Ask Americans who they think of when they hear the words “talk radio,” and chances are they’ll say “Rush Limbaugh.” For 20 years Rush has been the leader of a very long parade of listeners — educating, engaging, energizing, and even occasionally outraging some of them in a way no other talk-radio show host ever has. But Rush did much more than define and shape the genre of talk radio, rescuing the AM band in the process.
His greatest accomplishment was to completely remake American politics by offering an alternative to the three major networks, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Here was a man of conservative principles rocking the airwaves with irreverent, honest, and unapologetic monologues, thumbing his nose at the formality of the networks, and, in a funny and memorable way, taking the mainstream media to task for the liberal bias that clouded their reporting.
He’s an original thinker, a reader and a voracious consumer of information who draws on unchanging principle to apply those facts to the world he sees. And he is a self-made man, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness don’t come from an Ivy education but from the common sense of Main Street.
A champion of conservatism and a true agenda-setter, Rush doesn’t just talk to voters; he moves them. In 1994, his on-air opining on the importance of shrinking government, lowering taxes, and strengthening traditional values — as well as his proclamations of America’s greatness, reminiscent of those of his political hero, Ronald Reagan — inspired Republican members of Congress to write the Contract With America. The Contract detailed the actions Republicans would make if they became the majority party in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. The GOP plan impressed voters and contributed to a Congressional Republican landslide. Indeed, the winners in that monumental midterm election credited Rush for their victory and even made him an honorary member of the House GOP.
Rush has time and again proven himself a leader, scoffing at the confines of political correctness and approaching candidates and other public figures with, as he likes to call it, “fearless honesty.” But more important than Rush’s voice is how he encourages his listeners to advocate their views and values with a similar enthusiasm. If Rush engages on an issue, it gives others courage to engage. Rush is an intellectual-force multiplier. His listeners become communicators, entering into spirited dialogue and debate with the people they see at work, the coffee shop, church and around the neighborhood.
Friends and foes will have to wait to see how he will influence voters this time around. One thing that hasn’t changed with each election, however, is Rush’s unwavering faith in America, its greatness, essential decency and power for good. He celebrates what he calls Ronald Reagan’s “faith in the wisdom of the American people,” and once told a reporter, “America is the solution to the world’s problems. We are not the problem.”
Newspaper and magazine profiles refer to Rush as a phenomenon — and his popularity with listeners (conservative and liberal alike) is undoubtedly phenomenal — but to those who know him, more than anything else he’s a wonderful person, a loyal friend and a really good human being. Not only has he overcome disability with strength and grace, he hasn’t forgotten the community from which he sprung, the family that nurtured him, or the values and aspirations with which he was endowed.