The Mighty Rush Limbaugh: America at its Worst
For someone who has made a career in talk radio, once news broke of Rush Limbaugh’s death this week from lung cancer, it was hard for me to hear so many in the media gush about Rush. Count me out.
Yes, I know. Growing up a Catholic, I was taught “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” – don’t say anything about the dead, unless it’s good. But put it this way. If Bill Clinton or Barack Obama had died while Rush was still alive, he would not have said anything good about them. So, I don’t feel compelled to say anything good about him, either.
It’s not politics, it’s personal. For a couple of years, as a fellow talk show host on KFI-AM in Los Angeles, I followed “the Best of Limbaugh” on Saturday afternoons – and was forced to spend most of my time exposing his lies. Rush Limbaugh was Trump before Trump was Trump.
Even back then, Rush had a huge following. But he built it, like Trump, by appealing to the worst in people. He ridiculed women political activists as “feminazis.” When Georgetown student Sandra Fluke testified in support of congressional legislation requiring insurance companies to include coverage for contraception in healthcare policies, he called her a “slut.” He accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating the effects of his Parkinson’s disease (just like Trump later made fun of a New York Times reporter for his disability). And when Barack Obama’s campaign started picking up steam in 2008, Trump mocked him with the song “Barack, the Magic Negro.”
Rush spared no one, not even the president’s family. Of Amy Carter, he said “she may be the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” And on his TV show in November 1992, just after Bill Clinton had won the election, Limbaugh famously announced that, in addition to a cute new cat moving into the White House, there’d also be a cute new dog – and showed a picture of teenager Chelsea Clinton. How low can you go?
Like Trump, Rush was the master of the big lie. Echoing Trump, he assured people that the coronavirus was “nothing more than the common cold.” With zero evidence, he asserted that voting machines were rigged to switch votes from Biden to Trump. Till his death, he pushed Trump’s big lie that Democrats stole the 2020 election. He even defended the mob that invaded the Capitol on January 6, comparing them to Sam Adams and leaders of the American Revolution. How fitting that on the day Rush died, Trump slithered out of his Florida bunker long enough to call Fox News and praise Limbaugh for refusing to accept that Biden had actually won.
But, of course, Limbaugh had already received his reward for being Trump’s lackey: when Trump unceremoniously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom during his 2020 State of the Union address. To see the racist Limbaugh welcomed to the ranks of Civil Rights heroes Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, C. T. Vivian, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and so many true American heroes was disgusting.
Because of the power of right-wing talk radio, I believe Rush Limbaugh poisoned the American political system more than anyone else, including Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. The hatred and division that mars American politics today is largely the result of his ugly big mouth.
And that’s my main beef with Rush. As a talk show host, I’ve always respected the awesome power of the microphone. And I believe that those, liberal or conservative, who are given the privilege of the microphone have a responsibility to use it to inform, to inspire, and yes, to entertain. That was always my goal. There are nationally syndicated conservatives who do that today, including Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and Larry Elder.
But Rush Limbaugh was never one of them. He didn’t use the power of his microphone to inform or inspire. He used it three hours every day for over 30 years to do nothing but ridicule, divide, enflame, insult and incite. He didn’t lift talk radio, he debased it.
In fairness, however, I will credit Limbaugh for one of the biggest laughs of my life. One day on KFI, a devoted follower called Rush to warn him that I often criticized him on my program. To which he replied: “Don’t pay any attention to Bill Press. He’s just an entertainer.” LOL. To be called an entertainer by Rush Limbaugh? That’s the quintessence of being called ugly by a frog.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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