As a reader, reviewer, and occasional writer of fiction, I have become familiar with the term “shocking but inevitable” when describing a plot twist or an ending. All the clues were there that the event, or something like it, would happen, and yet when it does, we still taken off guard, whether from denial or from misinterpreting the signs or from being too caught up in the flow of events to pay attention.
And so, the news or Rush’s passing should have shocked no one, and it did not shock me, as such, the way Andrew Breitbart’s untimely death had some years ago. How could it? We all have known for a year about his terminal illness followed the updates on the treatments, watched the hope for recovery fade, and accepted that every day Rush was on the air might be his last.
Nor should a death of a seventy-year-old who had lived a profoundly meaningful life and achieved professional, financial, and at least from the outside appearances, personal fulfillment, be considered anything but a natural course of events, to be met with a quiet nod of acknowledgement of human mortality, including our own.
And yet, I have been feeling off-kilter ever since, more than usual, which is quite something during the period of time in our history when practically nothing and no one is steady and normal in the traditional sense of the word.
I’ve read several tributes from people I respect, and inevitable attacks from those who only confirmed themselves to be unworthy–not even foes because that word implies a measure of honor. I’ve reminisced of my years as a fan going back to my first “real” job as an assistant at a printer shop, listening to the radio, fascinated by the voice I instinctively knew was different from the rest, even if my still limited English prevented complete understanding. I joked with my husband, also a fan (thanks to me), about the time we were in the audience of Rush’s TV show, and he briefly appeared on camera with a dreamy smile on his face from listening to Rush describe a particularly delicious cut of steak. He received calls from a few of his students who saw him on TV, and in those days it was all in good fun, and did not get him cancelled as it would have today. Even our children, now with views of their own, not quite as in line with ours as we would have liked, shared our sense of loss. Much of their childhood was spent with the Rush show in the background, and all of them are aware of the origin of the unusually bright-colored ties in their father’s closet. A period of our lives had come to a close, and knowing that millions of Rush’s fans have gone through a version of the same process should make it easier t bear, and it almost does. Almost.
All of the above kept me from organizing my thoughts until now, from seeing the true source of my unease and profound sadness. I think I finally understand what it is.
What made Rush so successful is the same reason he is irreplaceable. His unique combination of wit, intellect and unshakeable conviction made him into a one-stop recharge station-slash-sanity check for many of us on the loosely defined “Right.” It’s not that, as Rush used to quip, he told us what to think. But he did provide consistent analysis from a certain perspective, and did it accessibly, with kindness and respect towards the listener, as a patient teacher…
… Or as a father.
Rush Limbaugh, a man who had no children of his own, was nevertheless a great patriarch of the pro-American, pro-liberty, pro-human dignity movement.
Much as I miss Rush, this realization gave focus to my generalized sadness, and it also gave me peace. It is not a job of a patriarch (or any leader with a large following) to “finish” his life’s work or establish a singe successor, much less one biologically related. What is important for a lasting, meaningful legacy is to give those left behind both motivation and the tools to continue, while staying united in their purpose. Rush has accomplished all three, brilliantly.
Sure, we have our work cut out for us, but it keeps us from becoming complacent and relying on someone else to step up. Just like financial wealth needs upkeep, so does intellectual and spiritual legacy, and even more so because it’s not something that can be stashed in a bank earning compound interest. Freedom lovers made this mistake once, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, thinking that the threat of totalitarianism had gone forever, and can not, will not make it ever again.
There will never be another Rush, but his influence can be seen in the new generation of conservative voices, now successful in their own right. The anti-elitist common sense and relatability of Sean Hannity, Mark Steyn’s unfailing sense of humor, Tucker Carlson’s fearless intellectualism, Mark Levin’s superb analytical skills–all qualities necessary to carry on a successful movement live on present in his younger successors, just like the traits of biological parents manifest in varied manner in their children.
And then there is the rest of us, millions of Dittoheads, all inspired by his example, united not only in admiration for one man’s accomplishments but in knowledge that success is possible, even now, as we enter what is likely to be one of the darker periods of this country’s history. The iconic greeting of “Dittos, Rush!” has never meant “I agree with everything you say” but “I love your work. Please never stop.”
This is our chance to make those words ring true, as we come to terms with Rush’s passing. It is the time to make sure his work never stops even if he is no longer here to do it.
Mourn the man, but celebrate his life. Build on his work, and make him proud.
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