Rush Limbaugh's third-grade nightmare: Introducing his new civil rights curriculum

The gasbag has found a creative new way to pump up book sales -- and it's very bad news for America's children

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 7, 2014 1:30PM (EDT)

Rush Limbaugh                         (Jeff Malet,
Rush Limbaugh (Jeff Malet,

It's no surprise when a right-wing author's book becomes a best-seller. After all, the wingnut welfare system often ensures it. Conservative media ensured plenty of free publicity and if push comes to shove, various conservative institutions can always buy a truckload of them to boost the sales stats. Recently, however, there's been a major slowdown in the industry as the system that kept it going for years has fallen prey to too much competition. (Or at least that's the excuse -- it's always possible that their captive audience has finally gotten tired of reading the same shrill screed over and over again.)

That hasn't stopped conservative political celebrities from writing them, however. And some of them are getting creative, trying to reach their audience in a new way. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, had a huge success last year writing a children's book series called "Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans."

He's teaching his audience about American history through the conceit of a time-traveling character named Rush Revere and his talking horse named Liberty. In the book he goes back to the 1600s to teach pilgrim leader William Bradford that his whole philosophy is wrong. Here's one of  its best lines:

William [Bradford] pointed to the frame on the ground and said, “This will be the Common House. It is one of the first buildings. It belongs to everyone. We’ve agreed to set aside our want of personal property or personal gain and instead create a community where the houses and buildings and profits belong to everyone. We are trying to create a fair and equal society.”

Liberty interrupted: “Well, if they think they’re going to use me they better think again. I’m not another man’s property. I mean, I used to be but that was in the eighteenth century and just because we’re in the seventeenth century doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my twenty-first century freedoms.”

Liberty’s mouth was so close to my face that his whiskers tickled my ear. I whispered back, “Nobody is going to use you. They might as well try to tame a thousand wild horses with nothing but a whistle.”

Yup. It's that weird. And to think conservatives like Lynne Cheney used to write books bemoaning the fact liberals were distorting reality and calling for "the restoration of truth and reason to a central place in our lives."

Limbaugh's book was a runaway hit and the next installment called "Rush Revere and the First Patriots" was just as successful. It's possible that it was simply a function of the wingnut welfare racket, but one suspects that plenty of his fans bought the books for themselves. And maybe they even shared them with some kids. In fact the pilgrim book was so popular that it won a major award from the Children's Book Council. It was a bit controversial for a couple of minutes but in the end Limbaugh received the honor and even appeared at the ceremony and gave a speech. He said,  “I love America. I wish everybody did. I hope everybody will.”

And Limbaugh may have just found the way to save the hysterical wingnut screed market: sell them as textbooks. This week a third grade teacher called in to his show to tell him that she was using his pilgrim book to teach kids about the civil war. Apparently, the lessons conveyed by the talking horse and the football player (did I fail to mention the football player who travels through time with Rush and his whiskered equine pal?) are so universal they can be applied to any historical period.  More important, she believed that reading from the book in the classroom, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with the lesson they are supposed to be learning, will get them excited about Rush Limbaugh and his books and they'll rush off to the taxpayer-funded library (if it isn't closed) to devour more of them.

She claimed that she managed to get them interested in slavery by reading the third graders Rush's author's note on American exceptionalism.  Rush read it on the air.  This is part of it:

American Exceptionalism and greatness means that America is special because it is different from all other countries in history... The sad reality is that since the beginning of time, most citizens of the world have not been free. For hundreds and thousands of years, many people in other civilizations and countries were servants to their kings, leaders, and government. It didn't matter how hard these people worked to improve their lives, because their lives were not their own...The United States of America is unique because it is the exception to all this. Our country is the first country ever to be founded on the principle that all human beings are created as free people. The Founders of this phenomenal country believed all people were born to be free as individuals. And so, they established a government and leadership that recognized and established this for the first time ever in the world

The teacher felt this was a good introduction to the civil war, which seems like a pretty abstract lesson for third graders but maybe they're more advanced these days than they used to be.  Limbaugh certainly seemed to think so. He said, "That is brilliant on your part as a way of dealing with slavery with third graders."

The teacher went on to tell him she was planning to use his book on the Revolutionary War next year, presumably to teach her students about the 49er Gold Rush. His stuff is that good. In fact, she wants to build a whole curriculum around the series:

Rush, thanks so much for writing these books. They're incredible. I'm telling you, I think that there need to be teachers guides that go with the books. I think teachers need to have classroom sets of these books. I used to teach language arts, sixth and seventh grade, and if I was still doing that, I would absolutely have classroom sets of these books as a way to teach language arts across curricula through history. You're just doing a wonderful thing for our kids and I thank you for that.

Rush Limbaugh is widely credited with reinventing the AM radio talk format. And now it appears he may have found a way to revive the conservative publishing industry and revitalize the educational system with a series of books about a time-traveling gasbag and his talking horse. Maybe he's a genius after all.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Books Civil Rights Civil War Editor's Picks Education History Media Criticism Race Rush Limbaugh Slavery Teachers