The news just broke that conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh has passed away after battling lung cancer.
I haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh or anyone else on talk radio since the mid 90s but back in the day he was an incredibly important voice in the pre-internet era. His utility faded over the years but his influence was incredible.
Younger conservatives don’t really understand the impact of Limbaugh. Prior to Limbaugh, it often felt like as a conservative you were all alone in the world. In 1987 when he started on the air, there were no conservative mass media voices. None. No Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson. There was the pretentious William F. Buckley and of course Pat Buchanan but their reach was very limited. By the time the 90s rolled around, Limbaugh was the loudest and most widely heard conservative voice in a sea of leftist media. Without the internet, your choices were the big three networks, all liberal, or PBS/NPR which even then was overtly liberal or CNN, also liberal. But Limbaugh could be heard, as he reminded us, all across the fruited plains and his audience numbered in the tens of millions who tuned in every day from 12-3.
In the wasteland of liberal media voices, Rush Limbaugh came on the scene like a bulldozer in a nitroglycerine factory. He didn’t put on airs like Buckley and spoke directly to the regular White American conservatives. Even Pat Buchanan was often too cerebral for the average American. Rush gave voice to the people who would elect Trump decades later and he enraged the Left because he never backed down from them and their attacks would simply encourage him. He mocked the Left unmercifully and for that reason they hated him. There is nothing liberals hate more than being made fun of and Rush was the master of it. He mocked feminists as Femi-Nazis, he made fun of black leaders and was irreverent in every way.
With Limbaugh we saw a move away from the elitist, big business GOP and the beginning of the move toward a more populist conservatism. Not without opposition from within Conservative Inc. and we still see the vestiges of that opposition in people like David Frum and Bill Kristol but even with Trump out of office it is clear that the modern Republican Party is a lot more Rush Limbaugh and a lot less Bill Kristol.
Limbaugh was no ones idea of a virtuous man. He was divorced a bunch of times, was crass and arrogant and dealt with substance abuse. In some ways he was the proto-Trump, a loud and arrogant man who spoke the language of the average American. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed spending any time with Limbaugh, just as I have no interest in spending the day with Trump, but he was a fighter. To paraphrase my dad, speaking about Trump, he was an asshole but he was our asshole.
Social media is already filling up with conservatives memorializing Rush and liberals pissing on his grave. As is always the case in the last few years, the death of Limbaugh is another marker of how different we are and how much we hate the other side. Limbaugh did nothing to bridge that gap and to his credit had no interest in doing so.
Rest in peace Rush Limbaugh. The best thing I can say about you is that you had all the right enemies.