(image via wikimedia commons)
When Rush Limbaugh announced one year ago that he had advanced lung cancer, I didn’t feel glee. I also didn’t feel any empathy. At the time I tweeted that we ought not feel joy at the suffering of another human being. That was certainly a high-minded sounding sentiment. But what about the world that Limbaugh influenced and the difficulties that he gleefully, five-days-a-week, placed in front of women, of people of color or before the lgbt community during the AIDS crisis and afterwards? What are we to make of Rush Limbaugh and the world that he helped to create?
He was a proto-Trumpian figure, to be sure. Limbaugh was an AM right-wing talk radio host that built largely on the work of William F. Buckley, Jr. from a generation or so previous, but he eschewed the erudite ivy-league debate style of his ideological forefather, doubling down, instead, on the red meat of identity politics. He was surprisingly successful in popularizing conservatism in that ordinary guy fashion. “The things we now think of as particularly Trumpian features of conservatism — the insults, the conspiracies, the blend of entertainment and politics and anger — Limbaugh had been doing it for a quarter-century before Trump showed up to the party,” tweeted Nicole Hemmer.
If we are to judge the talk show host by his words, then by his own words was he damned. He was anti-science: Limbaugh opposed environmental concerns about global warming at all points during his career. His humor — if it can be called that — was crude, misogynistic and often racist. In a conversational tone broadcast in “Rush Rooms,” he made white grievance politics acceptable at lunchtime. He concocted the song parody “Barack the Magic Negro” in 2007, and helped popularize the birtherist argument. Native-Americans; women in the workplace; people of color; gays: all were his targets. Everyone but — you guessed it — average white guys. Average white guys, in Limbaugh’s cosmology, were the measure of all things “normal.” "When a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it's an invitation," he is quoted as saying in John K. Wilson's book, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason. Also, on women’s rights: “feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” In 2006, he even mocked Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease.
Should Rush Limbaugh rest in peace? Joe Lockhart, who served as Clinton's White House press secretary from 1998 to 2000, had second thoughts about wishing Limbaugh well after the stage four cancer diagnosis. Rush Limbaugh aligned himself against science, against diversity, against inclusion and against the equality of the sexes. Rush Limbaugh was a distasteful man who advanced bigoted ideas in the commons that paved the way for a racist President and a general degradation of the public discourse. How Rush Limbaugh rests in this world, in peace or not, will be determined ultimately by the historians of the future. But I have a strong feeling they will not render his final slumber peaceful.