There had been a lot of social change just before Rush Limbaugh arrived on the scene. There was gay liberation, women’s rights, and liberalism. Many felt they could no longer say what they wanted to say. Political correctness was seen as a stifling chain. They also thought no one was speaking like them or to them. They were ignored and invisible. As Justin Ling said in his CBC. Radio series , “In the universe of right-wing media compared to the Wall Street Journal and like the later Fox News Limbaugh’s listeners were older, whiter, more conservative, and more religious. For this slice of America Limbaugh created a safe space.” He created a safe place to hate.
Surprisingly, because there was a Republican in the White House, as Ling said, “he convinced these old, white, conservative, and religious Americans that they were disenfranchised!” Even though they were in the majority! It was pure alchemy. He told them they were looked down on. He milked them for their resentment—the elixir of devils. As Ling said, “He formed a kind of counterculture; a resistance against the liberals, and the progressives, and the feminists.”
In the mid-80s he syndicated to about 50 stations across the country but by 1990 he got 450 affiliates. He was the rock star of talk radio and the conservative movement. He led a Rush to Excellence Tour to various stadiums around the country with as many as 10,000 people. As Justin Ling said, “Limbaugh declared a culture war”. Limbaugh put it this way:
“We are in the midst of a culture war. What are rights? This culture war illustrates precisely what is going on. We in America are in the midst—it’s an exciting time to be alive—we are in the midst of a redefinition of who is going to define right and wrong, what the punishment is going to be for those who violate the limits that we place on our behavior. We are arguing about who has the right to tell us what is right and what is wrong. We’re arguing over what censorship is And to me its pretty scary.”
And there it is again—fear—the secret sauce of paranoia and right-wing hysteria.
Like Trump later, Limbaugh went from being a spoiled rich kid to a champion of the working class. People all over America were starting to take notice of Limbaugh. I remember at the time hearing about him from a friend of mine, a trucker. Truckers loved Limbaugh, just like they later loved Trump and basically for the same reasons. They liked to have a wrecking ball in their corner as did my friend the trucker, and much later the truckers convoy in Ottawa in 2022. They got a rush from Rush Limbaugh.
As Justin Ling said, “On his radio show he was the voice of God on a one way street. And he loved nothing better than to run over liberal women. On his radio show he said, “this is a show devoted to what I think.” On the Dave Lettermen show he said people were bugged by him because “I have almost a monopoly on the truth.” No one could ever accuse Limbaugh of humility. Humility was a liberal vice. And his fans loved it. He also said “This is a benevolent dictatorship. I am the dictator. There is no first amendment here except for me.”
Now he was entitled to be the dictator of his own show. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to listen to it.