Leftists feared Rush Limbaugh's persuasive powers
I came late to the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon because I came late to conservatism. In the 1990s, as a mindless Democrat, it would never have occurred to me to listen to Rush. No one I know listened to him. Once I discovered him in the 2000s, though, I tried to convince leftist friends to do the same. They responded to the thought of him the same way a vampire responds to the cross, backing away in terror at the mere thought that his intelligence and values might touch them.
Beginning around 2004, I became a devoted Limbaugh listener. Because I had young children, drop-offs, pick-ups, and carpools meant I spent endless hours in the car. I always thought myself lucky if those activities overlapped with Rush's airtime.
What invariably struck me when I listened to Rush was how he developed his ideas. I'd been raised on and, for decades, I'd only listened to and watched network news, PBS, and NPR.
In all those leftist venues, the "news" was a neat package: the audience got a factual statement that was usually somewhat accurate, an analysis from one or two experts who were invariably from the left, and a neat conclusion pushing a leftist point of view. As a leftist, I drank it all in until I began to realize that the analyses and conclusions seldom related to the natural direction the facts led, to common sense, to morality, or to either individual or national well-being.
Rush offered something completely different. His three-hour airtime allowed him to develop ideas at some leisure. Not for Rush the neatly packaged, ideological snippets. Instead, with tremendous humor and clarity, Rush would walk his listeners through his thought processes, listing the facts, identifying his assumptions, and explaining how he reached his conclusions. As often as not, I agreed with him; when I didn't, I still respected his intellectual honesty and acumen.
Over the years, when conversing about political or social issues with leftists or apolitical people, I tried to persuade them to listen to Rush, who explained conservative ideas better than I ever could. What struck me so forcibly was the almost panicked response they showed to that idea. I realized that the leftists to whom I spoke weren't afraid that Rush would offend them; they were afraid that he would persuade them. Eventually, I wrote about these responses on my blog:
To them, Rush is no mere conservative; he is Satan incarnate, a tempter who will destroy their liberal souls and leave them in an endless conservative Hell.
It's quite a high compliment to Rush that ordinary liberals believe he has extraordinary powers. It isn't every conservative radio or talk show host who is perceived as so compelling and seductive that he can destroy people's worldview in an instant.
It's also very frustrating to me because, in a funny way, I agree with my liberal friends that Rush can rejigger their worldview very quickly. The only thing is that I don't believe Rush works his magic through hypnotism and trickery. Instead, I think Rush's real magic lies in his ability to view the political world as a vast chessboard, one on which he can see multiple future moves; his prodigious memory; his well-informed mind; his logical analyses; and his funny persona. He convinces by appealing to our rational mind, our sense of humor, and our knowledge of the world as it is, and not as some Ivory Tower liberal tells us it should be.
So, whether by cajolery or challenge, I'm still trying to get my liberals to listen to Rush. For all the wrong reasons, they're right about one thing: he will change their minds.
That post led to one of the best days of my blogging life. Heck, one of the best days of my whole life. Rush read the entire post on air, every bit of it.
I was completely overwhelmed and over the moon. It was an act of extraordinary generosity to someone who was just another small blogger — but I've since learned that this was typical for Rush. He wasn't starstruck, and, according to all accounts, off the air, he was a remarkably humble and kind man.
Rush's passing marks the loss of a powerful voice for core conservatism. By that I mean that Rush didn't dash from one issue to another, tossing off quotable quotes that lined up with Republican Party pronouncements. Instead, everything he spoke about ran through his filter, one based on essential liberty-based values: American exceptionalism, the Constitution, the rule of law, Judeo-Christian morality, true civil rights (equality, not equity), and faith. This gave him remarkable coherence and integrity.
I hope it gave comfort to Rush at the end to know that his life mattered tremendously. He made an enormous difference to everyone who listened to him — especially those who overcame their fear that he would teach them to look at America and the world in an entirely different way.
Image: An image Rush Limbaugh's team created when he read my post.