It was 1990 and I was riding with a friend to a midday off campus school event.
The radio in the blue Ford Escort wasn’t playing a cassette tape (kids, don’t confuse these looped compact recording cartridges with 8-Tracks, that’s just disrespectful) nor was it turned to a music station but it was blasting political commentary and not just anyone’s.
It was my introduction to Rush Limbaugh.
Rather than prattling about some sundry issue, the host was engaged in a theatrical preamble to a news story about the leader of the Soviet Union with the menacing Imperial March from Star Wars blaring in the background.
I would learn that this was a Gorbasm, a mocking description of the unobjective euphoric feeling that overwhelmed the national media at the mere mention of the name Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.
It was pure brilliance and I was hooked to a point that a small group of us attended his Rush to Excellence appearance at the UNO Lakefront Arena.
As his program ran while I was at school, I’d ask my grandmother to hit the record button on my stereo at 11 AM (the show was delayed an hour locally) where blank cassettes would capture the first two hours of his show (the pre-podcast struggle was real, younguns).
I’d have the privilege of meeting Rush twice during Mardi Gras 1992 and the talk show host would go on to describe his two parade rides were the thrill of his lifetime.
An autographed picture of Limbaugh still holds a spot of distinction on the wall of Mother’s in downtown New Orleans.
Rush Limbaugh was a political force of nature who revolutionized radio and politics.
With Ronald Reagan’s fading from the political scene and the defeat of President George Bush in 1992, Limbaugh became the de facto leader of the opposition, as National Review depicted on the cover of their magazine.
Limbaugh was literally the air support that brought the Republicans into control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration.
Rush practically placed the Speaker’s gavel in Newt Gingrich’s hand.
As the national establishment media became more strident in their leftist bias and before the rise of Fox News, Limbaugh was a one-man check and balance to the networks, magazines, and newspapers.
And while the political beneficiaries of his blessings from the golden microphone would come, go, and sometimes be consumed by their own flaws Limbaugh remained steadily on top aside from a brief spell when his addiction to pain pills became public and a three year criminal investigation was launched.
But in a country with no shortage of conservatives with microphones, what was so unique about Limbaugh?
First he created conservative talk radio as we know it today. Practically everyone else is an imitation of Limbaugh.
Secondly, while Rush was pompous he was not uptight. And the difference is relevant.
Limbaugh was so over the top in his braggadocio that it came off more amusing than boorish.
And his political criticisms were wrapped in humor and were not merely shrieking screeds or stale talking points. Limbaugh mastered the Alinsky tactic of mocking the opposition into oblivion.
Third Rush’s messaging was not just an act. Limbaugh could articulate conservatism because unlike some of those who carried the GOP banner in presidential elections, Limbaugh truly believed what he was saying.
Yes Limbaugh was entertaining but his message was sincere. And Limbaugh truly loved his listeners, forming a connection that transcended across the hundreds of stations that carried his program.
Limbaugh underscored this when he harkened to Lou Gehrig’s iconic address to Yankee Stadium as the dying Iron Horse declared himself as the luckiest man on earth. It took standing in Gehrig’s shoes for Rush to fully comprehend those seemingly paradoxical words.
Though ailing, Limbaugh felt and was sustained by the love of his audience despite the ominous and painful fight that would eventually take his life.
Fourth, Limbaugh wasn’t an establishment shill, at least not always.
Though close with the Bush family Limbaugh was an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency. In many ways Limbaugh’s desertion from the GOP establishment helped pave the way for Trump’s nomination.
Finally Rush Limbaugh embodied America: unembarrassed by his own success, possessing both immense wealth and an equally enormous spirit of generosity; extremely patriotic and laudatory of America’s servicemen; and was the the ultimate sports fan, doing tours with the Kansas City Royals organization and ABC’s Monday Night Football broadcast booth.
During his New Orleans appearance, Limbaugh rapidly ticked off his list of undeniable truths, one of which was that the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers were the greatest football team in history, inviting the one time that evening Rush was serenaded with boos.
Breaking his cadence a bemused Limbaugh shot back, “you people really don’t believe it’s the New Orleans Saints?” drawing a roar of laughter from the locals.
While a decidedly imperfect man as reflected in his life path, Limbaugh was proof that encountering failure was not an inescapable destiny and through talent, sincerity, and audacity one could reach the zenith of a profession.
Rush Limbaugh was a transformative figure in American media and politics and leaves behind a void that will not be filled any time soon.
Godspeed, El Rushbo, and thanks for being an army of one against the Leftist narrative.