Even without listening, US lives in Limbaugh’s media world

FILE - This Nov. 5, 2018 file photo shows radio personality Rush Limbaugh introducing President Donald Trump at the start of a campaign rally in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Limbaugh, the talk radio host who became the voice of American conservatism, has died. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

I didn’t listen to Rush Limbaugh much. But his voice both reverberated around me and penetrated me like the radio waves he rode on, having influenced the people who’ve influenced me.

One such friend eagerly admits Limbaugh — and the boss who shared Limbaugh’s show on the office radio — changed her from a quintessential northeastern liberal to a rock-ribbed conservative. Though she admits it took time for Limbaugh’s insights to seep through his tart verbiage.

“My liberal ears would get so offended,” my friend Pat VanHooser, a former Kansas City resident, told me. But then the logic took hold. And she looked around the small business she worked in. “I saw the ridiculous regulation, the crushing HR rules and the heavy-handed interference of the federal government on good people like us who were trying to provide a service and make a profit. Part of this was providing good jobs and giving back to our community. And every day Rush would point out exactly what I was seeing for myself.

“I became a conservative.”

The talk titan from Cape Girardeau, Mo., with deep Kansas City ties had that effect on many.

At the very least, what he did was remind a lot of us that we’re not alone — and, in fact, that we’re not deplorable after all — in our love for this country and in our growing concern for its future. Particularly in the face of a strangely fashionable disregard for our borders, our rule of law, our founding principles and our overwhelmingly benevolent nature.

And while not a devoted “dittohead” Limbaugh fan myself — his acerbic style just wasn’t my favorite — many of the people I love and who love me were. They are hurting today, after his passing from lung cancer at 70. And with few stalwarts now there to give voice to their beliefs, at least on the national scene, they’re struggling to find oxygen in a vacuum of conservative leadership.

With the crash and burn of the Donald Trump presidency at the still-smoldering Capitol riot, it seems an especially bad time for Limbaugh’s voice of commonsense conservatism to be silenced forever.

I agree with my conservative friends who condemn the cult of personality that has all but taken over American politics. But movements don’t move without leaders. And American conservatism is in desperate need of leaders with broad reach and appeal.

It’s not enough to hold strong beliefs — or even to be right. You also have to sell those views to others. As one who shares many of the beliefs of my conservative friends, I don’t mind saying that conservatism has done a pretty poor job of selling itself, particularly to the young. Even Limbaugh, despite radio’s biggest audience in history and his ability to convert listeners, was unable to win them over.

The depth of love for Rush Limbaugh, just among my own circle of friends, is immeasurable. “The day the music died,” one wrote on my Facebook page. “I loved Rush as an old friend. His wit, wisdom and words of encouragement got me through decades of devolution into liberal madness,” said another. “He loved America, believed in the American people and their ability to achieve the American dream through rugged individualism,” said a friend who is an immigrant.

Kansas City’s KCMO conservative radio host Pete Mundo was introduced to Limbaugh’s oversized influence when he moved from sports talk to news talk.

“Rush Limbaugh’s love for America and ability to explain conservatism, rather than the media’s interpretation, taught me so much, and will remain part of his legacy for generations to come,” Mundo said.

“The passing of this great American is breaking my heart,” said VanHooser. “His impact on my life can’t be overstated and I never even met the man. I was a convert and will be until I die.”

For the conservative friends and loved ones in your own life, the word “void” doesn’t quite capture Limbaugh’s absence.

But voids long to be filled, and this one must be, if America is to retain any semblance of ideological balance.

© 2021 Kansas City Star

Michael Ryan is a columnist for The Kansas City Star.