Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
When Rush Limbaugh began working in radio, over 50 years ago, the counterculture of the radicals had swept over the country. In the same year that hippies trekked to lie in the mud of Woodstock, a teenager in a small Missouri city began his own little radio counterculture.
Two generations later, Rush’s counterculture had become a bastion against the leftist culture.
Long before Andrew Breitbart, Rush innately understood that the war was cultural. Talk radio was his battlefield and he was its general. In his studio, he masterminded a war that took a medium that some thought was dying and turned it into a weapon to take back America.
The rise of Rush and talk radio badly panicked the same leftist elites who are now busy deplatforming conservatives on social media. And for the same reasons. As Rush Limbaugh went national, the Left struggled to bring back the Fairness Doctrine to muzzle him.
“When the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy,” Al Gore later ranted. “Safeguards were enacted… including… the Fairness Doctrine —though a half century later…they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.”
Gore, as usual, was lying. Rush Limbaugh cut to the chase with acerbic wit. He called things what they were. But he was too busy enjoying life to hate anyone. Even as leftists celebrate his death on social media, in life he got on well with people from all political backgrounds. The real hate came from the radicals who were obsessed with personally destroying him by any means.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer came after Rush Limbaugh, digging into his medical records while trying to lynch him by exploiting his medical condition. Meanwhile Jeffrey Epstein was raping little girls. Krischer gave him a pass, but then Epstein was a Democrat.
Rush Limbaugh was the original target of cancel culture, but they could never cancel him. Leftists spent a generation trying to destroy Rush with nothing to show for all their hate.
All the boycotts failed. Every time Rush spoke truth to leftist power, a new advertising boycott would be organized by leftist pressure groups. The media would tout the handful of advertisers who had dropped their ads, but the show and its audience would remain as strong as ever.
Barack Obama was so worried about Rush that he inaugurated ‘Operation Rushbo’. Like every other effort to take on Rush Limbaugh and silence him, it failed. By the time President Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush at the State of the Union, the conservative counterculture’s happy warrior had become the heroic face of the resistance to the radicals.
Decade after decade, Rush Limbaugh remained resilient and relevant. Despite the attacks on his finances, on his medical history, and on his personal life, he never wavered in his convictions, never watered down his views to make them more palatable, or to try to fit in.
The secret of Rush’s resilience lay in the passionate mixture of conviction and entertainment. Like President Reagan, a former radio announcer, and President Trump, who was, among many other things, a television personality, Rush understood that what people were moved by and what they really cared about was not the abstractions. At the core of every broadcast was his understanding of the lives of his listeners which powered his ability to speak to them.
Leftist foes envisioned Rush as an outsized ego, but nothing could be further from the truth. In person, he was often surprisingly self-effacing and humble. Even as the internet took off and it became routine for sites and talkers on both sides to take whatever they found and rewrite it or repeat it back without providing credit, Rush and his show were different.
I remember being surprised when Rush Limbaugh quoted me and linked to my blog for the first time when I was just starting out. But that wasn’t an unusual event. Not only did it happen again and again over the years, with Rush reading entire excerpts on the air, but many other young writers, activists, and researchers benefited in the same way from Rush Limbaugh’s generosity.
I’ve joked about being ripped off by some of the best, but never by ‘the best’. And that’s one of the things that made Rush Limbaugh the best. He never treated his show as the peak of a mountain, but as a ladder. He remembered the hard work of just starting out in radio and used his show to bring the research and the activism of the grass roots to his army of listeners.
Day after day, his show gave a voice to the silent majority. People from across the country called in and Rush listened to them. He went on listening even as his hearing began to go (the media used the hearing loss to smear and mock him), and even as his health went into decline.
No matter what the media threw at him, Rush remained America’s megaphone. Only death could still it.
But his impact is echoing all around us.
Rush paved the way for generations of hosts. When I speak to a host and an audience halfway around the country about the crimes and abuses of the Biden administration, it’s on a platform that Rush helped build. His megaphone is our megaphone. He helped air our voices, he made our fight into his fight, and even after his passing, we are still fighting his fight for America.
“Rush Limbaugh was as generous a human being as he was a stalwart fighter for the cause all of us who loved him and this country share. It was our pleasure and great honor to know him and call him a friend. He was a speaker at several Restoration Weekends hosted by the Center and on his radio show helped us to spread our message. I am forever grateful for the attention he drew to my own books, beginning with Radical Son, which were all written in the service of our common cause,” David Horowitz wrote of Rush.
Rush Limbaugh was a pioneer of the conservative counterculture. He was also the original ‘Happy Warrior’ who outlasted cancel culture by refusing to ever let it get him down. He loved living life too much to let any of the hate, the threats, and the intimidation rattle him for a minute.
Generations of leftists were infuriated by him. But some listened and learned. And some became conservatives.
There are a handful of individuals who fundamentally changed the course of the conservative movement. Rush was one of them. He was an indefatigable pioneer with an intuitive grasp of human nature and the medium. At a time when conservative voices were being shut out, he forced the door open for all of us, and defeated the original cancel culture of the Left.
In a time when people are more fearful than ever, he was never afraid to speak his mind.
Rush’s lesson to us was to be fearless and bold in telling the truth. To spit in the eye of the censors, to mock the pearl clutchers and the professional victims until even they have to laugh at themselves. And then cancel culture will fail and the truth will prevail.