With offense to no one, I note that the passing of Rush Limbaugh brings up a question: Why did many of our fellow West Virginians become his devoted listeners, given that throughout his career he employed his considerable gifts of eloquence and intellect to purvey ignorance and prejudice?
For example, consider our remarkable display of devotion to our neighbors during the recent power outages and how that neighborly concern stands at odds with Limbaugh’s string of debasing remarks about Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Iraq war. In her grief, she camped out near George W. Bush’s Texas ranch in hopes of nudging the president to explain why he led us into the war. After several days of attacks on Sheehan, Limbaugh trivialized the loss of her son, saying, “We’ve all lost things.” Would any West Virginian say that of a person in the throes of grief?
Many Iraq war veterans concluded that the war had been a foreign policy mistake. Limbaugh, who never served, called them, “phony soldiers.” Sadly, such cruelties seemed to effortlessly spill from a well of anger within him. He once suggested that actor Michael J. Fox exaggerated the shaky body movements that were caused by Parkinson’s disease.
We are told that Limbaugh, who had a statewide audience in West Virginia, saved AM radio. If so, he did it, in part, by poisoning our air with conspiracy theories. Limbaugh shamelessly pushed the notion that Joe Biden did not “legitimately” win the 2020 election. He claimed that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was worried that Hillary Clinton would murder him, that the “deep state” might have faked evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to damage George W. Bush, that the Obama administration’s arrests of ISIS supporters in the United States was a surreptitious effort to “ban the sale of bullets.” He seemed not to mind that there was zero support for his confabulations.
Sexism was another of his preferred dark places. In 2012, Limbaugh said feminism was created so that “unattractive women” could have “easier access to the mainstream.” Of female politicians he said, “ There are plenty of lard-ass women in politics ...” He mocked Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she testified to Congress that contraceptives should be included in health insurance coverage.
When he wasn’t offering those substitutes for wisdom, he often brought his racism out for an airing. In 2013, he turned reason on its head when he opined that, “if any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it is Caucasians.”
Too many times to count, he fed the birtherism lie about Barack Obama. In 2008, he claimed that Obama’s only chance of winning was because he was Black. Thus, in Limbaugh’s thinking, being Black in America has been a huge advantage.
He was the Typhoid Mary of hate. He termed transgender people mentally ill. He argued the legalization of gay marriage would lead to polygamy, bestiality and to “the erosion of private property.” And, in 2013, he said that, if gay marriage were to be legalized, it would lead to pedophilia. Insert your own assessment of Limbaugh’s warped sexuality here.
Faith in Rush Limbaugh might have contributed to at least a few Mountain State listeners’ deaths from COVID-19. In February 2020, he termed the disease, “the common cold.” Weeks later, he asserted that the virus had been “weaponized by the media” as a way to damage President Donald Trump.
Over the following months, he implied that health experts should not be trusted because they were Hillary Clinton sympathizers, and that journalists were inflating COVID-19 case numbers. Regardless of the number of deaths caused by the virus, Limbaugh argued, “It’s not going to equate to the damage done to the U.S. economy.” Coincidentally, only a week following his passing, COVID-19 deaths in America surpassed the casualty numbers of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.
For convenience, he sometimes traveled the route of childlike denial. In 1994, he said the addictive nature of nicotine had not been proven, although it had been an established fact for years. To the end, he claimed there was no evidence of human-caused climate change, calling it a “hoax.” Without offering a shred of proof, he accused the National Hurricane Center of “playing games” with its forecasting to convince us that climate change was real.
He termed the Sandy Hook Elementary School parents “human shields” when they lobbied Congress for tighter gun laws.
I recall the late 1980s when, for a few months, Rush set aside an hour every Friday for callers who disagreed with him. But he soon found himself at a loss as he furiously treaded water upon having to deal with callers who easily pointed out his biases and general lack of knowledge. Thus, he dropped that hour’s format from his Friday schedule. Coward that he was, over the next 30 years he never knowingly accepted a call from anyone with a differing point of view.