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.
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.