Politics & Policy

Excellence with Rush

What makes Rush Limbaugh special?

Editor’s note: Today marks Rush Limbaugh’s 20th year of broadcast excellence. We pay tribute to the conservative powerhouse.

Heather Higgins

What is it, beyond Rush’s obvious intellect and buoyant personality, that make his show so appealing? Four ingredients may be …

Ear candy, only more filling and delectable. Rush doesn’t just have a good voice; he has produced a finely trained instrument with deliberately rich timbre, mellifluous tones, and nuanced range and inflections — a genuine source of aural pleasure.

Quality control. Operating without guests and few calls means the content is therefore better controlled. Moreover, it’s always Rush, not a guest, making the smart points, and getting credit not only for the interesting material, but for elucidating it further.

Audience Care & Feeding. Key to a daily-three hour show is entertainment, whether the constant humor, the frequent parodies — God bless Paul Shanklin, or the fantastic musical selections for both themes or bumps. The second is intellectual interest — dittoheads know there’s a high chance they will learn something, (and often something large and important), or hear a truly fresh thought or insight. Those thoughts are made more compelling both by Rush’s long track record of accurate predictions and analyses, and by his unique form of exposition — leaping from A to D, then backing up to explain how he got to his seemingly unrelated conclusion, holding the audience enthralled.

High Q Score. Rush both likes and appreciates his audience, and they know he cares about them and shares their values. For all his showman’s bombast, the audience adores the “harmless lovable little fuzzball” and the humility that shows when Rush talks to a member of the military, or reflects on the blessings in his life. He’s a likeable, smart, and sincere guy who is having fun and isn’t afraid of anyone; American Originals don’t get better than that.

— Heather Higgins chairs the board of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Late last year, I was the middle man (so to speak) of my dreams.

Not everyone gets to hear their eulogies before they go, but in a burst of love, Bill Buckley heard one this fall. Rush went on his show one afternoon and just gushed about Bill Buckley. There was no news hook. There was no set reason. He just had Bill on his mind. He was thinking about conservatism — it’s past, present, and future — and you really can’t do that right without having Bill on the mind.

And so, knowing Bill might not be the talk-radio addict I am (hhhmm, maybe that’s how he was so prolific!), once the transcript for the day was ready (based on my notes from the show, I should go back to typing school), I sent it along to Bill with a note.

If you didn’t have the chance to meet or know WFB personally, you’ll be delighted to know that he was every bit as gracious as you’ve heard and would want him to be. And humble. Why would Rush go all out and say such generous things? Bill asked. Because we owe you and we thank you, Mr. Buckley. Thank you.

Because I’m one lucky gal, the conversation went on a little bit more. It was clear he was grateful and touched by Rush’s kind words — and in no small part, because they were coming from Rush. I won’t pretend to know WFB’s mind or put words into his mouth, but there was no doubt that he appreciated the pivotal role Rush Limbaugh has had and will continue to have in American public life and public policy. And I suspect it gave him some confidence knowing Rush’s roots in good solid things like NR and Ronald Reagan (the latter of whom, of course, was rooted in NR). It went further than that, too — WFB had great affection for El Rushbo. Rush has described him as a second father and I suspect WFB may be honored to know that for eternity.

What’s so special about Rush? Besides his remarkable talent and the fact that Rush not only shared political principles with WFB, but Rush also has his graciousness and humility? He may have “talent on loan from God” but he doesn’t forget to give God thanks and praise (as his listeners know full well) for the opportunities he has and for the country he gets to have them in. He’s lived these last 20 years with America in a very public way. He has graciously inspired as he’s made it; he’s faced tremendous obstacles and struggles, and always came out better in the end. (We do, too.)

Rush Limbaugh has spent 20 years reminding us what a wonderful country we live in, including during impeachment and the most devastating attack I hope we ever live through and the deaths of some world-changing friends. I’m grateful for this week to give him a little thanks. I look forward to fighting alongside him for years to come.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

Mary Matalin

Rush is an American Renaissance man. Not only are his interests broad and deep, his expertise on myriad subjects legendary, his character is relentless — and most importantly — comprehensively and quintessentially American. He teaches us, reminds us, inspires us with his pitch-perfect, gut-level understanding and articulation of freedom and America’s unique role in leveraging it for the greatest progress in the history of the world. He epitomizes what we all aspire to be, both as citizens and individuals. His strength and fearlessness in the face of both collective cultural weaknesses and his own individual travails are seemingly unavailable to “mere mortals,” but he would insist he is nothing more than a product of what America uniquely produces. Why is Rush so special? To paraphrase his beloved Ronald Reagan, all it takes for freedom to become extinct is one generation. We don’t pass it on through our bloodstream; we have to teach it to each generation. Each generation has one stand-out teacher and keeper of the flame; he is ours and we are grateful. One more thing: he is damn funny.

— Mary Matalin is a Republican strategist and consultant.

Andrew C. McCarthy

Rush is only the most influential conservative of his generation. He has single-handedly forged an alternative media and used it in a way no one else does — or can — to educate, enlighten and have an impact. That’s why his ideological adversaries have to try to shut him down: They don’t understand what he does, and they can’t compete with it. Deeper still, they don’t understand why he is so successful. He believes. Through the ups and downs of two decades, his message — always delivered with optimism, civility, and good humor — has been faithful to two core convictions: the power of freedom and the power of American exceptionalism. The American people respond to him because he holds up a mirror to their possibilities. Even (and maybe especially) in his own success he sees an American story of self-reliance and self-determination — not waiting for a hand-out and not letting others set the boundaries of our potential. He drives them crazy in big ways and small, every day, because he proves they’re wrong. Here’s to another 20!

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy chairs FDD’s Center for Law & Counterterrorism and is the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.

Jay Nordlinger

Years ago, National Review ran him on its cover, with the words “Leader of the Opposition.” That he is. Leader of the opposition to what? To the reigning cultural liberalism — and to political liberalism, whether it reigns or not. Rush might be said to be the MVP of the conservative movement. We all owe him a lot.

He is talented, witty, creative, informed, and smart as hell. People look up to him, and love him — and they’re quite right. When I was managing editor of National Review, I interviewed a lot of young people — interns and junior editors. I’d often ask, “How did you become a conservative?” Many answered — sometimes sheepishly — that they had listened to Rush Limbaugh. Some of them said that they had listened to him behind their parents’ backs.

I once related this to Rush. He was unsurprised. “Oh, yes,” he said: “They’re called ‘Rush babies.’” And we’re all better off for them.

For many years now, liberals have asked for an “alternative” to Rush. He has said, “I am the alternative.” And so he is. He is alternative media all by himself — a one-man antidote to the Times, CBS, NPR, and all the rest. He has claimed to have no true rivals. That may be a boast — but I think it’s correct.

Rush is brave, tough, and unusual. He has faced adversity: addiction, deafness, slander and libel. And he has handled it all with unbelievable grace and self-possession. He is almost the antithesis of the modern American, in that he doesn’t whine, doesn’t make excuses — doesn’t blame other people. He is a warrior, and a happy one.

Also, he is incredibly warm and generous, as he has demonstrated time and again.

People all over, and of many types, listen to him and depend on him. I know a classical musician — get this — who listens to him on podcast in the Paris Metro. How do you like that?

I have long wanted to write a book on this American original, Rush Limbaugh. Maybe I will someday. And let us hope that he talks and lives forever. We need him. He is so gifted, and so extraordinary, and so cool.

— Jay Nordlinger is an NR senior editor.

NR SymposiumNational Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.


The Latest