I don’t remember when I started listening to Rush Limbaugh.
I was young though. In middle school, most likely. I grew up in New York City, and Rush’s flagship station then was 77 WABC in the Big Apple. When I was in the car with my dad, and it was between the hours of 12pm and 3pm ET, we were listening to Rush.
The political concepts were over my head at the time, but I do remember my dad laughing a great deal as Rush delivered his monologues. I also recall how genuinely eager my dad was to hear Rush’s take on the news of the day, while using the commercial breaks to explain, as best he could to a scatterbrained youngster, the points that Rush had just raised on air. Kids have a tendency to pick up on their parents’ interests, and so in my case, I too became genuinely eager in what El Rushbo had to say.
It was an interest that stayed with me throughout high school, college, and in my professional career.
I, of course, am not alone. Prior to his death, Rush boasted a monthly listenership of 20 million people, as his program was syndicated across a jaw-dropping 650 radio stations.
The man behind the “golden EIB microphone” was a juggernaut, the likes of which we probably will not see again in our lifetime.
You will read how Rush helped pioneer the genre of conservative talk radio, and by extension, the new media landscape. That is true. Social media was flooded yesterday with conservative journalists and pundits praising Rush for paving the way for them and their profession when he began his journey three decades ago.
You will also read how Rush racked up award after award in the industry for his broadcasting feats. That’s true as well. Rush was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. Moreover, he secured five prestigious Marconi awards for “Excellence in Syndicated and Network Broadcasting.”
Rush was a legend, in other words.
The GOAT of talk radio, if you will.
And even at age 70, he showed no signs of slowing down.
He was, simply the best.
But why was he the best?
Rush always reminded his audience that liberalism could never win on its own terms. It had to be masked in do-gooder rhetoric. And Rush ran a master’s course for conservatives in decoding that rhetoric, whether it came from leftwing politicians or their stenographers in the press (the “drive-by” media, as Rush dubbed them). It didn’t matter what the topic was — “climate change,” “universal healthcare,” or, most recently, the presidential “norms” that Donald Trump supposedly obliterated — Rush always knew how to get down to the real heart of the matter and expose it as such: The obsession by those in D.C. to control our lives and our livelihood.
Rush’s brilliance resided in his ability to frame the debate at hand and convey it plainly. And convey it hilariously, too. His parodies, produced by Paul Shanklin, were laugh out loud funny. Rush wasn’t just informative. He was entertaining as could be. He skewered noted charlatans Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as the “Justice Brothers,” mocked former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank as the “Banking Queen,” and, among other hits, ridiculed Barack Obama as the “Candy Man” – the one who “can make the sun rise,” “promise you the moon,” and “cover you with healthcare and a miracle or two.”
In parody or monologue, it was clear that Rush’s passion was in defending the founding ethos of America. He detested the fatal conceit of central planning and despised the ideology of victimhood. He railed against both forcefully, becoming an inestimable ally for liberty. (For those of you in Rio Linda, that means Rush’s contributions were invaluable.)
Rush often spoke of the “American experiment” that separated us from other countries, how we as a nation were organized around the principles of constitutional governance and providential rights. This representative republic, Rush rightly proclaimed, has produced the most upward mobility and civil protections for any people at any other point in human history.
To Rush, America truly was the land of opportunity, and his life reflected that reality. He grew up in a small town in Missouri. He never received a degree past high school. And he was fired seven times before his radio career ever took off, which itself didn’t happen until his late 30s.
He loved America and wasn’t afraid to defend her, despite the torrent of failed boycott attempts over the years that were designed to intimidate his advertisers and yank him off the air. The opposite actually happened: Rush’s voice grew stronger and his reach grew longer. For young conservatives like myself, Rush exemplified a man who displayed courage under fire.
He spoke the truth, especially if that truth was considered unfashionable.
Like in 2009, when Republicans were tripping over themselves to say that they hoped Barack Obama succeeded as president, Rush offered this take on the new administration: I hope Obama fails.
“What [Obama’s] talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the U.S. government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work,” Rush said. “Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?”
Rush was right and all the GOP establishment types who squirmed and cowered in fear of being erroneously labeled racist for criticizing Obama early on are… still squirming and cowering in fear of how the media might wrongfully portray them today.
Rush showed us a different path.
Don’t accept the “drive-by” media’s premise or operate out of fear of them.
In fact, do the opposite: Take them on.
Rush would open most segments claiming that his show was the “Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies.” In many ways, it was an institute. Armed with his “stack of stuff” each day, he seamlessly conducted a seminar on issue after issue, always keeping the focus on the overarching narrative: secular progressives are at war with America’s institutions, and they must be thwarted if our country’s going to remain a pillar of freedom and opportunity for us and our progeny.
Rush made this process look easy. Yet it is far from easy, as any honest talk radio host will tell you.
Out of all Rush’s accomplishments, and we didn’t even get into his hugely successful Rush Revere series for children or the $50 million he reportedly raised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, there is one biographical point that stands out the most. Indeed, it is the most consequential decision that Rush has ever made, and it’s one we can take solace in as we mourn the loss of a great American hero.
“I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he told his audience late last year. “It is of immense value, strength, confidence. That’s why I’m able to remain fully committed to the idea that what is supposed to happen will happen when it’s meant to.”
Before Rush received his lung cancer diagnosis, I started taking my twins to the gym with me in the morning. Daddy got a workout in while the kiddos got to play with other toddlers in the “little gym” area.
It was a win-win arrangement.
But the best part was the commute. The radio dial was turned on to Rush’s program.
I was able to do with my kids exactly what my father did with me: Introduce them to America’s Anchorman.