By Kaitlin Dunn
Elm Staff Writer
On Feb. 17, 2021, National Public Radio announced the death of conservative news radio personality Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh passed away from lung cancer at the age of 71.
During the span of his multi-decade career, Limbaugh came to be known as the spokesperson for rightwing partisanship. His controversial conservative opinions and inflammatory words allowed for alt-right Americans to see themselves in his politics.
Throughout the span of his career, Limbaugh has said things like “feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream,” and “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”
Limbaugh’s influence on Republican politics was so great that during the 1994 midterm elections, he was awarded honorary membership in the caucus for the work he had done to promote conservative ideals, a 1994 Washington Postarticle reported.
Limbaugh was presented with a “Majority Makers” pin by House Republicans on Dec. 11, 1994 to celebrate the party gaining majority status in the House for the first time in 40 years. They credited Limbaugh’s promotion of conservatism in the U.S. for this status. Six GOP women in the class added their own special thanks, presenting Limbaugh with a plaque that said: “Rush was right.”
Limbaugh represents a faction of right-wing America that was brought center stage during the Trump Administration. Although the Trump Administration brought this section of alt-right Americans into the media spotlight, Limbaugh was their champion and their spokesperson.
“No single person — not Reagan, not Cheney, not McConnell, not Trump — has contributed more than Limbaugh to the mass derangement of white America,” Rolling Stone’s Bob Moser said.
Limbaugh effectively fanned the flames of right-wing extremism, using his platform to peddle conspiracy theories, such as the “birtherism” conspiracy around former President Barack Obama. Until the end of his life, he also denied the existence of climate change.
In addition to his racism, denial of science, and sexism, Limbaugh also used his platform to mock tragedies, such as the Sep. 18, 2020 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Notably, Limbaugh hosted an “AIDS Update” segment on his radio show, during which he would read off the names of gay men who had died from the disease, accompanied by music and sounds of celebration.
“He chastised ‘militant homosexuals’ for their disrespectful behavior and shortly thereafter began broadcasting irreverent and tasteless ‘AIDS Update’ segments introduced by Dionne Warwick’s ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again,’” author Ze’ev Chafets said in his book “Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One.”
Limbaugh’s crude and crass nature opened the door to the sort of alt-right politics we have seen on the rise over the last four years. The age of unapologetically cruel politics was fronted by Limbaugh.
While the right lauded him as a champion of freedom and conservative ideology, left-leaning politicians and individuals saw him as not only an echo chamber of hateful politics, but as a main instigator for the polarization of today’s politics.
“Rush Limbaugh helped create today’s polarized America by normalizing racism, bigotry, misogyny and mockery. He was a demagogue who got rich off of hate speech, division, lies and toxicity. That is his legacy,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said.
Limbaugh’s legacy is interesting in the sense that he was a non-politician, but held much responsibility and influence in right-wing politics and positions. He was highly responsible for pushing the party further right, creating the foundation for the highly polarized politics of today.
After his death Rush Limbaugh will remain a prominent figure, not only in the world of radio talk shows, but also in Republican and alt-right politics, changing the nature of political discourse as we know it.
Featured Photo caption: Conservative news personality Rush Limbaugh pictured with former President Donald Trump. Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020. Photo Courtesy of Flickr.