Rush Limbaugh died on Feb. 17 due to complications from lung cancer. This permanent state of radio silence has caused many U.S. conservatives to mourn his passing.
The 70-year-old Limbaugh was a bombastic, outspoken, articulate, controversial and larger-than-life radio personality. He was the father of U.S. conservative talk radio and one of the most influential figures in America’s conservative movement for more than three decades.
He was also the voice of a conservative generation.
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More than 15.5 million people reportedly tuned in to The Rush Limbaugh Show each week. Listeners wanted to hear his political commentary, biting satire, fascinating interviews and personal takes on just about everything under the sun. There were times they didn’t fully agree with him and moments where they sensed he would have to walk back positions. Nevertheless, he was entertaining, thought-provoking and mesmerizing.
Limbaugh often liked to say it was “talent on loan from God.” Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez’s masterful tribute emphasized this. His Feb. 18 cartoon showed the radio icon handing over a book entitled Talent and telling God, “I’ve come to return this.”
The tributes have come from all corners.
There were conservative talk radio hosts like Dennis Prager in the Feb. 19 Wall Street Journal (“There was talk radio before Rush, but he made it into a national force”) and Ben Shapiro in the Feb. 20 New York Times (“… it was for good reason that the right went into mourning upon Rush’s death. Conservatives, in deep and abiding ways, occupy the house that Rush built”).
There were tweets from conservative pundits/commentators like Kellyanne Conway (“…an architect of the center-right movement, defined & dominated political talk radio for decades & gave daily voice to millions of pro-freedom Americans”) and Brit Hume (“More than any single person, Rush Limbaugh helped break the left’s monopoly in the media. The left is still dominant, but not to the extent it was before he came along. He waged a brave struggle against deafness and later, the cancer that killed him. He was a giant.”).
Donald Trump’s first post-presidential interview was about Limbaugh’s passing. “He was a fantastic man. He was a fantastic talent,” he said on Fox News about the man he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during last year’s state of the union address.
Limbaugh’s bond with U.S. conservatives is undeniable. Yet he also had influence with conservatives internationally.
He was a political tour de force for many young Canadian conservatives, for instance. His support for Ronald Reagan, the Bush family and other leading U.S. Republicans was greatly appreciated. He provided news, content and political analysis that we really didn’t receive in the Great White North during the pre-internet generation.
His radio show, which wasn’t available in Canada but could be accessed on several U.S. stations, was more engaging, controversial and illuminating than just about anything on our airwaves at that time. Canadian talk radio show hosts like Dave Rutherford, Lowell Green, Jerry Agar, Brian Lilley and Charles Adler (long before his political transformation) implemented elements of Limbaugh’s positions and radio style. They were all fundamentally different from El Rushbo but the guiding light seems clear.
Limbaugh also said positive things about the leadership skills of one Conservative prime minister (Stephen Harper) and was friendly with another (Brian Mulroney). The radio host also reportedly attended Mulroney’s 75th birthday party in Palm Beach in 2014.
Limbaugh didn’t have a direct influence on any specific government policy.
What he accomplished, along with other right-leaning commentators, was to help open more eyes, ears and minds about conservatism. He showed how lower taxes, small government, and individual rights and freedoms could ultimately benefit our society.
This in turn inspired an ideological shift from traditional Canadian conservatism – which had always been more grounded in a Burkean/Disraelian model of using the state apparatus to achieve ends – to more of an American-style conservatism.
That’s why conservatives in Canada and around the world mourn Limbaugh’s passing. He was America’s conservative icon but he was also our conservative inspiration.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.
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