missouri _ rock-solid conservative Republican.
The patriarch is Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr., at 101 the oldest active lawyer in Missouri. He had three sons _ Rush Jr., who became a lawyer; Stephen N., who became a Reagan appointee to the U.S. District Court in St. Louis; and Manley, who became a science teacher.
Rush Limbaugh Jr., who died two years ago, had two sons. David became a lawyer. And then there was Rush III, who may well be the biggest thing out of Cape Girardeau since the New Madrid earthquake. As Russssssh Limbaugh, his conservative, three-hour weekday radio talk show is heard on nearly 600 stations, with an audience of 13-million.
It's audio of the absurd. Or as he would put it: "I demonstrate absurdity by being absurd."
With a chuckle, Limbaugh has told his legal and judicial cousins and uncles that with only 17 hours of college credits, he makes more money than all of them combined. Last year he earned $1.7-million. And this year he's got a television show.
Rusty, as he is known in Cape Girardeau, is laughingly and lovingly referred to as "Big Mouth" by his mother, Mildred.
She spread out a family photo album at the dining room table, showing Rusty in the long-haired style of the '60s, and a slender Limbaugh, wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, from a period when he was a rock 'n' roll disc jockey in McKeesport, Pa., near Pittsburgh. During that time, he used the name Jeff Christie.
Rusty Limbaugh enrolled in the hometown college, Southeast Missouri State, "but he flunked everything," his mother said.
He then left home at age 20, she said, and headed east for a radio job in McKeesport. He began a typical rock-jock odyssey, job after job, firings, moving, uncertainty. For five years, he worked in the office of the Kansas City Royals.
He eventually ended up in radio again, in Sacramento, Calif., and began to hit his talk-show stride. That success led to the move to New York and, eventually, stardom _ with lines like these:
On animal rights: "The simple fact of the matter is that we are human beings, and we are the most powerful, smartest species, and we can damn well do whatever we want."
Or on women in combat: "Here's my proposal: We have 52 battalions. We can prepare the nation so that we have on any given week of the year a combat-ready battalion of Amazons to go into battle. Imagine that you are Manuel Antonio Noriega. You are in the Papal Nuncio in Panama City. You feel safe. All of a sudden, you hear this blood-curdling scream outside: "I AM OUTRAGED!' And there is Sgt. Molly Yard leading a battalion of Amazons with PMS over the hill! That would be enough to scare the pants off anybody."
His syndicated TV show is an effort to do what he has done on radio _ create a broadcast empire by doing high-giggle, high-energy battle with the people he calls "femi-Nazis," "environmental wackos," "homeless advocates," "multiculturists" and the "art and croissant crowd."
"My show is not about what America thinks," he has said. "It's about what I think."