Rush Limbaugh & Donald Trump
Rush Limbaugh and President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2019 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

The air­brush­ing of Rush Lim­baugh began even before his body was embalmed. Fox per­son­al­i­ties such as Tuck­er Carl­son and Mark Levin were wax­ing on about the shy, pri­vate Rush that they had come to know, and the vast gen­eros­i­ty of one who lived in a 24,000-square foot Palm Beach mansion.

The nation’s right-wing media has achieved a rare mes­sage coor­di­na­tion, shaped in part by Limbaugh’s abil­i­ty to lay down the par­ty line. So, it was no sur­prise that across the coun­try, vet­er­an Seat­tle talk host John Carl­son was reveal­ing that Lim­baugh was “actu­al­ly shy” and spe­cial­ized in “help­ing peo­ple strug­gling with per­son­al prob­lems.” Added Kir­by Wilbur, who recent­ly decamped to Texas, “He was a very pri­vate per­son, almost intro­vert­ed.” And “gra­cious.”

If we are to believe these accounts, the warmth ema­nat­ing from Rush Lim­baugh approx­i­mat­ed that enjoyed by Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz in Can­cun before his hasty flight back to chilly Texas. Ex-Pres­i­dent Trump called in twice to Fox, describ­ing Lim­baugh as a guy with whom he just clicked, and who so loved America.

Lim­baugh was also cel­e­brat­ed for his ded­i­ca­tion to fam­i­ly, sur­pris­ing in that he was mar­ried four times, three-times divorced (once end­ing a mar­riage cel­e­brat­ed by U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas), and was childless.

I watched Fox and lis­tened in local­ly on Wednes­day and fig­ured this must be what Radio Moscow was like in the hours after Stalin’s death. Lim­baugh was, in eyes of his “dit­to­heads and copy­cats, “an icon” in words of Seattle’s stri­dent Jason Rantz.

Here’s a recap of what are we sup­posed to for­get in these cel­e­bra­tions of life and influence.

The birtherism

Lim­baugh was one of the “birthers” who ques­tioned whether Pres­i­dent Oba­ma was born in the Unit­ed States, say­ing of the 44th Pres­i­dent that he “has yet to prove he is a cit­i­zen.” He fanned flames that health care reform would lead to “death pan­els” deter­min­ing which crit­i­cal­ly ill patients would get treatment:

The attacks on people suffering from illnesses & disorders

The Lim­baugh cel­e­brat­ed by John Carl­son, who helped peo­ple with per­son­al prob­lems, mem­o­rably mocked the tremors of Michael J. Fox, when the actor tes­ti­fied before Con­gress in advo­ca­cy of stem cell research.

He sug­gest­ed that Fox was fak­ing his Parkinson’s symptoms.

The gen­er­ous Lim­baugh lam­pooned the deaths of young men dur­ing the AIDS cri­sis, play­ing Dionne Warwick’s song “I’ll Nev­er Love This Way Again.”

The abuse aimed at those fighting for justice and equity

He sneered at envi­ron­men­tal­ists’ efforts to save crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered species, play­ing the theme to the movie “Born Free.”

Lim­baugh demeaned women as “fem­i­nazis” and likened to appear­ance of a 13-year-old Chelsea Clin­ton to a dog, say­ing: “Every­one, the Clin­tons have a cat. Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?”

The vicious slander of Sandra Fluke

Lim­baugh slan­dered people.

He called George­town Law School stu­dent San­dra Fluke “a slut” and “pros­ti­tute” when she tes­ti­fied to Con­gress favor­ing con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age in health care. She was, he said, sup­port­ing tax­pay­er-under­writ­ten sex, adding: “If we’re going to pay for your con­tra­cep­tives, thus pay you to have sex, we want some­thing for it.. We want you to post videos online so we can all watch.”

The enabling of Trump and his assault on our democracy

The gen­er­ous Lim­baugh, in his last pro­grams, bol­stered Trump’s lie about elec­tion fraud and argued that Pres­i­dent Biden was “not legit­i­mate­ly” elected.”

Limbaugh’s legacy: Toxic down the line

Lim­baugh did find a niche, and a big one.

He was a voice for white, aging, large­ly low to mid­dle income vot­ers resent­ful that Amer­i­ca is becom­ing a more diverse, inclu­sive country.

The Lim­baugh audi­ence swelled to twen­ty mil­lion in the 1990s, and was still eleven to thir­teen mil­lion in lat­er years.

He was court­ed when resent­ment was to be harnessed.

Pres­i­dent George H.W. “Pop­py” Bush was attached from the right in 1992 by GOP insur­gent Pat Buchanan. Bush I invit­ed Lim­baugh to the White House, fed him and allowed him to overnight in the Lin­coln Bedroom.

Lim­baugh flew into Puyallup in 2000 to head­line a ral­ly for Repub­li­can guber­na­to­r­i­al nom­i­nee John Carl­son. The “biggest cam­paign ral­ly ever” in Wash­ing­ton state, Carl­son called it Thurs­day. In real­i­ty, Bill Clin­ton crowds at the Pike Place Mar­ket and Cheney Sta­di­um in 1996 were con­sid­er­ably larger.

The real last­ing influ­ence of Lim­baugh was to debase the lan­guage of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, and serve as a kind of John the Bap­tist for the excess­es and lies of others.

As men­tioned, Lim­baugh attacked Chelsea Clin­ton, mock­ing her appearance.

Tak­ing a cue, Kir­by Wilbur poked vicious fun and Chelsea and her moth­er while serv­ing as warmup act at a 1996 Bob Dole ral­ly in Belle­vue. (Bob and Eliz­a­beth Dole were not amused when Wilbur’s remarks appeared in the Seat­tle Post-Intel­li­gencer and chewed out the state cam­paign coordinator.)

Years ago, Michael J. Fox cut a tele­vi­sion spot for Mis­souri Sen­a­tor Claire McCaskill, keyed to her sup­port for stem cell research.

It brought out the “enter­tain­er” in Lim­baugh, who told his audi­ence: “He (Fox) is mov­ing all around and shak­ing and this is pure­ly an act. I have nev­er seen Michael J. Fox dis­play any of these symp­toms of the dis­ease… This is real­ly shame­less, folks. Either he didn’t take his med­ica­tion or he’s acting.”

Rush Lim­baugh was an ear­ly role mod­el for Don­ald Trump.

Recall, from the 2016 cam­paign, Trump mock­ing the phys­i­cal infir­mi­ty of a New York Times reporter. When ex-Fox host Meg­yn Kel­ly post a crit­i­cal ques­tion to Trump in the first 2016 cycle debate, Trump said after­ward: “There was blood com­ing out of her eyes, blood com­ing out of her wherever.”

Always, with Lim­baugh, there were dog whistles.

Briefly hired by ESPN as an NFL pun­dit, he sug­gest­ed that Philadel­phia Eagles’ quar­ter­back Dono­van McN­abb was over­rat­ed, and being cel­e­brat­ed in the sports media because he was African American.

Nev­er mind that he took the Eagles to a Super Bowl.

Lim­baugh defined a line of attack heard across talk radio and on Fox, name­ly that Black ath­letes, elect­ed lead­ers, and enter­tain­ers get spe­cial priv­i­leges due to the col­or of their skin, and that “West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion” is some­how under attack by those cel­e­brat­ing, rec­og­niz­ing, and uplift­ing Black culture.

Lau­ra Ingra­ham has been suck­er-punch­ing Black His­to­ry Month along those lines this month, just as Jason Rantz attacks Black Lives Mat­ter in this Washington.

John Carl­son and Kir­by Wilbur can be count­ed upon to share Rush sto­ries on the air, as can Sean Han­ni­ty and Don­ald Trump. There’s unlike­ly to be any short­age of pri­vate jets to fly right-wing media per­son­al­i­ties to any cel­e­bra­tion of his life.

They can cel­e­brate. I would rather see the nation heal from wounds inflict­ed on it these past few decades by dem­a­gogues dis­guised as entertainers.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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