Death is never a welcome guest. It’s always the guest who wasn’t invited. It’s always the disruptive guest that makes a scene and causes others to feel uncomfortable. It’s always the guest that stays long after all the others have left and doesn’t even offer to help with the clean-up.
American conservatives from coast to coast experienced this unwelcome presence when Rush Limbaugh, the Godfather of conservative talk radio, was taken from us. This was not unexpected. He had fought a long battle with cancer and, over the last several months, reminded us (his beloved audience) that his prognosis wasn’t pretty.
Despite it being expected, the pain is intense. The pain runs deep. The pain will be felt all the more acutely as the battles against the forces of liberalism and tyranny rage on over the coming months and years and we come to realize that our side has lost its Achilles.
As you would expect at the death of a larger-than-life figure such as Rush, the tributes came pouring in almost immediately. His fellow radio talk show hosts spoke up loudly about the influence he had on them. Political pundits of every medium joined the chorus. Conservative, Republican politicians who benefitted from his voice being on the airwaves spoke out as well.
While many of them had personal stories of Rush’s goodness and kindness, most of them spoke of Rush’s greatness. They spoke of what a brilliant broadcaster he was. They regaled us with stories of how he single-handedly saved A.M. radio and started the talk radio industry. And all of this is true and worthy of every word that has been and will be typed about it.
I would like this article to take on a different tone. Instead of repeating these stories, I would like to write about what lessons I, personally, learned from listening to Rush Limbaugh.
I was a 15-year-old skull full of mush and I was not doing well in school. I hated school and absolutely refused to participate in it in any way. I never did my homework and didn’t even try to make it look like I was paying attention in class. Then, the summer after my freshman year of high school, the letter came in the mail informing my mother that I would be classified as a freshman again the next year. I was being held back.
My mother decided she wasn’t going to just passively let the school continue in this way. She promptly contacted a private company and ordered some diagnostic testing to see just how bad the damage was. It was extensive. My laziness as a student had gone on for some time and according to these tests, I should have been held back several grades earlier. The schools, however, decided to just let me continue, passing me on to grade after grade. It should have been no surprise that I couldn’t finish ninth grade when these tests revealed that I shouldn’t have passed seventh or eighth.
She took this information to the school to discuss things and their solution was to put me in a special education program to help me catch up.
“Not good enough,” she said. “He doesn’t need someone to pander him and baby him. He needs someone who will make him do his work.”
And so it was that I was yanked out of government schools and began my homeschooling journey.
So why is this important and what does it have to do with Rush Limbaugh? Everything.
I was left on my own to do my schoolwork during the day while my mother was at work. She would correct it and help me in areas I had trouble with when she got home at night. This meant, if I got my work done early, I could fill the time with whatever I wanted.
At first this consisted of long walks along hiking trails near my home. It consisted of visits to the library where I found myself attracted to the classics like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, The Dune Chronicles, and Lord of the Rings. But then the snow hit, and long-distance walking became difficult at times. That’s when I turned to the radio to find something new and interesting and that’s when I met Rush Limbaugh.
I was instantly hooked. For the next several years, I would ensure my schoolwork was done every day by noon so that I could listen when Rush took to the air waves. Over my remaining teenage years, Rush Limbaugh was my guiding light through times of trouble, confusion, murkiness, tumult, and chaos. And in those years, there are several lessons that I learned from this man.
The first lesson that I learned from Rush Limbaugh is to love freedom intensely. Freedom is a word that is thrown around a lot. So much so that it has lost much of its meaning. But to Rush Limbaugh, it did have a meaning. It had a specific and important meaning. To him, freedom meant individuals being able to live their lives on their own terms.
Yes, the most obvious aspect of this is freedom from government intrusion and dictate. Rush Limbaugh was a champion of small government for this purpose. He was a lifelong autodidact in the American Constitution, the American founding, as well as conservative and libertarian philosophy. He took these ideas and examples to heart and lived them to the hilt.
But, in addition to his opposition to government intrusion into how he should live, he opposed any other form of oppression as well. He encouraged his audience to think freely and not simply accept what they were told by anyone.
I remember one instance, probably in the late 90s or early 2000s, that talk about a recession was all over the news. The stock market was in a slump and there were several economic crises in other countries and the hot topic in the business sector was how we could prevent that here in America. Then, Rush got on the air that day and read several articles about the dire economic forecast. Then he declared that if there were a recession, he would not be participating in it. Anyone who wanted to accept it, was welcome to do so. But he, personally, was not going to live his life with a doom and gloom attitude because some Wall Street trader told him the economy was in a slump. He would continue to live his life on his terms.
Well, that’s easy for a multi-millionaire, one might say. But Rush’s personal history shows that he lived that way before finding his success.
The second lesson I learned from Rush Limbaugh is to be who you are without apology. In many ways this lesson goes hand-in-hand with the first. But it deserves special attention. Rush Limbaugh was a unique individual who was greater than the sum of his parts. He loved cigars. Many people love cigars. He loved golf. Many people loved golf. He had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed many things in life to their fullest and they all came together in a unique way in him that no one could duplicate.
The important lesson here is that he embraced the things he liked, the things that made him who he was, without apology. One story I remember from years ago was of his cat, Punkin. The story itself wasn’t particularly remarkable. It was just about the cat waking him up for food by sitting on the pillow next to his head.
The thing that caught my attention is that this came after he went through a divorce. I was surprised to hear it because when he spoke of this cat before the divorce, I had assumed that the cat had been his wife’s and he just happened to be there. Not so. The cat was his and he spoke of it with great affection. I remember thinking that single guys aren’t supposed to have cats and love them this much. But he did. And he didn’t care that the world knew it. He was being who he was without apology.
The third lesson I learned from Rush Limbaugh is to earn it, don’t demand it. It doesn’t matter what “it” is. If it’s something you want, you should earn it, nobody owes you anything. This attitude of his increasingly ran against the grain of society as his career on radio progressed. You could almost trace his increasing frustration with society as, throughout the nineties and early 2000’s and even up to today, people developed an ever-greater sense of entitlement.
This, in many ways, is where his own story informed his attitude. Having been in radio most of his adult life, he worked hard to get to and stay at the top. He suffered being fired several times along the way but always clawed his way back and focused on perfecting his craft. These lessons taught him that through hard work and determination, a person can make it. A person can earn it. They don’t need to demand it from others.
While there are many more lessons I learned from Rush Limbaugh, I will conclude with this one. The fourth lesson I learned from Rush is to have a thick skin. Rush took it all. For over thirty years on the radio, he had been labelled every kind of nasty name. He had been called racist, sexist, bigoted, and a homophobe. Even now, in death, these accusations are following him by those who hate him. But he never let it get him down, he very rarely responded.
Instead, he laughed it off whenever he could because he recognized, before most of us, that responding to the accusations in any way would only invite more. He recognized who the leftist haters were and what their tactics were before most.
Now, I’m a preacher. And as a preacher the tendency for me would be to take out a Bible verse of comfort at this point. I’m not going to do that today. Instead, I would like to turn to another ancient document that I think is appropriate. This is The Epic of Gilgamesh.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the protagonist, Gilgamesh, is the king of an ancient Mesopotamian city-state of Uruk. He embarks on an epic journey to discover the key to immortal life. Without getting into the details, I will simply say that he comes up short. It is this ending that I want to focus on. As his journey is completed, Gilgamesh is coming up on his home city with a companion and he tells his companion to go inspect his city, Uruk. He tells his companion the measurements of the city and several of the great features of it and he tells him about the quality of the brick used in its construction. He is bragging about the great city that he made and that it will, undoubtedly, outlast him.
Gilgamesh, at the end of the epic, is essentially saying that he might not have achieved the immortality he sought, but the work of his life will outlast him. And that is how he achieved immortality.
The epic of Rush is over. He was larger-than-life, but not immortal. Now that the epic is over, though, let’s take a look at his lasting legacy. He did, indeed, build the talk radio industry as many have said. He shook the foundations of liberal media and that will continue into the future.
More than this, though, he spoke of and spread his love for freedom and independence of spirit to millions of people on a daily basis. He lived his life out loud without apology. He earned what he had and never demanded it. And he had a thick skin that could take every barb hurled his way.
Many of the folks who listened every day were moved by his message and their lives were shaped by it. They will teach it to their children and the love of freedom will move forward. Oh, it will be a rough road, for sure. Liberalism is strong in this country and is deeply rooted. But a love for freedom will find a way, and Rush showed us that.
His life was great, and his lessons were many. And now he’s gone. But we can carry on in his absence. He showed us the way and gave us the tools.
You can follow Tom on Twitter (@SearlTom)
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