Rush Limbaugh’s robust appreciation for and unashamed celebration of a conservatism that welcomed all with outstretched arms made him an honorary member of so many families that, in turn, connected us with each other.
I knew the day was coming for over a year now, but I still wasn’t prepared for it. Hearing that distinct voice over the airwaves so many times for my entire life, day in and day out, I reckoned Rush Limbaugh as nearly reliable as the sunrise. I didn’t even have to tune in necessarily—just knowing he was available sufficed. An anchor, a rock. I could turn on the radio or visit a website to stream his show, but if I didn’t, he was still there, whole-heartedly laboring away with passionate dedication to his craft. While some remember discovering him at various points in life, I didn’t know life without him. There are so many of us, we actually have a name: Rush babies.
I have fond memories of my dad finding him on the radio as we covered hundreds of miles on our many family road trips to tame the Wild West. We’d tune in until the static rendered him unintelligible, and then we’d rescan the frequencies until we detected a crisper version of that familiar voice’s one-sided banter with Mr. Snerdley or proudly hawking a quality product during one of his “obscene profit timeouts.” He was like an uncle tagging along on our expeditions to keep us company. His place as an honorary member of so many families across the nation connected all of us with each other.
Like many, I owe Rush an immeasurable debt for shaping my entire comprehension of the political world. One summer in high school, I was determined to understand politics. I vividly remember every day at noon, going upstairs to my bedroom and turning on my little stereo I’d won in a spelling bee. Faithfully listening to him that summer resulted in learning not only about the foundation of our government, the political parties, and how politics worked, but a robust appreciation for and unashamed celebration of a conservatism that welcomed all with outstretched arms.
I couldn’t get enough. My dad subscribed to The Limbaugh Letter, and I devoured every word. I found an old cassette tape of America: The Way Things Ought To Be, and I studiously took notes. His knack for distilling complex topics to their essence was refreshingly persuasive: erring on the side of life, for example, when its beginning was uncertain made sense to me. His savvy instilled in me a level of political sophistication and intuition that taught me to fish—I could think through issues on my own. This is one of the most notable legacies of Rush Limbaugh—he wanted you to think for yourself. Many callers satirically and playfully assumed the critic-dubbed appellation of “dittohead” because we all knew the irony of such a misnomer.
He wanted you to ask why. He appreciated liberty in all its forms, free-thinking not excluded. I didn’t always agree with Rush—if not over a conclusion drawn, then perhaps a manner communicated, but that was okay. I didn’t have to. I took him to college with me, his talent on loan from God ricocheting off the walls of my quad at Duke University, where I concurrently earned my degree from the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies. Around this time in my life, I began to learn that adults aren’t always right about everything. (See? Professors still teach things.)
Though he was certainly an imperfect, larger-than-life provocateur, it’s the people who didn’t actually listen to the program that labeled him a hate-filled demagogue. Listeners appreciated the infectious optimism and light-hearted humor, picking up on his tongue-in-cheek performance subtly approaching self-parody. He didn’t take himself or his political opponents too seriously. We’ve all heard of his quiet, generous, private life, but he also openly loved and respected his callers, regardless of their viewpoints. He was driven by genuinely desiring the best for every American, and he had fun.
While battling cancer with dignity, Rush didn’t let it define his life. Most importantly, he unabashedly professed Christ Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and I pray and hope that he knew that ultimate peace graciously purchased and provided by Christ’s person and work for the sinful man to enjoy reconciliation with our holy God.
The dress rehearsals with guest hosts were insufficient preparation for February 17. I was always hopeful that he would be back in the chair, as he often remarkably was in the past year. We had all come to wait with bated breath toward the end of The Pretenders’ opening bumper music to hear that voice. As his contemporaries have noted, he is irreplaceable, and on weekday afternoons, there will be a felt void in many Americans’ lives.