The First and Second Amendments of the Constitution are twin pillars of America’s unique form of self-government. Having spent two decades defending one of those pillars, I am grateful to Rush Limbaugh for defending the other on a scale few can equal.
The First Amendment protects freedom of conscience. It guarantees we can worship according to the dictates of our conscience. It gives us the right to speak our mind on any issue, to freely declare ideas for our fellow citizens to hear and judge. When our leaders have done wrong, the First Amendment says we can petition our government to set matters right. And it empowers us to communicate collectively as the media to inform America and the world about events and ideas.
Before Rush Limbaugh, the falsely-labeled Fairness Doctrine was an affront to that freedom. For decades a federal regulation required that if broadcast media gave time to one side of an issue, it must grant equal time to opposing views. The Fairness Doctrine perversely shackled speech by interfering with free competition among ideas – it sanctioned government control of speech.
President Ronald Reagan understood this, and so abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Reagan’s FCC eliminated the regulation, freeing the airwaves for private expression. The Far Left, fearful of truly free speech, passed a bill in the Democrat-controlled Congress to restore the Fairness Doctrine. But President Reagan vetoed the bill, and Democrats failed to override the veto. The Fairness Doctrine was dead, and free speech was again free.
No one showed better the mighty power of this freedom than Rush Limbaugh. In the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Rush went on the air, and America discovered a new phenomenon that today we call talk radio. For hours every day Rush would tell his listeners exactly what the Left did not want them to hear.
Rush, and those who followed to create modern talk radio, became freedom’s voice. They proved that when conservative ideas are given voice, they win. Talk radio changed the political landscape by advancing conservative principles and ensuring that ordinary Americans hear the truth about what is going on in America and around the world. Conservative victories in the elections of 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2004 would not have been possible without freedom’s voice.
First Amendment freedom is so important to preserving Second Amendment freedom that the National Rifle Association hosted Rush Limbaugh as keynote speaker at our 1993 Annual Meeting in Nashville. Our member’s banquet sold out, drawing the largest crowd in NRA history ever to hear a banquet speaker – a record that stands today. As Rush stood at the podium, I could see on his face astonishment at the thunderous applause from our members – some of whom had traveled over 4,000 miles from Alaska to see in person a man whose voice we heard every day.
Rush said he came to talk about two things, freedom and the pursuit of excellence. He said he could think of no better place to discuss freedom than before the National Rifle Association. He talked about how liberals read the Constitution – inventing rights where none exist and ignoring rights that are plainly there – and observed that if liberals read the rest of the Constitution the way they read the Second Amendment, gun ownership in America would be mandatory.
Rush understood that the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment is America’s second pillar of liberty, the one right that protects all the others. Since the NRA was founded in 1871, it has fought to protect that right. Fifteen years after Rush urged us to never stop fighting for the Second Amendment, the United States Supreme Court in D.C. vs. Heller held that the Second Amendment does indeed protect the right of individual Americans to keep and bear their private arms for self-defense.
I’ve often thought of liberty as a lion and if so, then the First Amendment is its roar. It is the voice of hundreds of millions of Americans, freely expressing their beliefs, making sure people know what our leaders are doing and holding them accountable.
And if liberty is a lion, then the Second Amendment is its teeth. The Second Amendment guarantees that no government can ever silence the people seeking to hold it accountable, and thus guards against the oppression experienced by other nations where those who dare speak the truth are silenced or worse.
The lion of liberty stands proud in America today. Government of, by and for the people endures. The American experiment in freedom continues, in no small part thanks to Rush Limbaugh whose reverence for the Constitution and commitment to excellence make him a lion of a man.