The man with talent on loan from God now confronts Him directly, to return the loan. And maybe to hear an Almighty “mega dittos?” We hope that awaiting Rush Hudson Limbaugh III is the promise of divine succor, of a joy unworldly, one transcending the airwaves that for a generation and then some carried his special, enthusiastic voice — which daily spoke and propagated words of common sense that instructed (mostly: there was always verbiage reserved for trolling humorless liberals and castigating the enemies of this last best hope of Earth) and inspired — that indeed became the premier voice of conservatism. A consummate patriot, a happy warrior and a Cassandra too, an entertainer, the man of shtick and humility who day in and out, over decades, informed and formed millions, who connected with them in such numbers never before experienced, has passed away after a prolonged and brutal battle with cancer. His death comes as no surprise, but having come, it brings with it deserved sorrow and reflection. We assume too calumny from the graceless and the grave dancers.
The particular affliction that occupied his life’s last chapter was so egregious it would likely have felled a normal human swiftly. But Rush Limbaugh was no normal human. Somewhere within the lovable little fuzzball was a wellspring of remarkable determination: The weeks turned into months and then into a year, one of combating his wretched illness, but also of embracing God’s graces, and appreciating, with great humility and sincerity and frequency, the tsunami of prayer and love from his devoted listeners and Dittohead fans — all that while remaining in the saddle. There was to be no retirement. Like John Wayne’s character in The Shootist, there was a consequential battle to be fought, and a rising leftist tide which demanded confrontation, cancer or no cancer.
To say Rush Limbaugh was all in on behalf of Donald Trump would be quite the understatement. Even before the 2016 elections, Rush could be found defending the controversial candidate. His support was fulsome, never retreating to a “binary” argument, but always augmented by an ultimate reality: America was in political and cultural peril from the Left, and the Democratic Party it had consumed. The fervor of his programs this past fall — trying to rally votes for Trump, promising that a Biden presidency would bring with it an epic socialism that would transform America, for the far worse — and then into the post-election, when promised kraken never materialized, are proof of at least one thing: Rush Limbaugh had given his all. Was the phrase “died trying” ever so epitomized?
There were happier times. Nearly 30 years ago, Rush Limbaugh first graced the cover of National Review. The headline about the radio pundit who had transformed the AM band by connecting with millions of far-flung Americans was direct: “Leader of the Opposition.” It was a statement, not a question. And for those many millions, and others who were yet born, who would come one day to the same conclusion as their parents, it bore up despite controversies (an addiction, a bizarre Monday Night Football uproar that served as an early indication of the approaching cancel culture) and normal realities. There is a natural propensity for things (even, and maybe especially, Republican politics) to become stale, boring, and even irritating, a function of time passing, as the familiar becomes repetitive becomes oh-so-yesterday. But the curse of an enduring sameness never touched Rush Limbaugh. Every day there was something to be said, some guidance to be imparted, spoken to an audience that very much wanted his take, and treated it as Gospel. Boring? Not a chance: Rush Limbaugh leaves this stage with the immense popularity he seemed to have gained, overnight, as Bill Buckley described (in a 1992 Firing Line interview) with a short, sweet historical reference: “Veni, vidi, vici.”
Rush may have conquered the airwaves, and conservatism, but he was in turn conquered by the founder of this enterprise. Rush Limbaugh’s principal hero was his father. But after dad came William F. Buckley Jr. He was, simply, an idol. And soon enough, a close friend. Impressed by the radio populist’s impact, Bill sought out Rush, a dream come true of sorts. They hit it off, at once, and thrilled to each other’s company. But beyond the enduring friendship, if Bill Buckley imagined the conservative movement he toiled to create was going to expand and prosper courtesy of the unique talents carried over the ether every Monday through Friday at noon, Eastern time, packaged in this eloquent and entertaining college dropout from Cape Girardeau, he would have been right.
His death is a powerful loss to conservatism, so there will be much more to say in these precincts in coming days about Rush Limbaugh, about what he and Bill Buckley meant to each other (Rush was awarded National Review Institute’s prestigious Buckley Prize for Leadership in Political Thought in 2019), about his colossal role in expanding and leading this movement, about his fervor for America’s Founding, his role in saving a medium, and even his relationship with National Review (whose cover he graced on several occasions, and which published several more of his articles).
Institutionally, and for many here, personally, a friend has been lost. Millions of Americans, even those who never had the distinct pleasure of meeting him, but who regarded him as a trusted pal welcomed into the home every day around lunchtime, feel quite the same, and grieve. To his wife, Kathryn, to his brother David, and to others in the Limbaugh family, we offer our sincere condolences.
The cancer was always going to prevail — but it probably had never met a foe like El Rushbo. He gave it what-fer. So we take some solace, as the old hymn goes, that for Rush Limbaugh, The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done, and are confident that his eloquence, transcribed and copied and taped and digitized, will continue to influence a movement sorely in need of such.