Conservatives owe a lot to great men like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley who helped keep the fires of conservatism burning when the movement was barely holding together. Without their efforts conservatism would likely not have gotten this far, this fast. That being said, in the last 30 years, conservatism has become considerably stronger, more popular, and more effective than it was in Goldwater and Buckley's heyday. There are three men who deserve to be heralded for that success above all others.
Of course, Ronald Reagan deserves the lion's share of the credit for proving that conservative ideas work in practice. For engineering the Contract with America and the Republican takeover of the house in 1994, Newt Gingrich earned his spot in the pantheon of conservative heroes as well. The other man that all conservatives owe a debt of gratitude? That would be, much to some people's dismay, Rush Limbaugh. Why Rush?
1) He helped inspire a new generation of conservatives: Personally, I'm a conservative because of Rush Limbaugh. You see, back in college, I knew very little about politics, but wanted to learn more. So, I listened to my college professors to get the liberal perspective. It was an eye-opening experience to be told that America needed to abandon its military and use non-violent resistance as a defense strategy. Learning that I was a "fascist" for saying that America should retain the right to do a nuclear-first strike against the Soviet Union was quite a surprise as well. That's what I was hearing from my liberal college professors. I wasn't very impressed.
To find out what conservatives believed, I decided to listen to the most famous conservative I knew of at the time: Rush Limbaugh. After being exposed to his pragmatic, common sense ideas about how our government and country should work, I realized that I was learning more listening to his show that I was in any of my college classes. Soon thereafter, I started thinking of myself as a conservative and the rest is history. Having spoken to a number of other conservatives about how they came by their political beliefs, I can tell you that my story is by no means unique. Rush Limbaugh is undoubtedly personally responsible for bringing millions of Americans over to our cause.
2) Rush Limbaugh made the conservative media feasible: Before Rush, there was no widespread conservative media presence. The blogosphere didn't exist, Fox didn't exist, and AM talk radio was a dying format. It was Rush who blazed the trail that other conservative talkers followed. Quite frankly, he probably even deserves a lot more of the credit for Fox News and the blogosphere than he gets.
Personally, when I started blogging, my goal was to go full-time, despite the fact that I didn't have a journalism degree and almost no one else was doing it. My thought process? It was, "If Rush Limbaugh can do it, why can't I?" Today that dream is a reality and I am not sure it would have happened without Rush. How many other bloggers thought the same way? Along similar lines, ask yourself if Fox News would have considered bucking the trend and having a slightly right-of-center cable news network without Rush Limbaugh and his imitators proving that it could work? With or without Rush Limbaugh, a new conservative media was destined to eventually form. However, if Rush hadn't come along, it might have taken years or even decades longer to come into being.
3) Rush's ability to entertain and explain: In our natural environment, we political wonks can be a dull, humorless bunch. Every issue is life and death based on some principle or rule that the average person doesn't quite seem to comprehend.
Although Rush certainly isn't the only conservative to illustrate absurdity by being absurd or to make our ideology more accessible to the average person, he has played a crucial role in popularizing the idea that politics should be fun.
Rush is often called an "entertainer." He is -- and that's exactly why he has made such a spectacular impact. When you can make people laugh at the mockery of your political enemies or get them as fascinated with a political issue as they are with the latest sitcom, you're ten times more effective than any dry political commentator who always believes that politics should be deadly serious business. It was Rush's inspirational embrace of humor that played a major role in helping make conservatism more accessible to the average person.