O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
Though not often good at multi-tasking, I was answering an email while listening to commentators on Fox News pay tribute to Rush Limbaugh on the day he died. The tributes were a bit one-sided, but it’s difficult to point out the faults of the recently deceased without seeming vindictive. William F. Buckley Jr. was unusually adept at doing just that. When Eleanor Roosevelt had died, Buckley acknowledged that she was a well-intentioned and gracious lady, but also pointed out that for many her contribution to political thought rarely made it to the plus side. Of her funeral, Buckley wrote, “Some came to pay their respects; others came to make sure.”
No doubt the Limbaugh funeral will also draw some who simply wish to reassure themselves that the Limbaugh cadaver is really a corpse and that Rush is finally done talking, at least here on Earth. I heard someone on the TV say that Limbaugh’s was a voice of truth, “cutting through the noise.” Well, sometimes he was. At other times he was merely a megaphone amplifying the noise. Like much of the nation and most of Washington, he was snookered into giving full-throated support to the great Bush War II in Iraq. “And if we do Iraq, we’ll rebuild it,” he assured his millions of listeners, many of whom were only too happy to let “El Rushbo” do virtually all of their thinking for them. About a decade earlier Limbaugh got co-opted by the GOP after spending a night in the Lincoln bedroom during the White House days of the first President Bush. He boasted of that on the air and was an unabashed name dropper concerning his acquaintances with famous public figures. Praising and defending movie star and NRA president Charlton Heston, Limbaugh referred to him casually as “Chuck.” He knew the great man, rubbed elbows with him. “He told me to call him, ‘Chuck,’” he explained.
To be sure, Limbaugh was a valuable ally to Republican and conservative causes. He trumpeted Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” which contributed mightily to the GOP “tsunami” in the congressional and statehouse elections in the 1994 revolt against President Bill Clinton. He used his radio pulpit to support conservative Supreme Court nominees. He did his part to try to hold the Maginot line against the “gay” revolution, but needlessly baited the “gays” with mockery and ridicule. Like most people on the right, he badly underestimated the resiliency of “Comeback kid” Bill Clinton, who was reelected over the hopelessly weak candidacy of Bob Dole in 1996.
Limbaugh seemed to specialize in saying the politically incorrect thing, suggesting, for example, that a certain NFL quarterback was overrated because he was black. But he boldly said what he thought and seldom backed away from it, save for the time a televised confrontation with militant homosexuals caused him to tone down his gay-baiting rhetoric. He infuriated “progressive” women with his verbal assaults on “feminazis,” but who can deny there were and are strong totalitarian overtones in some quarters of the feminist movement. His arguments against environmental extremists, who insisted on saving and serving every species but the human, probably hindered the crusade to turn the nation into an animal farm run for the benefit of snail darters, spotted owls, Elderberry long-horned beetles, and poor neglected kangaroo rats. For those who lined upon the right on any or all of those issues, Rush Limbaugh was a truly valuable ally.
Just as there would have been no Goldwater campaign or Reagan presidency without Bill Buckley and his National Review, there likely would not have been the Republican congresses of recent years, the Tea Party rebellion or the Trump presidency without Rush Limbaugh and his legions of “dittoheads.”
Judging by his public statements, Mr. Limbaugh seemed to accept his pending death in good spirits, even quoting the line of the dying Lou Gehrig’s farewell at Yankee Stadium, saying “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He had a decades-long run as the dominant star of talk radio and a hero to millions. A year ago he received the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. He couldn’t take it with him, but he seemed ready and willing to meet his Maker without it. In that respect, he was as lucky as anyone has ever been.
May he rest in peace. And may perpetual light shine upon him.
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Jack Kenny is a freelance writer from Manchester.