I remember the first time I heard Rush on the air. Upon hearing his refreshingly pro-Republican message and his affected voice -- it reminded me of the Ted Baxter news anchor character on the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- I wasn't sure if this was serious programming or a parody. But soon enough I realized this was something fresh on the airwaves.
Had it not been for Limbaugh's brash views and outspoken delivery, it's possible the legions of conservative and moderate listeners who now cling to every word from Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity might never have provided the market share conservative talk needed to prosper and affect America's political dialog.
Is Limbaugh an ideologue? Of course, that's his shtick. Just as Al Franken -- Rush's media nemesis -- has a funny, liberal shtick that I find entertaining even if I disagree with it. Can't most writers and talk show personalities be considered "extreme" in some of their views? Remember, their job is to express opinions and to encourage us to offer our own. The truly expert talk radio masters, including Limbaugh, Hannity and Neal Boortz, all bring passion to their broadcasts. That doesn't put them outside the pale. It makes them good at what they do.
Certainly Rush Limbaugh has had days riding a too-high horse; days of making tough judgments on this person or that cause. But his positions are usually well thought out, and he's rarely mean-spirited. I've never heard him treat a caller rudely, no matter how vigorously he might disagree with them. Some despise him for taking himself and his views too seriously, but I've always found him to maintain a sense of humor and proportion.
Ever notice that when Hollywood stars or professional athletes have personal problems, their colleagues tend to rally on their behalf? And who can forget congressional Democrats rallying around Bill Clinton during his impeachment troubles? But too often, in my experience anyway, conservatives or independents are more likely to leave their friends floating in the cold water.
Rush Limbaugh an ideologue? Perhaps. Has he had problems? Sure. Could he use a pat on the back, some words of appreciation and some support as he faces up to an addiction? You bet. After all, even the purest of knights falls off his horse now and then. Here's guessing the critical group of Americans that Bill O'Reilly correctly calls "moderates" understands that better than most.