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The character of Rush Limbaugh: A tribute from a 'little guy'

by Mike Nichols, Publisher | February 18, 2021 | 08:43 CT

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The iconic Rush Limbaugh, the foundation of conservative media in the U.S., passed away Wednesday after a year-long battle with Stage IV lung cancer. He was 70. (Screenshot: Courtesy of RushLimbaugh.com)

This is difficult to admit, but I was a RINO. I didn't know it, but looking back, it is plain to me now that I had no clue about what true conservatism looks like. It took Rush Limbaugh to show me.


Look, I've got this little website and I play at bringing truth, but the fact is I have no audience and am really at a loss for time and knowledge as to how to build one. But I wouldn't have the courage to plug away at this in virtual anonymity if not for the message that Rush Limbaugh brought to the nation's airwaves every Monday through Friday for nearly 40 years.


The truth is that important to me, knowing that I'm not reaching very many people, but hoping and praying that these daily efforts reach someone who can use it or needs to see it. That principle got Rush Limbaugh started: The desire for truth and the need for people to hear it.


How do I know I was a RINO? After all, I voted for Reagan. He wasn't exactly a RINO. But then again, I wasn't entirely sold on Reagan's agenda. I mean, come on, "trickle-down" economics," really? That can't possibly work! Less government? How could we possibly function as a nation by cutting government?


See? I was an idiot.


It took Rush Limbaugh to set me straight. He dealt in truth, and while liberals still cringe forevermore when they just hear his name, his product was unassailable, and still is. His passing leaves an enormous gap for conservatives to fill in order to maintain our ability to present truth on a daily basis as Rush did for so long and so effectively.


Limbaugh apparently didn't start out wanting to be the standard bearer for conservatism. He just knew, from age eight, that he wanted to be on the radio. His highly successful dad, a lawyer and a judge in the southeast Missouri river city of Cape Girardeau, thought he was crazy. Why couldn't Rush just become a lawyer like everyone else in the family?


Sixty-two years later, we are grateful he didn't. Rush started out while still a high school student, spinning discs at a local radio station, using the name he picked out of a phone book: Rusty Sharp. He worked in Cape, Seattle, Pittsburgh, New York City and other markets, finally using his own name when he began doing talk radio in 1974., continuing for 12 years before becoming the publicity director for the Kansas City Royals Baseball Club.


From there, he went to ESPN as a Monday Night Football analyst, but was fired just a few weeks into the season when he suggested people were pulling for then-Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb because "he's black.", Years later, McNabb himself said Limbaugh was right, people pulled for black quarterbacks to succeed because they had been ignored at the position for decades.


Limbaugh considered himself a "modern-day failure" for all his lack of success, both in broadcasting and in marriage. It took four weddings for Rush to find the love of his life, Kathryn, who announced his death on his radio show Wednesday. Rush had no children, but adored his nieces and nephews, who returned that adoration pound for pound.


That is his chronological history. What I really want to emphasize, though, is how powerful was Rush's influence in returning conservatism to center stage, how impactful he was on the daily lives of millions of Americans during the last 37 years of his life and broadcast career.

Limbaugh saw his career take off as an established and nationally renowned conservative talk show host in 1988 with New York City's WABC Radio.. (Photo: Bruce Gilbert Jr /Newsday)

Benefiting from the end of the FCC's "Fairness Doctrine" that, until 1983, required equal time for opposing viewpoints, Limbaugh landed at WABC Radio in New York City in 1988. He first tasted success as the replacement for the equally controversial Morton Downey, Jr. in Seattle four years earlier. The Seattle gig got him national recognition.


His network grew to 56 radio stations while at WABC, but the flagship station of ABC Radio didn't want to build beyond the ABC affiliates willing to carry the show. That frustrated Limbaugh, who believed truth could not be bound to a single network or corporation. He would later express the belief that ABC actually wanted him to fail, but loved the revenue he brought in too much to cancel or fire him.


We didn't really know how corrupt and biased the so-called "mainstream media" was before Rush took to the airways as an independent, unfettered by network rules, regulations and "politically correct" doctrine. He left WABC and launched what would eventually be known as the "Excellence in Broadcasting Network (EIB)" from what he called his "southern command center" in Florida. It didn't take long for Rush to build a 600-station network that literally tens of millions listened to each weekday.


I grew up in north Missouri with Democrat parents who loved Harry Truman. I still love Harry myself, but I also know Harry would be a Republican today. I said that to my parents in 2007, a year before they both passed away, and I thought they were going to throw me out of the house! Joining the Army had turned me into a Republican, and while I talked a great game, I was not a very good one. I actually debated with myself in the run-up to the 1980 election between Jimmy Carter and Reagan.


Yeah, I was that lost.


My own reaction to Rush in those days was that he was radical, nasty and wrong. Hey, I told you, I was a RINO! I was one of the listeners who would tune in just to get angry and express my outrage. But a funny thing happened.. A lot of what Rush said began to make sense to me.


What I heard Rush talk about for the most part was the opportunity for success in this country, and that the government was making it more and more difficult to achieve it. At first, swallowing that accusation was difficult, but Rush laid out just how too much government hurt the middle class, the economically disadvantaged, the well-off — in short, everyone except the people making the rules and regulations. In fact, they just got richer and richer at taxpayer expense. Rush was a self-taught policy expert, studying for hours prior to his show to accurately address the issues of the day.


Rush believed in people. I am convinced that came from his Christian faith. He didn't talk about it very much, but Limbaugh was a follower of Christ. He often said he was "using talent borrowed from God," In November, as his lung cancer worsened, he had viably lost weight — 90 pounds over the last two years — and was getting weaker by the day, He appeared on "Fox & Friends" and talked to Ainsley Earhardt about what his faith meant to him.


One thought he expressed stood out to me, a man who tries to follow Jesus as well. Rush talked about his private evangelical faith that day and his belief that “there’s good in everything that happens.”


"I actually believe that,” he told Earhardt. “You mentioned God: God is a profound factor; Jesus Christ a profound factor. I have a personal relationship. I’ve not talked about it much publicly because I don’t proselytize these things.”


Rush wanted people to succeed and anything that stood in the way of individual success, be it government or corporate power, he wanted to see that fail. It was a basic populist message that had not be given to the people of this country since Teddy Roosevelt was president. It was the same message that Donald J. Trump would bring to the 2016 election. Rush was preaching it for over well over 30 years.

Rush kept a bulletin board in his studio filled with pictures of his fans, whom he affectionately called "ditto heads." (Photo: RushLimbaugh.com)

Listening to him as, at first,as an antagonist and later as a loyal fan, my concept of truth and right and faith began to swing in the proper direction. These were the values the U.S. Army taught me were worth defending. It wasn't just Rush Limbaugh who pushed me to embrace true conservatism, but he was a big influence. When I watched news programs on television, I began to see how they espoused the approved line of big government, modern liberalism and state control.


I voted for both Bushes twice, for Bob Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, but I had to hold my nose all seven times. They didn't really represent my now-deeply rooted conservative and Christian values. But Trump didn't really capture my fancy in the beginning, either.. Too brash, too loud, too full of himself, I thought. I at one point actually considered a third-party candidate as an option.


Then I heard Rush begin to tout Trump as the candidate he'd been waiting for over the last 30 years. I had to give Trump a second and third listen. What I began to hear was a man who was urgently trying to save his country, who couldn't take the time for the niceties and the diplomacy politicians normally use to influence voters and their opponents. Donald J. Trump was exactly what America needed, and still does.


I would not have known that without the powerful influence of Rush Limbaugh. Many people wouldn't. Rush awoke the patriotic spirit of this nation when it was on life support. He brought people such as myself back to the reality of who we are as a people, as a nation. No one else could have done it the way Rush did it.


Liberals were even so jealous of his influence, they tried to counter it with "liberal talk radio." Remember Al Franken and "Air America?" Yeah, it went bankrupt after Franken's $360,000 paycheck bounced back in 2007 and none of the Leftist elites ever tried to compete with Rush on radio again.


Despite Rush's self-effacing comments, such as "I'm too much in love with myself to be in love with anyone else" to explain his failures at marriage, he was truly a humble man. What critics described as "hubris" and "arrogance" was really a passionate stridency for the future of this country, for a continuing adherence to the founding principles espoused by the men and women brave enough to challenge the most powerful nation on Earth 1776 to win their freedom and independence.


My clarion call to reaffirm observance of and respect for those principles was coincidental to my arrival at faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord. Suffering from combat-related Post=traumatic Stress, self-medicating with alcohol and out-of-control gambling brought me to a place where my only hope was something outside myself, and He is Jesus. My own power, my own strength, my own reason was all insufficient to overcome what I was doing to myself and everyone around me that I said I loved. My surrender as a sinner my sin and admission of my inadequacy to save myself came on March 3, 1993.


Inextricably, regardless of what the liberal media and movement want us to believe, the founding principles of this nation come directly from Christianity, and it is therefore necessary to associate those principles with what God h as dictated in the Bible. Rush Limbaugh knew that too, and lived it out every Monday through Friday on the radio from 9-12, for 37 years.


Rush literally changed America. For more than 30 years, Rush Limbaugh sat down and talked to Americans about America. Across the country, in pickup trucks, roadside diners and quiet cubicles where his listeners were obliged to wear headphones lest they offend, his rich baritone rolled out of the air and it spoke the truth.


Rush Limbaugh changed the course of American history. Without him, the conservative movement and the country would be fundamentally different today. For this, the Left cursed him, and some on the Right as well. He beat them all back, time and again. He was a warrior, a hero, a man of purpose and vision. But he never saw himself that way. He was, by his own account, a man who loved God, who loved people, who loved his country, and would do anything to uphold them all. In the end, he just considered himself blessed.


“I’m just trying to give thanks every day for all of the blessings,” Limbaugh told Ainsley Earhardt back in November. “I have had a blessed life. I have had so many great friends — and still do — there’s nothing negative for me. There’s nothing I have deep regrets about because I’ve been so blessed.”

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