I think I first heard Rush Limbaugh on KPFK in the fall of 1985 (I was 19). He was fine. He was like a disc jockey of conservative talk radio. He was entertaining and he shared most of my political leanings. On those rare times I was driving around when he was on the radio, I turned him on for a few minutes.
Rush Limbaugh was never going to change my life. He was a DJ. He was an entertainer. He was like a lot of other DJs I knew. I worked at KAHI/KHYL radio in the Sacramento area for two years in high school (1982-1983) and from 1985-1987, reporting the news and anchoring on the weekend.
I encountered Dennis Prager when I moved to UCLA in the fall of 1988 and from about the first time I listened to him, I knew that Dennis Prager was going to change my life (and I knew that I was choosing him to be an instrument in changing my life back towards God and the Bible). He was like the ultimate father figure I had long sought. He had perspectives on God and religion and morality that excited me. Here at last was a rational sounding road to God that I could embrace. So I converted to Judaism.
Up until about 2012, I’d tell anyone who would listen that Dennis Prager was the greatest Jewish thinker since Maimonides.
Yeah, I’m nuts.
In that August of 1988, when I was hanging out at UCLA for a month before the dorms opened and classes started, I found Rush Limbaugh was now nationally syndicated and a big success. He sounded much sharper and more compelling than his Sacramento days. I liked listening to him even more now, but I never carved out time to do so. By contrast, I carved out time to listen to Dennis Prager on the weekends.
As the years went by, friends of mine who were every bit as smart as me, and better educated and more successful and more sane than me, said that they enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh more than Dennis Prager. He wasn’t as repetitive. He was more fun. He had better guests. He was more interesting. Some argued that Rush was a genuine conservative, while Dennis was only “conservative” in the current lingo. They found that Limbaugh had more insight into the political system than Prager, and that Rush was not as obsessed about Judeo-Christian values and Israel. Prager struck many of my intellectual friends as “pretentious on many levels, politically, intellectually, historically and religiously. He may be a nice guy, but I can’t take listening to him for long.” Limbaugh was also hard to take for my intellectuals, but he went down easier than Prager because Rush didn’t pretend to be an intellectual. Prager came to conservative politics late, as a byproduct of his support for Israel and his affinity for the neo-conservatives and evangelical Christians (and as a result of the Democratic party turning left). A friend noted, “Limbaugh grew up in a Republican milieu, suburban Missouri which is the crossroads between the south and the Midwest, and he paid his dues toiling as a disc jockey before becoming a political talk radio host in Sacramento. He is much more of a Republican insider, yet he is willing to criticize them as well.”
As 2015 rolled through, Limbaugh was much more attuned to the Donald Trump phenomenon than Prager.
From 1988 to 2012, I considered Prager to be on a completely different level from other talk show hosts such as Limbaugh. I thought of Prager as a genuine intellectual who could read and speak many languages, had a graduate education from Columbia, and was the author of four respected books that were much deeper than Rush’s pulp. I thought Prager was smarter, finer, kinder, more religious, and just generally superior to Limbaugh, though Rush was usually more fun to listen to.
As I had more and more therapy, however, I realized I was a narcissist, an emotional addict on many levels, and that I needed to get some serious recovery and wean myself off some of the hero worship that served me during my dark years of 1988 to 1993 but could now be left behind so that I could become my own man. While I have retained some respect, affection and admiration for Prager, by 2014, I was done believing he was a great thinker and I quit my Pragertopia subscription. Over the past two years, I’ve heard no more than a total of four hours of his show. I think his approach to Judaism and to politics and to much of life just doesn’t work. He doesn’t realize it, but much of what he’s doing is a con, just like so many other rabbis I’ve met. Over the past 25 years, almost every charismatic Jewish religious leader I’ve wanted to follow has turned out to be running a con.
I have a weakness for cults and for charismatic leaders. I have a weakness for anyone who makes me feel whole and offers to adopt me.