If you’re my age, you remember the pre-cable television universe of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. It consisted of three networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS. You also remember that at 6:30 every evening, the vast majority of the country was seated in front of their televisions for the evening news — their principal source of information on the issues and events of the day.
The three anchors were liberals. All of the reporters were liberal. The editors and producers were liberals. The Left had a veritable monopoly on news, information, and entertainment in those days, to which I’m sure they refer as the ‘glory days.’
The late Neil Peart wrote in the song ‘Subdivisions,’ a song about growing up in the suburbs: “Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.” For conservatives, it was the news and entertainment universe where they always felt so alone.
Rank and file conservatives watched, listened, and read the only news that was available at the time. And they all scratched their heads because some of it just didn’t sit right with them. Intuitively, they knew what was presented and how it was presented was out of sync with their views. They saw the difference in how the media treated Reagan in comparison to how it treated Carter; how it treated Kemp and Dole compared to how it treated O’Neill and Moynihan. In the silence of a three-network, no-internet no-social media world, though, they thought they were alone and maybe a little crazy.
Sure, conservatives had William Safire, the token conservative among a hundred liberal reporters and editors at the New York Times, but Joe & Mary SixPack weren’t reading the Times. There was also the intellectual giant, William F. Buckley, but he and his Firing Line show were relegated to PBS, a mom-and-pop shop in a news industry dominated by the Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Costco of ABC, NBC, and CBS.
In 1988, however, a voice began emanating from radio speakers in homes, in cars, and in workplaces across the country. He talked politics but in a very different way. This host was funny and irreverent. Most importantly, he was a conservative and he took great pleasure in not simply addressing the issues of the day from that viewpoint, but in tearing down the veil that protected liberalism from scrutiny lo those many years prior. Rush Limbaugh’s popularity grew almost overnight and he became a force in the national conversation.
Conservatives finally had a national, unifying voice. Suddenly it was ok for conservatives to come out of the shadows to which they had been relegated.
When the Left and the mainstream media finally accepted Rush’s success, they felt the threat to their fiefdom. They attacked and accused Rush of only providing one side of a story or an issue. They demanded he be balanced in his approach. To that he replied with his best, and perhaps most memorable line, “I am the balance.” No truer words had ever been spoken.
What is critical to understanding the meteoric rise and unparalleled success of Limbaugh’s show is this: Rush’s listeners didn’t tune in because they agreed with him. They tuned in because he agreed with them. That’s an important distinction. Limbaugh didn’t create “ditto heads.” They had always existed, a silent seam of gold — coast-to-coast wide and twenty million listeners deep –pressed beneath the political landscape into which Limbaugh sunk his pick axe.
When callers had the opportunity to speak to Rush, the rest of his listeners didn’t just hear Joe from Syracuse or Linda from Lubbock. They heard themselves and felt the warmth of the spontaneous camaraderie with like-minded people they knew must have existed but had been kept hidden and silent.
Limbaugh connected where Buckley failed to do so.
Buckley was deliberate and measured in his speech. He spoke in $25 words. His language was champagne, caviar, and brie and he spoke for the upper management conservatives. Rush used the straightforward ‘beer, burgers, and dogs’ language of the working class conservative. Buckley was a brilliant stuffed shirt. Limbaugh was an irreverent flamethrower. Buckley sat his opponents down and eloquently and methodically reduced their arguments to ashes. Limbaugh tossed molotov cocktails through their windows.
Predictably, his detractors are seizing on a handful of quotes from Rush’s show in an effort to discredit and smear him. They are cherry-picking a handful of statements Rush has made over the course of his three decades plus on the air. Having spent three hours per day, five days per week, fifty weeks per year for thirty-two years behind a microphone (that’s more than 24,000 hours for those of you in Rio Linda), surely it is expected for passion and pressure to get to any host and a comment or two that crossed the line slipped through. These immaculate, virgin-tongued detractors would have you believe that they themselves, nor their liberal heroes, have ever in 24,000 hours of conversation allowed a single comment to come from their mouths that they ultimately regret. We know better. We know the only difference between them and Limbaugh is the fact that their comments are forever in the untraceable ether while Rush’s have been recorded for posterity.
Radio has given way to podcasters and YouTubers. Despite the change in delivery method, though, each of these thousands of new-medium hosts, whether they be conservative, liberal, libertarian, or any political stripe along the political spectrum, can trace their freedom and opportunity to make their voices heard all the way back to a ‘harmless little fuzzball’ from Cape Girardeau, Missouri named Rush Limbaugh.
Even if you’re not online as one of these podcasters or YouTubers, you are probably one of the millions who have searched for and finally found a podcaster or YouTuber that agrees with you and speaks for you. You finally found your voice in theirs. You also found comfort in the fact that you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.
And that, my friend, is your gift from Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, Rush Limbaugh.