I am grateful that my mother so often insisted on making us listen to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. She knew what I did not until it was almost too late: that Rush was for a long time a solitary sentinel, watching and warning the American people (and the world) of threats to their flourishing.
With gratitude I have in the last few days read some beautiful words celebrating the life and work of the great Rush Limbaugh. There has also been vituperative and tactless rejoicing over his death. This outpouring of hatred, however, has served only to cement the truth that Rush himself taught through word and example: If people are really angry at something you are saying or doing, it is a sign that you are getting at the truth. Half of the people who hear you will like what you say, he acknowledged. The trick to radio, he explained in an old clip played on Friday by guest-host Mark Steyn, is to be entertaining to the other half. And as Dennis Prager wrote in The Wall Street Journal, Rush was “relentlessly interesting.”
My childhood and teen years were filled with the voice of Rush Limbaugh. My mother, strong and intelligent woman that she is, recognized early on what a gift this man had. During the hours of that show, whether we were working or driving or otherwise, the voice of courageous, intelligent, selfless insight surrounded us. To my shame, I more than once objected to the show, preferring music to any kind of talking on the radio. Often I would feel deep disappointment that he would never finish playing the song by The Pretenders, “My City Was Gone,” the opening riffs of which are so recognizably linked to Rush’s show. I am so grateful my mother never let my selfish complaints limit her for too long. She knew what I did not until it was almost too late: that Rush Limbaugh was for a long time a solitary sentinel, watching and warning the American people (and the world) of threats to their flourishing.
He did more than tirelessly and accurately articulate the political happenings, boldly identifying (when necessary) the mendacities of the left. Rush also wholeheartedly believed in the freedom and excellence of America. He was strikingly intelligent. Mark Levin put him “in the category of a Reagan, of a Bill Buckley, of a Milton Friedman.”
He was endlessly encouraging through words and deeds. He never lost his appreciation for sound, and he gave his show the texture of some truly great music. His courageous voice did not descend to elitism, condescension, or moral disapproval. He saw right through the rampant ressentiment that authoritarians would use to bludgeon their opponents into guilt-laden submission. He confidently used his talent, always reminding his listeners with both pride and humility that it was “on loan from God,” to serve. He knew the love his listeners felt for him; his show always felt like a gift, as Rush fearlessly wielded his imperturbable insight and optimism for the sake of the listeners he loved as much as they loved him.
Irritating as it was to his detractors, Rush Limbaugh’s confidence and complete lack of falsifying affect were what made him such a gifted leader. The American pioneers needed to be hardy and courageous to weather the attacks of weather and wilderness; as pioneer of communication, Rush’s confidence in his gifts and in his calling enabled him not only to provide information and hope for many millions of listeners, but also to open up a new world for talk radio and for conservative commentators. Arguably an American version of Aristotle’s magnanimous man, Rush was great at what he did, he knew he was great at what he did, and he was not afraid to say that he was great at what he did. Being human, he made mistakes and showed weaknesses, but when he erred, he admitted it promptly. He never let his personal struggles prevent him from bringing a sense of humor and hope when he joined his listeners on the air.
Myself not possessed of such courage, I had hidden from the news for decades; having friends on the left and the right, I had for years sought to avoid unpleasantness and conflict by staying undercover as a conservative in many venues. On January 6, 2021, however, the conflict came and joined me in my quiet living room via an angry text from a left-leaning friend. This text called for the death of President Trump, and essentially required that I denounce the President if I was to retain the friendship. This verbal attack so rattled me that I finally broke my news-fast and started looking for guidance. I did not know what was going on, but no news I heard sounded trustworthy. Not even the conservative commentators that I sifted through had the ring of selfless truth. Instinctively I knew to turn on Rush’s show. Even during the past decades when I wasn’t listening intentionally to his show, he nevertheless always felt like family: a wise and trusted guiding voice.
Since that day in January I’ve listened to Rush every time I was able, listened to the recordings when I could not listen live, and I’ve told everyone who would listen how grateful I am that I didn’t miss getting to know him on the air for myself. What brilliance and what courage! If Rush can hear me now from his resting place with God, I want to thank him for staying with us through the inauguration. We needed him so much those days, and I know he was in a lot of pain and weakness from his illness. It was a short few weeks, sadly.
This last Wednesday morning I tuned in to the Rush Limbaugh show right at nine in the morning. Having missed his live shows for too many decades of my life, I was determined to listen to every one I could catch while I had a chance. I had been watching the EIB app to see when Rush would reappear for another live show, since the last time he hosted his eponymous show was February 2, 2021. I was eager to hear his next live show. It feels providential that I managed, probably for the first time in my life, to be listening at the very beginning of this show that has been important in my life as long as I can remember, but which I only have recently become aware of with intention and gratitude. Curiously, Kathryn Limbaugh was announced, and when she opened by saying that she knew that she was not the Limbaugh the listeners wanted to hear. My heart dropped and the hope that she would have good news disappeared. As God would have it, I was one of the millions of listeners tuned in at the very moment when Kathryn Limbaugh announced to the world that her husband, the inimitable Rush Limbaugh, had died a few hours earlier. It felt like a gift God gave me, albeit a heavy one, to be in some strange way present at the end of an era.
I regret not meeting him, not obeying my desire to call or email the show, and most of all I regret all those years I didn’t listen to his show; but I am grateful for that angry text that moved me to seek Rush’s guidance, and I am confident that where Rush is now, he knows now how much I admire him. And I am so grateful I got to soak up his wisdom for those last few weeks. When the prophet Elijah was about to die, his protégé Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit. The heartening ranks of thinkers, communicators, and broadcasters who care about true liberty, about excellence in speech and character, and about the goodness of America (as it was founded and as it lives today) show that this nation has been given a double portion of the spirit God gave Rush Limbaugh. Conservative values as they lived through Rush—patriot, thinker, and venerable entertainer—have many defenders now. Serving the good will not leave one without enemies; Dennis Prager rightly recognized that the left hates and maligns Rush Limbaugh, even in death, because he “had their number.” But the courage and playfulness that he showed never had a bit of self-pity, despite so much hatred directed at him. He knew and felt, as he said during some December shows, the bond between his listeners and himself, and he repeatedly spoke his deep gratitude for the prayers and love that poured out for him.
I doubt anyone will ever be anywhere near as great as the original Mr. Limbaugh. But I know many that he mentored and befriended are already working diligently to provide the world with information and insight unpolluted by the increasingly authoritarian governmental, tech, and media forces. Personally, I myself feel something galvanizing from Rush’s words and example; amid all this tumult, I feel a completely new dedication to living as best and courageously as I can now and for as much future that God gives me. Inspired by the completely selfless witness of Rush, who in his last few weeks valiantly continued his buoyant and hopeful fight for truth even as his body was giving way, I feel emboldened to become fully who I am supposed to be and to do what I am supposed to do.
Those who cruelly and tastelessly rejoice over Rush Limbaugh’s death forget that their freedom, the preservation and thriving of the good things in the USA are in a large part still available to them because of the selfless work of the man they attack. All great endeavors will be opposed. The greater they are, the more opposed they will be. Dennis Prager was right to say that Rush died right when he need him most. More than one holy person has said, however, that the good and loving works they will do will only be increased when they are taken from this world and are in Heaven with God. I somehow get the feeling that Rush is already on the case.
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The featured image is a photograph of Rush Limbaugh giving a thumbs-up to President Donald J. Trump from the House Gallery Tuesday evening, Feb. 4, 2020, after President Trump awarded Mr. Limbaugh with the Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen). This image is in the public domain and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.