On August 1, radio personality Rush Limbaugh celebrated his 20th anniversary on the air. There was much fanfare and many accolades from the "National Review" end of the conservative movement and even some liberals were unafraid on that day to congratulate the host on his show's anniversary.
Rush Limbaugh has certainly had an entertaining program. I recall vividly my elementary school days, being home sick, and getting to hear hilarious spoofs via talented comedian Paul Shanklin. Together they managed to skewer Bill Clinton and present the man as an utter buffoon. People, even very young ones, became acclimated to conservative thinking in an entertaining forum. Even the man's short-lived television program captured the humor that made him such a success on the radio.
With the semi-retirement from public life of the late William F. Buckley in 1999 and the final presidential run of Patrick J. Buchanan in 2000, Rush Limbaugh became the de facto purveyor of conservatism. His name was the one most synonymous with right wing orthodoxy and he gladly accepted.
The anniversary event also provided an opportunity to think about what Rush Limbaugh has meant to the conservative movement itself. Has he been good as a whole or has he been counterproductive? Did he inject life into the movement or dumb it down? For his millions of listeners, he is and continues to be an alternative to the liberal statism found across the networks and cable news channels. However, as he was once a solid voice for conservatism, he has also become a notorious defender of the Republican Party.
As noted earlier about the downfall of "National Review," Rush Limbaugh can expound on the free market and limited government with the best of them. Unfortunately most of that heads for the backburner when the partisan bullets start to fly. Whereas Mr. Limbaugh might wag his nicotine-stained finger at liberals for wanting to expand government, he constantly maintains silence against President George W. Bush who has expanded the federal government moreso than Lyndon B. Johnson. Calls for the "real conservatives" to come out tend to ring hollow when Republicans commit the same atrocities as Democrats but do not get any of the blame.
Mr. Limbaugh could dedicate more time to explaining why he continually supports a man who in 2000 ran as a conservative and consistently compiles a record that is embarrassingly liberal. The president has assumed regal controls over the military by taking the country to war in foreign lands without an official declaration of war. Yet, el Rushbo never spoke out against it and helped to pound the nation's war drums.
Is there anything wrong with supporting a war? Not if it is justifiable and defensive in nature. After all, I am neither a pacifist nor a reflexive antiwar protestor. But even Mr. Limbaugh has to know that war can be used as an excuse to expand the state's powers. As Randolph Bourne said, "War is the health of the state." When the nation marches off to war, the government takes more control of the internals of the country. PATRIOT Act and wiretapping, anyone?
One of the hallmarks of American conservative thought is skepticism of the government. Conservatives are not to be fooled by thinking that the government actually works for them, but that the government taxes its citizenry in order to fund their own ill-conceived ventures, whether they be at home or overseas. Unfortunately, Mr. Limbaugh was arguably the ablest defender of the Bush administration, which has left the conservative movement in utter ruins. Mr. Limbaugh, and many others along with him, railed against the Democrats and their big government schemes, but somehow managed to miss the majority of the Republicans' similar failings. Is this what the conservative movement became? Defenders of the party line instead of defenders of their principles?
The Republican Party is in shambles. There is desolation everywhere one looks. President Bush took the country off to two wars that could not be won and has the military stretched to the point of breaking. He cut taxes but spent like a madman. The dollar has been bankrupted and the man who campaigned as a conservative in 2000 had every opportunity to end the senseless slaughter of innocents and did nothing. The damage is so severe that Republicans may be out of power for a generation and movement conservatives bear much responsibility for what has come to pass. For they were the most ardent partisan supporters of a Republican president who was not the least bit conservative.
For all the joy and relief that Rush Limbaugh has brought to millions of listeners (including myself) over the past 20 years, there is still another side that has to be told. Mr. Limbaugh enthusiastically attached himself to the man who wrecked the party and the movement they purported to represent. Mr. Limbaugh is talented, hard-working, and entertaining. But he is also a shadow of his former self.