There's a new Rush Limbaugh biography out written by one Zev Chafets. The Washington Post had David Frum review it, and somehow the review has stirred more controversy than the book itself. Frum, after breaking ranks with the right over health care reform, is not too popular with conservatives now, and has never been a fan of Limbaugh. In fact, National Review's Jonah Goldberg lit into him at the beginning of the month in a discussion about Limbaugh and other subjects. So getting Frum to review the biography was not, perhaps, the Post's most diplomatic decision.

Frum, long a practitioner of the quiet knife-twist, doesn't exactly trash the book. In one case, he remarks on an anecdote regarding a bottle of wine: "Limbaugh has skillfully conjured for his listeners a world in which they are disdained and despised by mysterious elites--a world in which Limbaugh's $4,000 bottles of wine do not exclude him from the life of the common man." Frum's sharpest words come at the end, after he notes the author's admission that Limbaugh prefers polemics to politics:

It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth. But neither Limbaugh nor Chafets is troubled: "Over the years, [Limbaugh] has endeavored to carry forward the banner of Ronaldus Maximus, which he always credits as 'Reaganism.' But as time moves on the memory of Reagan fades. It is Limbaugh's voice conservatives now identify with. For millions, conservatism is now Limbaughism."

That is Limbaugh's achievement. It is Chafets's story line. And it is American conservatism's problem.

American conservatism begs to differ.

  • Who Let Frum Review This?  Newsbusters' Tim Graham questions the propriety of having a Limbaugh biography reviewed by "the Republican establishment's leading Rush-hater," as he calls Frum. He also thinks "Frum gnashes his teeth hardest late in the review, jealous that he, the wise and humble Frum, is not acknowledged by all as the country's leading conservative intellectual." The issue here, argues Graham, is that Limbaugh is a political leader, much in the manner of Ronald Reagan ("Conservatives in the 1980s weren't going to elect William F. Buckley or Irving Kristol"). Graham wonders why Frum "can't appreciate [Limbaugh] for what he is"--which would best be described as a "popularizer." He takes issue with Frum's focus, instead, on "Limbaugh's ornate tastes in home decorating."
  • My Review Was Perfectly Fair  Frum retorts at FrumForum that Limbaugh in fact calls himself the "'intellectual engine' of the conservative movement. Limbaugh sees himself as the successor and replacement to William Buckley and Irving Kristol." Frum also points out that the biography itself focused on Limbaugh's "ornate tastes," which, along with  the quotations emphasizing "Limbaugh's intense resentments and his avidity for social status," seem "jarring." Frum also requests, regarding Graham's accusation of jealousy, that the Newsbusters writer "omit the mind reading."
  • Limbaugh's Wealth Isn't a Secret, protests William Jacobson from Legal Insurrection. He "frequently boasts" of it. Rather, "it's one of the endearing qualities Limbaugh's listeners love that unlike Barack Obama, Al Gore and Thomas Friedman, Limbaugh leads his wealthy life without demanding that others don't aspire to the same thing."
  • 'The Good Frum'  That's what Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns, and Money calls him. Lemieux agrees that the book is bad. "The way in which extremely wealthy and powerful conservatives have not merely portrayed themselves as endlessly put-upon victims but gotten gullible hacks like Chafets to play along is remarkable."
  • Book 'Accentuates the Positive'  The New York Times' Janet Maslin, completely separate from this debate, reviews the biography for The New York Times. Her take: "A funny thing happened to Mr. Chafets's reporting on its way to the bookshelf: It got declawed."