By Dave Simpson, columnist
It was September of 1988 when I first started listening, which makes me a “lifer.”
It was at a riverfront park in Pekin, Illinois, and the voice I heard on an FM radio station from Morton, Illinois, was something new and different – a conservative.
For the next 32 years I would tune in to the Rush Limbaugh Show just about every weekday. Finally, someone was saying things I believed. Finally, there was another viewpoint being voiced than those of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings.
In all the years I’ve been listening, I have never written in this column that I was a regular listener to Rush Limbaugh. I was making enough enemies on my own with my newspaper columns without running off the folks who couldn’t stand Rush. So I never mentioned it.
There were good reasons. There have only been two people during my lifetime who could set folks off pretty much instantaneously – Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh.
Years ago, an old friend told me he would never listen to Limbaugh, and he couldn’t stand him. I wondered how he knew he couldn’t stand him if he had never listened to him. But that’s the way it was. Saying you listened to Rush Limbaugh was all some folks needed to hear, and any regard for you went right out the window.
In the early 1990s, when Limbaugh came to Peoria on his “Rush to Excellence Tour,” my wife, two friends from work, and I were in attendance at the crowded venue. Stories in the regional paper about Limbaugh coming to town were not kind, hinting that those who attended were an odd, unsophisticated bunch.
Afterward, we went out to a restaurant in Peoria, and got into an ugly debate over abortion, a topic the pro-life Limbaugh had talked about earlier. That was the last time I ever debated abortion with anyone.
Come to think of it, discussing abortion is kind of like mentioning Limbaugh or Trump – an instant conversation stopper, or argument starter. And nobody changes their mind.
I’m not a “ditto head,” or a “mind-numbed robot,” as listeners were often called. I didn’t always agree with Rush. And he admitted that, like every one of us, there were things he would have done differently, if given the chance to do them over. His stumbles along the way were meticulously recounted by a media that was pretty uniformly hostile.
But, he was always interesting to listen to, and millions of us did.
Some people didn’t like his showman bluster about having “talent on loan from God,” and being able to debate issues “with one half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair.” Others saw red when he made fun of liberals and the failure of programs and policies they hold dear. His unabashed patriotism and enthusiasm for this country no doubt enraged those who think we’re everything that’s wrong with the world.
I noticed over the years that I would often hear stories in the news that were talked about a week or more earlier on the Limbaugh show.
There are many folks in this country – at least 20 million who listened to Rush, 74 million who voted for Trump – who are wondering today why it is so controversial to want a government that isn’t running up catastrophic debt, to want a government that controls its borders, that lives up to the promises of freedom of speech and religion, that won’t confiscate our guns, that does its best to foster an economy in which everyone can succeed, and believes that government governs best when it governs least.
What’s so hateful about those things?
Rush Limbaugh died last week from complications related to lung cancer. Who will take his place? I don’t think anyone can, But we have to remain as optimistic about the future of this great country as Rush was.
So there you have it. I was a devout Rush fan. The haters can say what they please. They always do.
I never met Rush Limbaugh, but I will say here what I have heard many say in the last week:
l feel like I’ve lost one of my best friends.