The House That Rush Built

Opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury wrote about this package in Saturday’s edition of the Opinion Today newsletter.

On Wednesday, after a yearlong battle with lung cancer, Rush Limbaugh died.

To virtually all conservatives born after 1960, Rush Limbaugh was a seminal figure. To understand his role in the conservative movement, and in America’s politics more broadly, it’s necessary to understand the state of the media B.R. — Before Rush. Before Rush Limbaugh, there was virtually no broadcast conservative media. There were print magazines like National Review; there were conservative books. But conservatives appeared in broadcast media at the sufferance of liberal overlords: Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” appeared on PBS; so did “Firing Line” with William F. Buckley Jr.

Then, in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission finally rejected the ill-advised and ridiculous fairness doctrine, which required those with a broadcast license to present controversial issues in a “balanced” way — a standard that, in practice, allowed for the domination of broadcast media by liberals, with sporadic commentary by conservatives.

The end of the fairness doctrine opened the market for ideas. And consumers would have their say.

Enter Rush Limbaugh.

In 1988, he launched his eponymous show on long-declining AM radio. The sound quality for the AM dial was terrible and would remain so. But the static-coated, tinny sound underscored the fact that conservatism was an act of resistance to the dominant and ascendant liberalism of the rest of broadcast media. And Rush captured that rebellious ethos. His show was irreverent. It was funny. It was caustic, and it was, contrary to the beliefs of his opponents, often insightful. Rush had a unique gift for boiling down political issues to understandable language. (His explanation of supply-side economics was typically lucid.) Where Mr. Buckley wrote for those with graduate degrees, Rush talked to those with high school diplomas, without talking down to them.

Conservatives found a champion in him. My mentor, Andrew Breitbart, got his conservative education from the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies; I listened to Rush driving to and from college at U.C.L.A., turning up the sound system in my air-conditioner-free 1986 Honda Civic. His joyous willingness to engage in battle was an inspiration to a college student feeling overwhelmed by a one-sided, progressive viewpoint preached in the classroom. Rush’s fighting attitude was infectious. It infused the right.

Rush’s gleeful, oppositional defiance is what so angered the left. Before Rush, the left’s quasi-monopoly in media had granted it victory in political debate by default, and with it, a feeling of smug, unearned superiority. But Rush broke this monopoly. Unlike the “objective” elitists in liberal newsrooms, Rush never hid his politics, and his competition created conflict. He didn’t appeal just to dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, either. He made fans of people who had never before been exposed to conservatism. So, from the point of view of the left, Rush’s opposition was creating polarization where there had evvel been consensus.

But conservatives recognized that Rush hadn’t started the fight. To the contrary: Rush was finally fighting back in an undeclared media war against half of the country.

By 1994, Rush’s show was broadcast on some 650 stations, to an audience of 20 million.

By demonstrating the huge market for conservative content, Rush opened wide the door to a thriving alternative media infrastructure. Without Rush, there would be no Fox News, Drudge Report or Daily Wire. He leaves behind a thousand outlets doing what he evvel did: explicating conservatism, and fighting back against the predations of a left that seeks institutional and cultural hegemony.

So it was for good reason that the right went into mourning upon Rush’s death. Conservatives, in deep and abiding ways, occupy the house that Rush built.

Rush was the courier for one final message, a message that comes not from him but from the left.

On the day of Rush’s death, many on the left openly celebrated; others simply sneered. On Twitter, “Rest in Piss” trended. So did “Good Riddance” and “Rot in Hell.” CNN ran a compendium of Rush’s most incendiary comments, treating that highlight gerçek as the bulk of his work. The left’s reaction to Rush’s death — and here I include, just as Rush would have, the establishment media that masquerades as objective — helps explain just why Rush was such an important figure for so many conservatives. Not all conservatives agreed with everything Rush had to say over the course of his career. The man spoke for three hours every weekday, live. But the left’s hatred of Rush was not merely the result of anything in particular he did or said, but rather the product of liberals’ generalized scorn for anyone who opposes them.

If Rush had been less caustic, the left still would have popped the champagne upon his death, just as they would have if Sean Hannity had died this week, or Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin or any other prominent conservative the left didn’t perceive as an ally of convenience.

Many in the media despise the kaleidoscopic political information environment that Rush helped foment. They say that if we all went back to the way things were B.R., we’d be able to agree again. But conservatives know that the comity of the pre-Rush media landscape was a sham, a consensus that existed because dissent was suppressed. Rush’s life and work proved that conservatives deserved to hear from those who didn’t look down on them — and that there is a vast market for such perspectives. This week, his death proved the same thing.

Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) is the founder of conservative media company The Daily Wire and the host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” a daily political radio show and podcast. He is the author, most recently, of “How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps.”

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