Rush Limbaugh left a legacy of hate, bigotry, racism, misogyny, and conspiratorial delusions. He fed the flames that led directly to violent insurrectionists storming the Capitol— the very Capitol in which he was awarded a singularly undeserved presidential medal.
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) February 18, 2021
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As Rush Limbaugh ends his life with terminal cancer, pundits will be tripping over themselves bloviating as to how he forever changed the face of national media.
He did indeed. But then, so did Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, another racist who knew how to use the medium of radio to spew lies and venom.
For that is what Limbaugh did for the 25 or so years in which he delighted in commentary that was not only dishonest, but virulently racist, sexist, and homophobic. His being awarded the Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump during the 2020 State of the Union Address was perhaps the most disgraceful act of a president who has made a career of disgraceful acts.
I first paid attention to Limbaugh in the late 1990s as I drove across central Massachusetts to visit my girlfriend. There wasn’t much else on the radio so I played a game called “How long can I listen to Rush Limbaugh before I change the channel in disgust.” I think the record was 30 minutes.
At first, I found Limbaugh amusing because his broadcasts were so comically absurd. On one show, he blamed a series of raging forest fires in New Mexico on then-President Bill Clinton. I was puzzled, wondering if Bubba was stalking Kit Carson National Forest with a Zippo. It turned out that Limbaugh was accusing Clinton of creating Federal forestry guidelines that made wildfires more prevalent. Research, however, proved that those same guidelines were, in fact, put in place during the Reagan presidency. No matter. Limbaugh had by then learned that once a lie is told, there is no reason to deny it—especially if your listeners weren’t about to do any research on their own.
Limbaugh had garnered a bunch of rabid fans called “Dittoheads,” young white males who blindly agreed with whatever rubbish came forth from his lips.
Limbaugh’s racism has been well documented and needs little reinforcement here. Suffice it to say that he was a proponent of the loathsome “Birther” movement that challenged Barack Obama’s American citizenship and supported Trump’s claim that some of the neo-Nazis at the 2017 Charlottesville rally were “nice people.”
For me, the true racist identity of Limbaugh became evident during the days after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005. On his website page, Limbaugh showed a white man with a flag and a shotgun standing defiantly in front of his home (on dry land) with the headline, “The Flag Still Flies in New Orleans.” The subsequent text crowed that this fine gentleman was armed and ready for “Them.”
Of course, we know who “Them” were. All those Black Americans currently drowning in the Ninth Ward or suffocating to death in the New Orleans Superdome. Not a word of sympathy from Rush for “Them.” On the same page, Limbaugh lauded Georgia gas stations for gouging fleeing Louisiana motorists with $5/gallon gas prices as a glowing example of “Free Enterprise.”
I stopped playing my Rush Limbaugh game after that.
It’s doubtful if Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, not to mention lunatics like Alex Jones, QAnon, or Marjorie Taylor Greene would have the audience they enjoy today had it not been for the toxic example of Rush Limbaugh. Fantastic, if not outright insane, conspiracy theories are now acceptable topics on talk radio, and Limbaugh’s reactionary offerings helped contribute to the January 6th terrorist attack on our nation’s Capitol. His sneering debasement of women and gays, denial of climate change, and cheerleading of war—as long as someone else is fighting it—condemn him as one who has reaped millions of dollars by sowing lies, hate, and division.
But it’s customary to say something positive about the deceased, so here it goes.
The last broadcast of Limbaugh’s that I listened to was one of his call-in shows. A young college student was upset because her professor had assigned his class a task to write their own obituary. She was worried that this was some liberal plot to brainwash her. To Rush’s credit, he supported the professor, observing that he most likely wanted his youthful students to take their lives seriously so that, in the far future, they could look back in pride at what they had accomplished.
It’s a shame that Rush Limbaugh did not apply that lesson to himself. One can only wonder how many African Americans, immigrants, women, and gay people were physically or verbally assaulted over the years because the perpetrators felt justified and encouraged by Rush Limbaugh’s vicious example.
In his next incarnation, I hope he learns compassion, kindness, honesty, and humility; attributes sadly missing during his recent lifetime on Earth.