One year ago, I wrote a Townhall column with the headline “A Prayer for Rush Limbaugh.” The occasion was his lung cancer diagnosis, accompanied by the instant understanding that his prognosis did not seem to be a case offering much hope for recovery.
But miracles happen, so I asked for one. So did many of you. Rush passed away Wednesday, but before talking about him, let’s talk about God.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned about prayer is to know that sometimes we get what we seek and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, it doesn’t mean the prayer was not heard. It means God had other plans. It is sad for us that the plan did not grant us more Rush Limbaugh shows; but His will is perfect, and the fact is that we had 33 years of radio to enjoy from this uniquely gifted man, and for that, we should be eternally grateful.
So to give voice to that gratitude, I want to add to all of the tributes about his conservatism and his impact on politics and the culture, with a reflection on the attributes that made that impact possible: his attitude about his show, his audience and our country.
Those of us who do talk shows for a living get a stage for a few hours a day to shape as we please. Rush made the decision early on that there were things worth fighting for, and he was going to do just that, on a local show in Sacramento, then in New York and then in the national spotlight.
He knew there would be two kinds of public reaction: enthusiastic support and venomous opposition. He never allowed the second to dim his appreciation of the first. In fact, he viewed the harsh retorts from the left as evidence of his effectiveness. Why would liberal America and its media sounding boards bother to denigrate someone who didn’t matter?
And Rush mattered, in ways that extended far beyond radio. He is credited with filling the sails of passion that led to the Republican wave elections of 1994 and 2010. He is recognized as Donald Trump’s highest-profile supporter and defender, an effort well noticed by the former president. That thankfulness was reflected in the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the State of the Union address last year.
The impact of that moving moment was heightened by the likelihood that we were drawing near to the end of his remarkable story. As it happened, he lived longer than doctors expected, which he attributed often to the prayers of millions of listeners.
At the beginning of the Wednesday show, Rush’s wife Kathryn shared the news of her husband’s passing, telling a shocked audience that their faith and support was a daily blessing through treatments that often left him unable to do the show.
He promised the audience a year ago that he would be at the “golden EIB microphone” as often as his condition permitted, and as recently as a few weeks ago, he was navigating the post-election topical scene with his usual energy and enthusiasm. A group of loyal guest hosts were in the chair when he could not be, always sharing the wish they shared with the listeners—for Rush to return as soon and as often as possible.
Eventually, it was not to be. Kathryn’s loving words were followed by excerpts of past shows featuring Rush’s own reflections on what the show meant to him, and to us. Driving around listening, it felt for a moment as normal as any of the thousands of afternoons I have spent consuming the Limbaugh take on the news of the day. Then it hit like a hammer: there will be no more Rush Limbaugh shows.
And there will be no more Rush Limbaughs. Never again will a broadcaster dominate American politics and the talk radio industry as he has done. Any hours of your life spent in his company on the radio are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.
In the times I was able to be in his actual company, his lofty stardom never eroded a sense of humility and actual wonder at all he had achieved. He was by every measure the genuine, gracious gentleman any listener would want him to be.
Rush always credited the audience that brought him such broad recognition, linking that appreciation to a love for the country that made it all possible.
He did not love America because it enabled him to become a radio star. He walked the path to radio greatness by recognizing and encouraging the nation that offers such remarkable opportunities to all of us. Not everyone will reach the pinnacle of a chosen field, but in his remarkable journey, he always found evidence of the wonders of this land of unequaled promise.
He always exuded that love of country, in embracing people and ideas he supported, and opposing people and ideas he thought were not in the nation’s interest. At every turn, there were millions of Americans who agreed with him, and millions who disagreed. Both made their feelings clear in a symphony of engagement that cemented the gravity of his passion for America, for his listeners, and for the art form that is radio.
I know hundreds of conservatives; some of them I wouldn’t listen to on the radio for three minutes. Rush had us listening for three hours a day and wanting more. I often raised eyebrows at my own speaking engagements with the observation that Rush was not huge because he was conservative; he was a singular talent because of his rare gift of delivering his views in an unequaled package of clarity, passion and wit.
Those gifts are silenced now. But what he left us is as indelible as the memory of the joy of hearing that opening theme, his welcoming tone and his razor-sharp assessments of what conservatism means and what it should do.
A nation is better, the radio industry is stronger, and countless people have been educated, enlightened, entertained and inspired because he lived. There will be no more Rush Limbaugh shows, but there are thousands to remember and cherish. I don’t know how many shows I have left, but I will conduct every one with unending appreciation of a man who showed us what radio can do, what conservatism can do, what America can do.
Not every American has shared his views. But his love of family, love of country and love of God are things everyone can emulate. If you listened, you knew he loved those things. And you knew he loved you, too.