Conservative talk show host and Republican party kingmaker Rush Limbaugh has died at the age of 70 due to complications from lung cancer. If you follow politics in any way, shape or form, there’s no way you haven’t encountered Mr. Limbaugh. You probably have some pretty strong opinions about him.
From the way they refer to the man- NYT calling him a “provocateur” and Fox News calling him a “pioneer”, the deep divisions of American political society are at play. “El Rushbo” was a deeply polarizing figure and leaves a complicated legacy-a man who meant different things to different people. As much as that sounds like a cop-out, it’s true of the man who revived talk radio and transformed it into a mouthpiece of the American political right.
He could be disgusting at his lowest. He had a history of homophobic remarks, including a brief segment in the ’80s called “AIDS Updates” which seemed to be (not a lot of surviving evidence exists) him reading the names of men who died from AIDS to disco music. He apologized, regretting it deeply.
I hardly ever listened to him-I never identified as a conservative, found much of his rhetoric annoying and disliked his personal style. However, I don’t deny what he meant for American politics. There is much to emulate: how to cultivate a loyal fanbase of 15.5 million people, explain complicated ideas in simple terms and fight for what you believe in. There is much to reject: believing the other side to be the enemy, personal attacks and embrace of conspiracy theories.
Time will tell if someone will rise to the plate and replace him, whether in talk radio or in some other format.
Regardless, Rush Limbaugh’s impact will be felt for generations to come.
It’s our turn to digest his life and career. What we take and discard from the most successful radio host in history is up to us.
Let’s not screw it up.