One afternoon in 1992, I visited a friend at his quarters on Tyndall Air Force Base. We ate burgers and swapped stories, and then he looked at the clock and turned on the radio. “You gotta hear this guy!” he said with a confident grin.
I doubted that. I had tired of “shock jock” DJ schtick by the time I was 20. Still, Mike was a good friend who made very good burgers, so I prepared to politely endure the performance. Mike’s grin remained as I heard, for the first time, Rush Limbaugh’s diligent employment of the talent God loaned him.
God must have checked his credit rating; it had been a substantial loan.
Years of listening may be blending, in my memories. Still. I’m sure that that very first day, it was one of the parody songs which made me chuckle, as it were, audibly. (In 1992, we didn’t know how to “lol” yet.) A Ted Kennedy impersonator sang “I Get Around” and when Rush’s voice returned, we could tell that he’d enjoyed it as much as we had. His heart was in his work, and his sincerity came through. He was sincere in his criticisms of the leftist icon, and just as importantly, he sounded sincerely amused.
Good humor is the key to Rush’s appeal. “Moderate strength is shown in violence,” observed G.K. Chesterton. “Supreme strength is shown in levity.” Rush’s humor is the humor of supreme confidence. He revels in that confidence, not in his own superiority, but in his arguments and in the hard-working salt-of-the-earth Americans who increasingly were becoming his audience.
Like much of that audience, I found it a breath of fresh air for someone on the radio to be articulating the positions I held, and being irreverent towards figures whom I had never revered. Musical lese majeste to that lyin’ Lion of the Senate was just the beginning. Risible figures had their own “update themes” as effective as musical caricatures, and (like thousands of the folks calling themselves “Dittoheads”) I rejoiced in the feeling that my political and cultural opponents were no longer insulated from public criticism.
It would be hard to overstate how important this was. Before the effects of the internet, news was monolithic and liberal; I’d been ineffectually yelling back at the television since I was a little right-wing kid. In college I’d discovered National Review (it was a conservative magazine in those days) and I enjoyed its arguments and William F. Buckley’s vocabulary-expanding commentary immensely, but outside the library where I could read it (I couldn’t afford a subscription) a conservative critique seemed to get no public traction.
Now, however, Rush’s three-hour show took those ideas and criticisms and projected them far and wide—beyond magazine pages—with courage, passion, and style.
Rush became common culture to conservatives. Half his brain, he said, was tied behind his back; perhaps it was the pedantic half, since he so successfully brought ideas from the highbrow conservative inner circle out into the real world where they could do more good.
Certainly the behind-the-back part included that portion of the brain which makes excuses, and the lobe which generates cowering behavior in response to partisan malice. Rush has been called every nasty name in the left-wing lexicon of invective, and borne it all cheerfully. Their abuse hasn’t hindered his enormous success over the decades. Shrugging off the slanders and ignoring the epithets is one of the lessons we’ve learned from him.
And we’ve all learned from him. His singular importance cannot be described as the exclusive blessing of the other conservative radio-talk-show hosts who now thrive in the industry he single-handedly created, but rather a blessing to all of us who push back against leftist intimidation and encroachment.
The current generation of opponents of the Left, every great or small champion of our beloved old constitutional Republic and its commonsensical citizenry, owes an awful lot to the most recent recipient of the Medal of Freedom. He showed us what could be done, and exhibited the marvelous attitude with which it is necessary to do it.
When Rush’s formerly-nicotine-stained fingers pass the torch, we must aspire to carry it as diligently, as unashamedly, and as merrily as Rush has.
Schtick notwithstanding, I don’t think Rush wants us to think that no one will ever be as great as he is—even in radio broadcasting. God has loaned out a lot of talent. No matter what future excellence is attained, however, Rush’s contribution will remain historic and unique. No one else will ever have been the first.
Thank you, Rush Limbaugh. You’ve shown us how it’s done and we are praying for you!