Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh returned to the airwaves Monday, describing himself as nervous, wiser for his five weeks in drug rehab and grateful for fan support–but still the same Rush.
“I spent five intense weeks, probably the most educational and informative five weeks on myself and about me that I ever have spent, and I would have had no idea how to do this myself,” Limbaugh said in his first comments since announcing on his program last month that he was addicted to painkillers and was immediately checking himself into 30 days of rehab.
Limbaugh said he thought he was going into a treatment center just to be treated for an addiction to prescription drugs, a habit he tried twice to quit on his own, but he learned other lessons as well.
“I can no longer anticipate what I think people want and try to give that to them,” he said. “I can no longer try to live my life by making other people happy. I can no longer turn over the power of my feelings to anybody else, which is what I have done a lot of my life. I have thought that I had to be this way or that way in order to be liked or appreciated or understood–and in the process, I denied myself who I was and I denied the other people I was talking to and relating with who I really am, and that isn’t good.
“You can boil it down to one real simple essence: I can’t be responsible for anybody’s happiness but my own, and if I allow somebody else the power to determine my happiness, then … well … that’s something I don’t want to do. I can’t do any longer. I put myself first. Doesn’t mean be rudely selfish. It just means I can’t depend on other people to make me happy. I have to do that myself. I’m the only one who has control over that. And I have to admit that I am powerless over this addiction that I have. I used to think I could beat it with force of will. I used to think that I would be different, but I’m not.”
But Limbaugh told listeners not to worry that getting in touch with his feelings would turn him into “a linguini-spined liberal,” which he said many people think happens when a person goes into a rehabilitation center for addiction or other problems.
“I don’t want anybody to get frightened about this, now,” he said. “This has no impact on what you have come to know, love and respect here and expect, because I’ve not been phony here. I’ve not been artificial or any of that on the program. I was all that elsewhere. I was all that other places, but not here.”
Limbaugh said he didn’t watch much TV or read newspapers while in rehab, because it would have been counterproductive. Since leaving the unnamed treatment center in Arizona on Wednesday, he said, he has been cramming to find out what’s been going on while he was away.
“So I see that Ted Kennedy called a bunch of highly respected minorities ‘Neanderthals,'” he said.
(Kennedy used the term Friday in a reference to President Bush’s judicial nominees, which include two minority candidates, according to the conservative Web site NewsMax.com.)
“The fact that Ted Kennedy is still in the Senate, and hasn’t been forced to resign, means that nothing’s changed,” Limbaugh said. “It’s just a good thing Senator Kennedy didn’t say it on ESPN, or he might have resigned,” he added, alluding to his own forced resignation as a football analyst over comments about a black NFL quarterback, which some criticized as racially insensitive.
Limbaugh said there’s part of him that wonders if he needs to apologize.
“There are people I need to apologize to,” he said. “When it comes to apologizing to you, those of you in this audience, I think of my statement on Friday before I left that I’m not a victim here and I’m not a role model. What I did I did knowingly. What I did, I did because I wanted to do it, but I knew it was wrong the whole time. It’s a powerful addiction this stuff has over me, and it’s something that I’m, as I say, am going to be dealing with on a daily basis, and I’m excited to be doing it as well.”
A Gallup Poll reported Monday that Limbaugh’s publicized problems might have hurt his popularity. He is better known than other nationally syndicated radio commentators—just 9 percent of Americans surveyed said they had never heard of him—and more polarizing. More than half (51 percent) said they have an unfavorable impression of him, while 34 percent rated him favorably.
Limbaugh is more popular with Republicans (60 percent have a favorable view), while 74 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents rated him unfavorably. Limbaugh’s appeal is slightly higher among men than women.
Limbaugh’s radio program is broadcast in 600 markets and has about 20 million listeners a week.
A criminal investigation into Limbaugh’s drug use is still ongoing, a law enforcement source from Palm Beach County, Fla., told the Associated Press.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.