On Wednesday morning, the death of conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh was announced live on the show he had hosted for 30 years. Limbaugh passed away at the age of 70 from lung cancer.
Limbaugh had the ability to draw millions of viewers every week, shaping the course of radio history and modern conservatism. During the 2020 State of the Union he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Donald Trump. At the same time, Limbaugh earned abundant criticism. His death generated jubilation from some, causing the hashtags #goodriddance and #rotinhell to trend on Twitter.
This sharp dichotomy of admiration and vitriol was a constant theme throughout Limbaugh's career. He certainly had his critics and his faults, both perceived and real. But in the end, I hope Americans will look back on Limbaugh's life as that of a bold and joyful warrior for our nation.
Limbaugh first landed a national radio show in 1988 and four years later was called "the number one voice for conservatism" by former President Ronald Reagan.
The same man loved by so many was viewed by others outside of the conservative movement as a source of hatred and bigotry.
He sometimes discussed issues of sexuality, race and the misfortunates of others in a way that was clearly inflammatory. For example, Limbaugh once questioned actor Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease, a deeply personal topic he had no good reason to be speaking on.
Another time he compared 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton, to a dog.
When political commentary crosses over into attempts to get laughs or make a point using intensely personal and offensive mockery, I as a conservative have no problem encouraging a higher standard.
Before we discount Limbaugh’s legacy, we must be careful to remember the flaws inherent in every person and seek to view him not merely by his lowpoints, but by the entirety of his life.
As Limbaugh’s cancer progressed, he showed a softer side and spoke of his faith in Christ as what sustains him.
"I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Limbaugh said. “It is of immense value, strength and confidence, and that’s why I’m able to remain fully committed to the idea that what is supposed to happen will happen when it’s meant to."
Limbaugh had a remarkable ability to relate to his listeners, and therein lies his success. From the Reagan to Biden presidencies, Limbaugh never held back from using what he called his "talent on loan from God."
Limbaugh’s political vision was built on confidence in America and its people. He spoke up when he felt our foundational ideals were threatened, and he tirelessly encouraged every American to take full advantage of liberty's blessings. His vision remained that thanks to our nation's distinctive identity, any person could pursue the American dream if given free rein.
"[Conservatives] do not look out across the country and see the average American with contempt,” Limbaugh said at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference. “We believe that person can be the best he or she wants to be if certain things are just removed from their path like onerous taxes, regulations and too much government."
Limbaugh didn't just talk about improving society outside of government, he lived it through his charitable giving, setting an example for all conservatives who advocate for small government. He used his platform to raise more than $47 million for people with leukemia and lymphoma. He also served on the board of and donated millions to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.
Americans tuned in from their cars and living rooms each day because Limbaugh voiced their fears and shared their hopes. He had the words and the platform to speak for them in a way that they could not. Limbaugh reminded elites in the media, Republican Party leadership and Washington D.C. that the United States did not belong to them, but to the people.
Charlie Willis is a law and public policy major and religious studies minor. He is a member of Cru and a former member of IUSG Congress. Oddly, he maintains a community of 150-plus pet rocks with their own government.