There’s a lot of “ding dong the witch is dead” right now over the news of Rush Limbaugh’s death. And rightly so.
I remember the first time I heard him, it was in my mom’s car. I had come home from the University of Iowa, where I was studying english and writing at the time. My mom thought he was hilarious, which you have to acknowledge was part of his charm and allure. However, I was completely horrified at the things he said wrapped up in that mocking, biting humor and I was completely unprepared for how he was going to lead a massive change in how our society perceives itself.
At the time, U of I had rhetoric as a required class for freshmen and Reagan had just repealed the Fairness Doctrine. This became a focal point for our class – how does the regulation of public speech affect the public? What happens to free speech when you remove requirements or guidance for public interest broadcasting to be truthful and balanced? What happens in a society when lies can be substituted for truth and viciously attacking those who disagree with you becomes entertainment? We were about to find out with the advent of Limbaugh.
Limbaugh was the first pundit to truly push what was acceptable on radio and in public commentary in the new Reagan era of an unaccountable, unrestricted media. And then to watch it unfold in front of me that afternoon riding with my mom was truly weird. This was the case with both of my parents, both well educated and relatively fair minded people, they became entranced with his act. It was the first time that I saw how powerful media can be in influencing people. The obvious lies he peddled that they believed because he made them entertaining. The outright racism that he dressed up in humor and made acceptable. The mocking of basic decency every time he opened his mouth. He encouraged hate and reveled in vileness, all to ‘own’ the libs.
Our media landscape is poorer, more reactionary, and lie infested because Rush Limbaugh helped pave the way. He was an awful person who did awful things to our society. It was with great pleasure that I read his obituary.