As was reported on Rush Limbaugh’s daily show today by his widow Kathryn Limbaugh, “I know that I am most certainly not the Limbaugh that you tuned in to listen to today. I, like you, very much wish Rush was behind this golden microphone right now, welcoming you to another exceptional three hours of broadcasting… It is with profound sadness I must share with you directly that our beloved Rush, my wonderful husband, passed away this morning due to complications from lung cancer.”
I have a distinct memory of Rush Limbaugh that has been burned into my memory for over a decade. It wasn’t something he said. It was just a particular moment that I never forgot.
I was driving in the countryside with my grandpa on a scorching summer day. We were driving two hours north to visit a museum out in the country. The windows were open and country air was blowing into the truck (the same Silverado he would later gift me as an adult and I’m still driving today) I was sipping on a can of Coke. Rush Limbaugh was ranting about the latest Obama administration atrocities.
In a weird sort of way, all was right with the world at the moment. The moment was just a moment of quiet moment of bliss in between all of the stress of school, politics and life. It was, to put a word to it, joyful. I owe the late Rush Limbaugh that thanks for being in my life in my formative years to the point where such a memory was so powerful.
Limbaugh has always been a presence in my life so long as I’ve payed attention to politics. His reputation certainly proceeds him. Many consider him uncouth, radical and belligerent. His critics consider him a degenerative voice in American politics and lament the way his thirty year career has radically changes the tone of discourse in the United States.
Certainly I have my criticisms of him too. Even as someone who has enjoyed his show, I dislike his rhetoric on occassion. I haven’t enjoyed in the last half decade how deeply he’s hitched himself to the Trumpkin/America First/Ultra-Populist school of conservatism that the kids and boomers are into nowadays.
I also understand that this isn’t all he represents. Rush has always had a prickly exterior but, as the old saying goes, “he contains multitudes”. As Zev Chafets wrote in his excellent biography Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One:
“I didn’t agree with everything – in fact, I disagreed with a lot – but agreeing wasn’t the point. He was doing something really interesting. Ridicule has always been a weapon used by the left against the right. Limbaugh had somehow seized the cannon and turned it around. I relished his bravado, laughed at his outrageous satire, and admired his willingness to go against the intellectual grain.”Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One, 2010, Page 2
In other words, Limbaugh’s gift was the ability to use the weapon of entertainment a cudgel for conservatism. For that, he was dismissed as an ogre, a bigot and a propagator of lies. That prickly surface definitely turned away most of his critics at first sight. Most liberals and non-political moderates dismissed him readily as a fringe radical. In practice though, his tactic wasn’t all that dissimilar from the tactics used by the likes of Jon Stewart and John Oliver. He might say something ugly like “Feminism is just a way for ugly women to get into mainstream America” but he was always trying to make a bigger point.
More to the point, he didn’t talk down to his audience. Certainly he boiled his ideas down too much at times. He was never an intellectual. Rush was, at best, an above average political junkie with a penchant for keeping up with the most cutting news. Even so, I don’t blame him for doing so. He always addressed his crowd on an even playing field. Even when he brags about his importance and his incredible success, he took dozens of calls a week and answers their questions with respect and deference.
Also for what it’s worth, if you think Rush if a racist you should go take it up with his longtime black assistant/producer Bo Snerdley.
His prickliness is further undermined by the reality of his deep charity and giving. Limbaugh’s greatest gift was his kindness and charity behind the camera. His success afforded him immense wealth and he used that to give away free Apple products to his listeners whenever he had the opportunity. He was certainly braggadocios and like to brag about how he spoke into a golden microphone everyday but he did try and match his success with gratitude.
He also offered a great deal more graceful to his critics than he was often given credit for. In one famous incident from early on in his show in the 1990s, a restaurant that was running advertisements on his program was threatened with a boycott should they refuse to stop giving him money. When the restaurant reached out to cancel their advertisements, Limbaugh went on his show and told his audience to flood the restaurant with customers and tell the waiters that Limbaugh sent them. The restaurant’s service increased exponentially and they kept their advertisements going.
Rush was an immensely complex, flawed and full man who gave his life and career to his listeners. He worked hard every day for the weeks leading up to his death performing for his audience and keeping his work going. It’s debatable just what his legacy holds and the thousands of people now celebrating his death on twitter certainly would say he contributed negatively to the discourse (ironically).
Certainly twitter and the MSM are a trash-fire following the announcement. CNBC spent the majority of it’s obituary by dismissing him as “incendiary” and posting all of the controversial things he said in the runup to his death such as his calls for “secession” and his supposed defense of the capital hill rioters. For good measure, #RestinPiss started trending immediately following the announcement this morning and a flurry of leftist have gone out of their way to mock his death and legacy.
All of this hardly matters now. The man has passed on. He has reached the final frontier from which no man returns. He is at one with the universe and will have to answer for his lifetime of work to whatever you believe awaits his eternal soul. I pray he’s found peace.
RIP Rush Limbaugh (1951-2021)