- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

The battle rages.

Shouts, warnings, directives, threats, a stray explosion or two. There’s sudden silence, eloquent commentary, a plaintive oath — then a fierce laugh born of old New York. It is tough and merry, both wise and wise guy.

Batten down the hatches. Duck and cover. Michael Savage is on the airwaves, delivering his rapid-fire message over 400 radio stations, three hours a day, five days a week. He has fought the good fight for 15 years, flanked by his 10 million weekly listeners who now consider themselves the “Savage Nation.”

Savage Battalion, more like.

They rally behind the laserlike takes on immigration, white males, cheeky liberals, wimpy conservatives, media bias, cultural wars, porous borders, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, same-sex marriage, corrupt Hollywood, junk science, big medicine, big government, scurrilous officials. Mr. Savage is generous with personal memories. He pouts. He is giddy.

The loyal audience steps to the Savage drumbeat, they salute a man who is often at the center of a lawsuit, a boycott or public outrage.

“I do it because I do it. I speak, therefore I am,” Mr. Savage says.

And that is it, the whole battle plan.

“People come to me because they know I will tell them the truth. The price is that you give your heart and soul every day. Every day. And in order to get there, you get thrown in the cauldron,” he continues. “And a man emerges from that cauldron, and he is case hardened.”

Mr. Savage has been in many, many cauldrons over the years.

This is a man who has described himself as “right of Rush Limbaugh, and left of God.” He invented the phrase “compassionate conservative” 15 years ago, though it later became a rallying cry in the Republican quest for the White House.

Gay advocates continue to call him a bigot or a fascist. Mr. Savage has wrangled with the Roman Catholic Church for its humanitarian support of illegal immigrants. He accused the Council on American-Islamic Relations of maintaining ties to terrorists (CAIR), then sued them. The group in turn organized an advertising and listener boycott — a favorite method among Savage critics to defame him.

The cauldron du jour, though, is the entire British government. On May 4, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith included Mr. Savage on a list of 22 terrorists, criminals and other undesirables who were no longer welcome in the country. She claimed that the radio host was “fomenting hatred” and could prompt “intercommunity tension.”

The event galvanized the press, not to mention a slew of free-speech advocates and the Savage Nation itself.

Their hero was primed to be savage, though. Mr. Savage called Mrs. Smith a lunatic, witch, Bolshevik, low-life and a tin-pot dictator among other things — then sued her for defamation of character, calling upon his listeners to cancel travel plans to Britain and boycott British goods.

“She painted a target on my back,” he says.

Mr. Savage is appealing to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to have his name stricken from the list, using the Thomas More Law Center as an intermediary. Meanwhile, defenders emerged, including the American Radio Free Speech Coalition and — curiously — CAIR.

“Even though we have challenged Michael Savage’s hate speech and even ran an advertising campaign against his show, we still do not back this ban from Britain based on principle, not based on the man himself. We believe freedom of speech is a two-way street,” notes CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

The situation is complex and full of competing dynamics — just like Mr. Savage himself.

He was born to a humble household in Queens just as World War II had taken a patriotic hold of the American home front. He earned a bachelor of science degree in biology, taught in a local high school and later arrived at the University of California at Berkley, eventually to earn a Ph.D. in epidemiology and two masters in medical botany. He wrote 20 books and hung out with the likes of Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

His left-leaning politics shifted in the 1980s. Troubled by the AIDS epidemic and emerging health threats posed by immigrants, Mr. Savage took his pronounced views to the radio realm, landing his own show in 1994. In recent years, Mr. Savage has written five political books: “The Savage Nation,” “The Enemy Within: Saving America From the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military,” “Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder,” “The Political Zoo” and “Psychological Nudity.”

“You know what I did? I prayed to God to send me a living. Please God, give me a living, and low and behold He did. I’ve found that the only thing that matters is survival. So I learned how to survive,” Mr. Savage says.

“Whether you agree with him or not, Michael Savage is one of the most listened to talk-show hosts in the industry. He is as funny as he is controversial. You can take him as a political bomb thrower or a Borscht belt entertainer,” says Michael Harrison, founder of Talkers Magazine, an industry publication that tracks talk radio.

“He’s incredibly intelligent and very entertaining. One of his best qualities is that he’s an original in an industry where so many people imitate each other. Savage marches to his own beat.”

And for all of his brilliant caterwaul, Mr. Savage is reduced to utter tenderness at the thought of Teddy, his diminutive, fuzzy gray poodle.

“If anything inspires me, sustains me, it’s the dog. Maybe spaghetti, too. But the dog, Teddy. He gives me such pleasure. How can anything so small have so much personality? Maybe I just don’t like people anymore,” Mr. Savage says.

Yet he is there for his audience. Always.

At 67, Michael Savage still ignores the comforting calls of the Barcalounger in favor of a no-nonsense chair in front of a microphone — supplying a seamless daily show for Talk Radio Network, an Oregon-based syndication company that includes Laura Ingraham, Tammy Bruce and “Mancow” in its stable of talent.

“Do I know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to be in five years?” Mr. Savage asks, and there’s passion in that voice, along with a certain wry demeanor that comes from living almost seven decades on Planet Earth.

“Well, let me just say there’s an old Mexican saying,” he says. “If you want to make God laugh, then just tell Him about your plans.”

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