By Eric Sammons
Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. He is the author, most recently, of The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did (Catholic Answers, 2017).
Although it was 16 years ago, I remember it vividly. I was driving down I-270 in Maryland toward Washington, DC, listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. This was unusual for me, because my work didn’t allow me to be driving very often during his noon–3 PM time slot. At this time the Terri Shiavo tragedy was playing out, with what seemed like the whole country following the sad story of this young woman slowly being killed by her husband and the medical establishment, with the media cheering them on.
Rush, however, was having none of it. After first giving an airtight argument for the protection of Shiavo, he launched into a passionate defense of all life, especially the life of those most vulnerable. Rush’s case for life went far beyond the standard fare political conservative argument; it was something reminiscent of Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa.
I don’t remember his exact words anymore, but I do remember thinking at the time that it was the most eloquent defense of life I had ever heard. At this time I had been deeply involved in pro-life work for more than a decade, so I had heard many great pro-life speeches, but none were as good as Rush’s off-the-cuff radio remarks.
I also remember realizing that at the same time Rush was fighting for Terri Shiavo, the poor woman’s own bishop refused to defend her. It was quite the dichotomy: at the time Rush was a thrice-married divorcé who wasn’t outwardly religious in any formal sense, yet he seemed better able to grasp and express the dignity of all human life than a Catholic bishop.
Most of Rush’s listeners likely have similar stories of times that Rush articulated something in the back of one’s mind but not fully formed. I began listening to Rush in 1992, during the Bush/Clinton campaign (that’s George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, for you youngsters out there). It’s hard to express now how revolutionary Rush was then. Mainstream media wasn’t just mainstream, it was the only stream. This was pre-Fox News, even pre-Internet. Every media outlet read from the same script, and that script was soft Leftism; not today’s in-your-face Leftism, but the implied, condescending “all reasonable people think this way” Leftism that presents a certain view of the news as the only possible view. Conservatives listened to the news and heard a constant low drumbeat of denegrations and attacks directed at what they held dear.
Rush destroyed all that. He was immensely talented at his job—or he’d never have broken through the brick ceiling imposed on conservatives in the media in those days. Yet what made him stand out was that he said what millions of people were thinking but were afraid, or didn’t have the platform, to say. As he gave a voice to the conservative voiceless, he became massively successful, and that success was well earned.
I was never a regular Rush listener. During the 1990’s and 2000’s when I was in the car during his time slot I’d usually tune in, perhaps a couple times a month. In recent years I even stopped doing that. My politics became less Republican and more libertarian, podcasts became my medium of choice in the car, and I didn’t care for his enthusiastic embrace of Donald Trump in 2016.
Yet when someone attacked Rush, I bristled. I took it personally. Even though I disagreed with his politics at times, I always considered myself on his side. He was an important voice, one the Left was desperate to silence. I always defended Rush, even when I disagreed with him. I understood how important he was in advancing conservative values. Blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity later pretended to be like Rush, but they had not the talent, temperament, nor intelligence to compare with the original. Unlike them, Rush was necessary in the national conversation.
Now his voice is finally silent. I don’t know his eternal fate of course. He wasn’t Catholic, and his checkered marriage history shows he didn’t always follow God’s Law. Yet I believe one thing: when he went to meet his Maker, I’m sure that Terri Shiavo made her way to Rush’s side and said to our Lord, “Have mercy on him, Lord, for he defended my life when even your shepherds did not.”
Rest in peace, Rush. We’ll miss you.