The Talk Master Retires

Before there was Medved or Beck, before there was Levin or Hannity, before there was Limbaugh, there was Boortz. And after 42 years in the business, syndicated talk show host Neal Boortz is retiring. If, for some inexplicable reason, you haven’t heard this phenomenal host, you still have a few days left, as he will be broadcasting for another nine days before his final show which, appropriately enough, will be on Inauguration Day. Afterwards, he and his wife will board what Neal calls the, “Boortz Bus,” and travel into the sunset, happy that his days of earning income for the further aggrandizement of Barack Obama have come to an end.

I first listened to him while visiting my Dad in Atlanta. The “mother ship” for Boortz’s show is WSB in Atlanta. I had just returned to the states following a year’s tour in Korea when Dad said, “You’re going to love this.” And he was right. Here was a host every bit as compelling as Limbaugh, but with a unique blend of humor, irreverence, and an ability to destroy liberal arguments that is without equal in my experience. This is the guy who said that re-electing Barack Obama would be, “…like strapping on an economic suicide vest and giving the detonator to your ex-wife.” Or, try out this exchange between Neal and Phil Donahue: 

DONAHUE: I would argue the reverse. Conservatives don’t want to debate anybody. A tip of the hat to Mr. Boortz for stepping forward here. Conservatives drop their tools and run when they’re asked to debate anything. In fact, Rush Limbaugh has a policy. He doesn’t debate. Oh, OK. That is nice and convenient. I would like to go through life like that, offering my opinions and disallowing any debate. I disagree with you, Sean. I think the liberals are out there in the arena much more bravely, openly, and not covertly than are many conservatives. 

BOORTZ: Ah, but I have a different point of view. Let me tell you how liberals operate. They write columns and hide in their offices. They do commentaries on TV and hide in their offices. Why do you think talk radio is so… 

DONAHUE: It’s the only thing left for you, is that it? You have been shut out of everywhere else? 

BOORTZ: No, it is a format liberals can’t survive in. 

DONAHUE: Why would that be? You make a point. There are not a whole lot of liberal voices on AM radio. Make your case here. 

BOORTZ: OK. The reason that liberal bed-wetters can’t survive in talk radio is because they have no place to hide, Phil. 

DONAHUE: Is that the reason? 

BOORTZ: Look, you can write a column in “The New York Times” and then you sit up there in your office overlooking, have they taken over those poor people’s property yet? You can write a column and sit there. And if somebody wants to call and argue, you say, oh, I’m not talking calls today. If you are on the radio and you express those opinions, then you have… 

DONAHUE: You get immediate feedback. 

BOORTZ: Then you get the feedback. And most left-wingers can’t stand up to that feedback. That is why Mario Cuomo-that is why these people fail at talk radio. They aren’t prepared to deal with the reaction. 

Oh yes, and I did mention the humor, didn’t I? What to make of a person who, back before such things would get you arrested, went to the snack area in the tourist-class lounge on a 747, during a flight to Hawaii, and carefully removed the innocuous paper “fortune” from one of the fortune cookies and then replaced it with one that read, “This plane will never make it to Hawaii”? As the kid who put a whoopee cushion on the preacher’s chair one Sunday morning before church, I am mightily impressed. This is the guy who not only referred to his friend, Sean Hannity, as “Cutie-Pie,” and, “The Baby Jesus,” but who completely surprised Hannity during one of his live appearances by walking on stage, with two other gentlemen, dressed up as the Wise Men (or was it the Three Kings?) to present gifts.

His new book, Maybe I Should Just Shut Up And Go Away! is a laugh-inducing romp through a stellar career and a fascinating life, and I would caution against drinking anything while reading it that isn’t easy to clean up. Written in large part for his young granddaughter, the book takes us through his start in radio (it has something to do with a radio show host dying), and goes on to provide insights into a remarkable mind and anecdotes about the remarkable people with which he has surrounded himself. From his talented and devoted staff (including the singular Royal Marshall, who tragically died of a heart attack in 2011), to his gracious wife, Donna, whom he affectionately calls “The Queen,” and who, as he points out, takes every penny from the sales of Neal’s books and uses them to operate The Donna Boortz Foundation, which actively seeks out people in truly difficult circumstances and gives them a helping hand, Neal has an extended family of good-hearted people.

But lest you think Neal is a push-over, he isn’t called “The High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth,” for no good reason. This is the guy who has gone on the record saying, “Wallow too much in sensitivity and you can’t deal with life, or the truth.” Ultimately a realist, he predicted Barack Obama’s re-election, and has gone on record saying that, as much as he regrets it, the America we grew up knowing is more likely than not, toast. While driving in Michigan today, I heard him predict that, “When the honest history of this country is written, Barack Obama will have done more damage than Al Qaeda, Adolph Hitler, and Tojo.”

Last week, following the “fiscal cliff,” Neal read some relevant quotes from Frederick Douglas on the air. “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose,” he read, wondering how much more we will endure. Then, as if describing Barack Obama’s playbook, Boortz read the following nugget from Douglas, to wit: “Find out just what the people will submit to and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”

He was right, of course, and was working himself into a most righteous rant when he blurted, “Belinda, button your blouse!” Evidently, his very talented and astute producer, Belinda Skelton, had a button pop or something, and that was all it took. “How am I supposed to rant with….” Next thing I knew, he was questioning whether there were any recent endowments, so to speak, and asked, “were those your Christmas presents?” I’m not sure what happened after that, as it was tough to hear over the laughter in my truck. I think he got back to his rant, but my concentration went Tango Uniform (which means “totally undone,” if you’re wondering).

In 2005, he worked with Congressman John Linder to write The Fair Tax Book, the central proposition of which was to eradicate the federal income tax, corporate tax, payroll tax, capital gains tax, gift tax, estate tax, and the IRS itself, and replace them all with a single national sales tax of 23 percent that would be levied at the retail level only. The compelling argument was that such a tax would actually be cheaper than the accumulated taxes and fees that are passed along to the retail level, and would provide sufficient revenue to the government while freeing the private sector from the punishing progressivity that is suffocating job and wealth creation. It was a compelling argument, but one that elected officials didn’t take seriously since it threatened their own power, which is the life blood of the political class.

In his latest book, Neal maintains that his job for 42 years has been to keep listeners on board so they will listen to the advertisements, and surely this is true. But no one who listens to him can dismiss what he does as some sort of “schtick.” From his impassioned defense of libertarian principles (minus the suicidal foreign policy), and his articulate advancement of the nation’s foundational ideas, his love of this country absolutely illuminates his commentary and infuses his mischievous wit and fun. His constant presence on the air has been reassuring to this listener, and will be sorely missed. I wish him the best.