Rush Limbaugh is gone and that’s that. He became part of our collective consciousness about 30 years ago and that was far too long for such a verbal vandal to hold sway. And hold sway he did.
I had a friend named Terry for whom I worked back in the early- and mid-’90s. Terry idolized Rush. I spent a lot of time in Terry’s little red pickup truck as he blared WLS in Chicago carrying the man’s program in the afternoon. Every day. Every single goddamned day.
Terry and I argued like cat and dog back then. Seemingly every sentence out of Rush’s gaping face hole drove Terry to exclaim “YEEE-aaaah!” and me to scream, “You’re both fuckin’ deranged.”
Truth is, Terry and I dug the ongoing fight over Rush. Neither of us really saw him as the voice of a huge swath of the American population. To me, he was just an over-the-top, lonely voice broadcasting from some uncivilized backwoods to a few thousand equally lonely borderline sociopaths. To Terry, he was the courageous voice of righteousness whom the vast majority of Americans were ignoring.
We enjoyed our fighting over him because it seemed more a game than a cultural touchstone. Sadly for our country, that’s what Rush became. He was as important to the growth of the Tea Party, Trump, the border wall, climate change denial, misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, hatred of women, obsessive anti-Clintonism, and all the rest of the dog whistles and overt calls to idiocy he spewed for lo these many decades as any other living human being.
It can be argued he was one of the single most important people in the history of the country. As recently as last year, his radio program attracted a daily average audience of 15.5 million, a jaw-dropping number considering how much the overall radio audience has shrunk since the dawn of the internet. One of St. Ronald Reagan’s pet projects, tearing down the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, allowed radio stations all over the country to air Rush’s viewpoints without having to present opposing opinions. It was deregulation run amok and led to a dramatic growth spurt for Right Wing blowhards in all forms of media. Rush was the chief blowhard. He earned, it has been estimated, more than half a billion dollars yelling into his microphone over the years.
A current friend of mine has said Rush became popular because he raised his middle finger to all those “politically correct” hall monitors who wanted to tell the rest of us what to do. My friend is right. Rush’s listeners detested college eggheads telling them what to think and say — as if some TA at the likes of Oberlin College held any sway over breakfast diner conversations in Topeka, Kansas. But Topekans and millions of others like them felt aggrieved, felt assaulted for chrissakes, that they had to feel guilty for calling Black people colored or woman bitches among their pals. Thanks to Rush, they were granted the imprimatur to substitute instead the N-bomb and the C-bomb.
They felt free at last. Much like a three-year-old pulling out his penis in front of the dinner guests.
More truth: Having lived in this college town, Bloomington, for a touch more than ten years now, I can attest that “political correctness” — or, as I prefer to characterize the phenomenon, orthodoxy v. heresy — is alive and well and, in fact, probably more insidious than ever. That said, Rush’s strategy of fighting it employing racism, nativism, misogyny, male idolatry, anti-intellectualism, and every other evocation of hatred and incuriousness in his sick arsenal is not so much refreshing as flat out evil. What we need is a voice that says “Fuck you, don’t condemn the whole of me because you disagree with a sliver of my perspective. I’m still in the fight with you.” Key words: “with you.”
But that brand of “good behavior” isn’t turning us into wholly self-centered, hateful, incurious, regressives. It’s just annoying and we can handle that. It was the reaction to “political correctness” that’s destroying us.
More than anything else, Rush led the charge to skew, perversely, the very nature of public discourse. Hand in hand with Newt Gingrich, aided by the former Speaker’s infamous Gingrich Memo, people who dissented from their orthodoxy no longer were opponents but satanic child molesters.
No wonder so many Dittoheads and Right Wingers armed themselves to the teeth and are itching for the coming civil war.