Joe Conason's Journal

If Rush can play golf day after day, readers suggest, perhaps he was more of a "recreational" drug user than he's acknowledged.

Published October 16, 2003 8:42PM (EDT)

Teeing off on Rush
Out in the heartland, people are still talking about Rush Limbaugh. I know because Pugs and Kelly, my hosts this afternoon on KLLI-FM in Dallas, were eager to chat about his "hillbilly heroin" habit. Both were agog at the usually moralistic conservatives who are suddenly concocting every conceivable excuse for their fallen idol. The most perfect example of right-wing sophistry may be yesterday's Coulter defense brief, in which Ann attempts to explain away her pal's felonious conduct and then clumsily changes the subject to -- what else? -- Monica. (Obviously, lying about private sexual conduct is a lot worse than inducing the housekeeper to buy illegal narcotics.)

The most common argument, cited by Coulter and others of her persuasion, is that addiction to prescription painkillers is morally distinct from addiction to recreational drugs. They have more or less abandoned the rigid legalistic approach that served them so well during the Clinton era. Imagine what they would have said if Bill Clinton had been discovered using "blue babies" bought on the street to medicate himself.

Limbaugh's plight is the subject of my current Observer column, which can be summarized as "compassionate criticism." To some, this attempt at balance exposed my "raw hatred" for Limbaugh; to others, it revealed my insufficient prosecutorial zeal. Those responses were predictable, especially when they emanated from subintellectual right-wing precincts like Lucianne Goldberg's Web site. But several of the most intriguing letters came from people who question Limbaugh's story about the excruciating back pain that led to his addiction. They noted that he plays a lot of golf, both privately in Palm Beach and at celebrity tournaments -- and they directed me to this interview with El Rushbo during last July's American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Perhaps it is possible to hit a golf ball hundreds of yards, day after day, while crippled by an agonizing spinal condition. Or perhaps, as the e-mails he allegedly sent to Wilma Cline suggest, he was more of a "recreational" drug abuser than he has yet acknowledged. Either way, I don't believe Limbaugh should be prosecuted simply because he has urged that others be "sent up the river" for the same offenses. Exactly what he did isn't sufficiently clear yet to determine whether he is guilty of anything worse than buying for personal use. I only wish that he and his conservative supporters would stop concocting excuses and start expanding their minds to consider the damage done by the "drug war."
[1:30 p.m. PDT, Oct. 16, 2003]

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