I was running at a pretty good clip on a treadmill at Supreme Health and Fitness last week when I saw on CNN that Rush Limbaugh had won the Children’s Choice Book Award for Best Children’s Author for his book “Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims.” The resulting rage-induced blackout is why I have a twisted ankle and a broken tooth right now, as one does not simply face-plant at 15 miles per hour and walk away unscathed. It might also be why the flat-screen monitor that was broadcasting that report was allegedly ripped out of the wall and hurled like a Frisbee into a vacant racquetball court, though I swear to God I don’t remember anything. The security camera only registered a waif-shaped shadow sort of like the thing that killed Renly Baratheon in “Game of Thrones” and, fortunately, Madison has no statues on the books about criminal necromancy, so I’m probably off the hook.
Anyway, Limbaugh — a metric ton of mayonnaise that gained sentience and never knew love — is really excited about the award. In a statement after his victory was announced, the man-shaped pile of moose sphincters said:
“I love America. I wish everybody did. I hope everybody will. It’s one of the most fascinating stories in human history… and it’s a delight and it’s an opportunity to try to share that story with young people so they can grow and learn to love and appreciate the country in which they’re growing up and will someday run and lead and inherit.”
There’s some truth in that statement. Unfortunately, it’s all encased within the phrase “it’s an opportunity.” To his credit, Rush certainly embodies the spirit of the free market he and other conservatives so love to tout; his recent foray into authorship of children’s books (he had already written a first installment of the “Rush Revere” saga) is just another blatant celebrity grab, though I do admit it comes up far short on the Are-You-F***ing-Kidding-Me? scale to his “Two if by Tea” line of, yep, teas. You can order them by the case from an official online store, because apparently there’s a tiny subsect of Birthers whose brains have self-cannibalized the fact that Lipton is a thing. Blueberry is the current seasonal flavor, but let’s be real: jingoism transcends the music of the spheres. It bears mentioning that the illustrations of “Rush Revere” — complete with era-inappropriate powdered wig and tri-corner hat — are 100 percent copy-and-pasted from the labels for those teas. If you hadn’t already assumed that, I don’t know that we can be friends.
There are a lot of problems with a piece of human garbage like Limbaugh getting this award, but let’s start with the logistics of the selection process itself. The name “Children’s Choice Book Award” is kind of disingenuous in the first place. Yes, children vote on it but — leaving aside for the sake of brevity the fact that kids don’t always have the best judgment — there are, shocker, many ways the vote can be manipulated. Regarding the regular awards (broken down by grade level), there are three ways that individuals can vote, per Children’s Book Council/Every Child a Reader Executive Director Robin Adelson, via the Huffington Post:
Adelson… acknowledged Thursday that adults could easily vote and vote multiple times, a problem not uncommon for Internet competitions.
“Every one of our finalists gets fake votes every year,” Adelson told The Associated Press. “We like to think that’s the enthusiasm of adults who love children’s books.
Adelson cited three ways that people can vote: a widget that can be embedded in such popular kids’ websites as www.poptropica.com, a link on the awards website (ccbookawards.com) that allows individuals to vote and a link on the awards site that allows teachers, librarians and others to submit bulk votes on behalf of their institution.
Adelson said she doubted that parents or other grown-ups were voting through Poptropica, but acknowledged the awards site was more likely to be manipulated. An individual voter can vote multiple times and does not need to provide a verifiable email address or proof of his or her age. Bulk voters are required to submit a verifiable email, but there is no guarantee that a given teacher or librarian is really expressing the wishes of others.
To Adelson’s credit, that’s pretty candid. Of course, that credit is almost instantly obliterated when you consider she’s being candid about how easy it is for the vote to be manipulated. Adelson maintains that the voting was “close and fair,” but it’s tough to swallow the notion that Limbaugh’s celebrity even approached being a non-factor. You could argue the same thing for 2014 finalist and 2013 winner Jeff Kinney, whose “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series has garnered him substantial celebrity status, but that status was earned within the context of successful authorship of kids’ books, not by being a blowhard mouthpiece for ultra right-wing dogma.
Rush’s inclusion, nomination and eventual selection as winner becomes even more suspicious when you consider the past winners and finalists: Kinney, “The Fault in Our Stars” author John Green, “Wonder” author R.J. Palacio, Veronica Roth of “Insurgent” fame, fantasy writer Rick Riordan and more, all authors whose books enjoy statuses ranging from “moderately well-reviewed” to “critical darling.” Meanwhile, “Rush Revere” has garnered derision from most reviewers, and those that are at all positive — like the Chicago Tribune review by Mark Jacob — essentially revolve around “Look at the colors!” and “Rush Revere is only 70 percent the awful human being that Rush Limbaugh is.”
Look, adults listen to Limbaugh by choice; they think like him, they share his troglodyte-esque worldview and, okay, that’s fine. But this is a children’s book, and most of its sales will be due to ultra-conservative parents buying it for their children who are too young to know the difference between American exceptionalism and a thinly-veiled, whitewashed Tea Party revision of this nation’s history. Kids come into this world with enough disadvantages; rewarding the existence of a book like this does nothing to curb them.