It was only last November that I wrote about Rush as the most outstanding political commentator in America today. With his death yesterday at age 70, nothing in that analysis has changed.
When Kathryn Limbaugh came on air yesterday morning at the top of the show—as far as I can tell, the only time she has ever been on air, it was evident the news was not good. Everyone knew the moment would come, yet even after Rush lasted a year longer than expected, her voice announcing his death came as a jolt. How she remained composed for the opening 10 minutes is beyond me. It warrants a great measure of recognition in and of itself.
Rush’s passing, though, ends more than the magnificent career of a great man. It is easy to point to how Rush changed the political world. His 3-hour-a-day show, right in the middle of “dead time” that drew 20 million listeners a week and up to four million an hour, changed all of radio AM broadcasting. The genre changed quickly from music and oldies to political commentary, virtually all of it from the right. Time and again, as Rush gleefully pointed out, the Left seemed utterly incompetent in the medium. Much of this came from the fact—though Rush never said this directly—that the Left never connected with the ordinary people they supposedly represented. Thus, as one wag on Twitter put it, Air America was gone before the water even got hot.
The success of Rush’s network of affiliated stations, the EIB, brought opportunities to dozens of smaller-venue hosts. One of Rush’s most successful early guest hosts, Sean Hannity probably developed the most enduring presence both on AM radio then later on Fox, and only Glenn Beck (mostly on Fox) came anywhere close to matching Rush’s numbers. On the left, no one even came within range of either of those two, let alone El Rushbo himself.
Rush’s secrets were open. He boasted about his habit of not having guests on the show, which he occasionally broke for favorite writers, his brother David with his “Jesus” books, and politicians from only the very top of the food chain. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were about as “regular” as any guests could be, but in the previous 10 years, Rush occasionally had George W. Bush or Dick Cheney on the program. The other open secret was that Rush did not so much as mention competitors, even when stories they broke might touch upon his own interests. That practice meant that when he did play clips from CNN, MSNBC, or network news, Rush really did not even consider them competitors. They were little more than street gossips.
Perhaps one of Rush’s best techniques for ensuring listeners remained glued to the radio for three hours was that he made sure it was not all downhill after his opening monologue. He dealt with extremely important stories late in the show—yet never teased them with “Coming up in the third hour” type marketing ploys. Indeed, Rush often had so much to say that he provided a fourth hour to those who subscribed to his 24/7 service. Virtually no one else in all of show business could do such a thing. Yet to many regular listeners, it still was probably not enough. He could go on for hours.
Rush’s passing marks the end of an era. There is the obvious wind-down of AM political talk shows. One major value Rush and others provided was that in the early 1990s, there was no widespread internet, much less social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook, where news spread like lightning. Talk radio, for a good 20 years, was the source for extended discussion of breaking news with a slant that would illuminate more often than it obfuscated. But after the widespread appearance of Twitter, which Rush abhorred as a “sewer,” suddenly the early information value of talk radio diminished. This, of course, hurt Rush less than any other host because his strength was never in breaking news coverage but in the analysis. If there was a “pre-Rush, it was not Morton Downey, Jr. or even Paul Harvey, but G. Gordon Liddy, who in the late 1980s would literally read an entire news story, then comment on it. Rush found a way to compress that by pulling quotes or clips, then, more commonly obtaining audio and video clips from the hated news programs themselves.
Another sign that the Era of Limbaugh was ending was that by the second term of Barack Obama, Rush had quit doing parodies and songs with Paul Shanklin. While never saying so directly, Rush implied that they were no longer effective, that the Left became a parody of itself faster than he could ridicule them. The declining effectiveness of humor in the show reflected another trend that Rush himself pointed to in his last two months: he believed he had failed. He thought he had failed to warn America about liberalism.
Some pointed to the rise of podcasts as another reason there would never be “another Limbaugh,” but I disagree. Regardless of the medium, it is the message combined with the messenger that always determines audience size. The messenger is now gone.
But what of the message? To an extent, that has changed as well—not that the truth ever ceases to be true, but the powerful rise of relativism within the Left has utterly destroyed the concept of absolutes, values, and truth. This is one reason, I think, that Rush discarded the parodies; the Left are not hypocrites. They actually believe whatever garbage they spew. Because of this, they have made it so there are no objective standards to judge statements or actions. There can be no such thing as hypocrisy. This is why someone like Maxine Waters can, with a completely straight face and utter seriousness, say she never encouraged violence. It is because she believes she never did so, and her belief is fact. Just as tomorrow, if she believes or says something entirely different, that will be fact to her as well. Multiply Waters by millions of liberals.
That was what Rush was facing, and I think over the past four or five years, the realization that converting such people on the basis of facts, logic, arguments, or even parody was a hopeless quest. In his final years, he had taken more to explaining what was good, pure, and exceptional about our country. He realized that the Left’s objective was to eliminate the last check and balance on them—elections. Realizing that the election of 2020 was stolen, Rush spent relatively less time on the fraud than most. The struggle for America’s soul had moved entirely to the culture, the arena most outside of Rush’s strengths.
Were such a dynamic speaker, insightful political analyst, and innovative businessman as Rush even be waiting in the wings today; it would not matter. The stage has all but collapsed as the great Rush Limbaugh said, “Goodnight. Thank you very much,” and exited to his eternal home.