There's something I don't get about the Rush Limbaugh radio show. It may not be what you think, however. More on that in a moment.
Last Tuesday, a caller wanted to ridicule the devastation in Japan. "If these are the people that invented the Prius, have mastered public transportation, recycling," he asked, "why did Mother Earth, Gaia if you will, hit them with this disaster?"
Mr. Limbaugh called this an "interesting question," which is only accurate if you consider "How do we know the moon isn't made of pimento cheese?" an interesting question. It's not even interesting fake-philosophy, and makes "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" seem like deep, spiritual inquiry.
In fact, it's a morally bankrupt question, since the caller showed no interest in broadening his query to its logical and fair-minded extension, which is: "If Americans are the people who invented television, radio, and the steamboat; have mastered outer space travel and environmental protection; why did Mother Nature, Father Time, Ötüken, if you will, hit the United States with the BP oil disaster, Hurricane Katrina, the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, Hurricane Andrew, and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill?"
But referring to a dishonest inquiry as an "interesting question" is not what I don't get about the program. You see, Mr. Limbaugh went further than that. Amid Japan's appalling catastrophe, what he answered was -
"He's right. They've given us the Prius. Even now, refugees are recycling their garbage." And then - Rush Limbaugh actually laughed. And added, "And yet, Gaia levels them! Just wipes them out!"
As of Sunday, 21,000 people are dead or missing in Japan. That's seven times as many as the 3,000 lost on 9/11.
And none of this takes into consideration the tens of thousands who risk radiation exposure, cancer and death in the years to come. Or considers the devastation to the nation's animals, food supply and economy.
And Rush Limbaugh laughed at all this. Joked about a car and "wiping them out." If he takes the Ann Coulter route and defends it as "just a joke," reflect that Gilbert Gottfried just got fired by Aflac for his jokes about Japan.
But if Mr. Limbaugh claims he didn't know the extent of the disaster when he joked - 3,300 people had already died. More than during 9/11. (Of course, though, how can anyone really not know immediately the seriousness of a joint 9.2 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown? Especially if it's your job to know such things.)
But even that is not what I don't get about Rush Limbaugh's radio show.
In fact, this isn't about Rush Limbaugh.
I get Rush Limbaugh. He's not the issue. I understand why he says what he says. I don't have to like it. I can think it's wrong-headed, mean-spirited and harmful to the national discourse. But I understand why he says what he says. He's an entertainer. He's acknowledged it himself. As Howard Kurtz wrote in his book, Hot Air, Mr. Limbaugh said in 1989, "I'm an entertainer first and a conservative second." And he told Time magazine in 2001, "I'm an entertainer with a conservative agenda..."
He's an entertainer. Say anything for ratings. I get it.
Here's what I don't get:
I don't get why Rush Limbaugh's listeners aren't bothered by someone taking pleasure in a nuclear catastrophe that has crushed a nation and devastated fellow human souls.
I'm not saying his listeners should stop adoring their hero. That's a lifestyle choice. But not twitching a moment and saying, "Gee, Rush, we love you like Zeus, but you went a touch too far here" - that I don't get. I don't get how brutishly unthinking, hate-filled, or twisted someone has to be to take giddy joy in the national horror of others. And "it's just a joke" doesn't cover it. I've written jokes for a living, I know that "it's just a joke" doesn't excuse judgment, or malice.
And so, while I get why a self-proclaimed entertainer like Rush Limbaugh "joked" about such a gruesome tragedy as he did - and often does - I just don't get why any listener would accept delighting in the agony and suffering of their fellow humans.
To be clear, I don't particularly care what the answer is. If I was a psychiatrist analyzing a troubled patient, then, yes, I'd want to know why the person laying on the couch sought out those who said such cruel, heartless things. Or if I was a priest taking confession from a parishioner unable to love thy neighbor. But I'm not a psychiatrist, or priest, and listening to people rationalize their laughing at others' misfortune uses up too much valuable time of life. I live in Hollywood; I've spent too many years hearing anti-social misfits justify being obnoxious, thoughtless, egotistical, bullying and hurtful, and it lost its charms a long time ago.
So, if listeners of Rush Limbaugh want to revel in his song-and-dance, that choice reflects on them. I don't have to get it. Happily, just knowing it isn't contagious by touch is solace enough.