Don’t Hate Rush Limbaugh. Copy Him.

Rush Limbaugh died from lung cancer after denying smoking's risk. Why'd he believe his lie?

           My death will make some people giddy with joy. That’s cool. I like to make people happy.

            In the unlikely event that I’m  somehow able to witness the gleeful grins and chortles of those who savor the sweet news of my demise, I hope that whatever is left of me on the astral whatever will remain sufficiently objective to recognize the fundamental fairness of the celebrants’ reaction.

After all, criticizing the dead is one of my things. Rejecting the traditional maudlin obituary cartoon format that depicts every boldface name showing up at the pearly gates to check in with Saint Peter — why are American political cartoonists so certain that the next world will be configured in accordance with Christianity? — I have occasionally acquired notoriety by publishing critical observations about such dearly departed figures as Ronald Reagan, Jerry Garcia and other politicians and celebrities whose life stories I believed to have benefited from grade inflation.

I have my take on Jimmy Carter ready to go. Let everyone else dwell on Habitat for Humanity; I’ll remind mourning lefties of draft registration, Afghanistan, the Moscow Olympics and setting the stage for the 1980s defense buildup. Also, he was the first Democratic president not to propose an anti-poverty program because apparently no one is poor anymore.

I didn’t know Rush Limbaugh but I used to do talk radio so I know some people who did. Based on what I heard I have to think he would have held an analogous opinion on the clinking of champagne glasses in Berkeley and the Upper West Side that followed news of his passing. He would have been pleased. What he wanted, what we who express opinions for a living all want, was to be heard and reacted to.

They say Limbaugh was actually pretty sweet. He just said mean things on the radio. “What is sad is that such an imbecile and such an ignoramus ends up as a prominent cartoonist in major newspapers,” he said about me, and who knows? Maybe he was right. Perhaps he would have been courteous in person. I’m just happy he noticed my work.

            I speak ill of humans who are no longer breathing, famously and infamously so. The typical response to body-still-warm criticism is that it’s too soon, let the family and friends mourn, cold-blooded assessments of a life well-lived or not so much should await some unspecified future moment. That’s dumb. There will never be a more perfect time to judge a person’s achievements and failings than the hours following a man or woman’s demise. Years later, when it’s appropriate, who will care?

            Limbaugh gave as good as he got, usually better, and if anyone is above criticism it’s not him. But much of the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead rhetoric on Twitter and various op-ed pages goes beyond celebrating the death of a formidable adversary, which Limbaugh surely was to anyone on the left. It conflates political disagreement with moral judgment.

            Declaring someone to be immoral because you don’t like their opinions is intellectually dishonest. Hate Limbaugh, hate Hillary Clinton, hate me, but judge our moral lives by the way we lived, not whether or not you agree with us. I hate it when readers tell me that I drew a good cartoon simply because they agree with its point of view; some of the best cartoons I have ever read expressed politics that I despise.

            What really galled liberals about Limbaugh was his success, his incredible effectiveness. Imagine, though it’s scarcely possible, the progressive analog of the man who singlehandedly revolutionized talk radio. You could drive hundreds of miles across highways where Limbaugh’s voice was the only one on the dial, only to reappear on the next local station as the old one faded out. He brilliantly exploited dead air and an unusual-for-radio voice with hilarious bombast with tongue planted firmly in cheek whether his dittoheads knew it or not.

Though he wound up his career as a fairly rote Trump Republican, Limbaugh first made his mark as a conservative who criticized the GOP for failing to live up to the right-wing values he articulated and held them to account. He mobilized an army. As much as Buchanan, Reagan and Trump, he defined the ideological and attitudinal contours of today’s emboldened Republican Party. Had Al Franken managed to guide the benighted Air America — take a sec to Google it — to similar heights, Democrats would have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and Bernie Sanders would be beginning his second term. Who knows how many economic sectors would be nationalized by now?

            What if Al Franken or Rachel Maddow (who got her start on Air America) dominated 15 hours a week of top-rated radio in every single market, and hundreds and hundreds of stations, for decades before succumbing to lung cancer? What if they had succeeded in pushing the 50-yard line of politics as far left as Limbaugh did to the right? It is a safe bet that, if such criticism could credibly apply, no Democrat would take note of Franken or Maddow’s marital problems, substance abuse, intemperate language, cigar danger denialism or alleged egotism. They might even pick up, as Limbaugh did from Trump in an episode that enraged liberals, a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden.

            About Limbaugh’s supposed egotism: I am endlessly amazed by Americans’ inability to recognize humor expressed by a partisan expressing an opposing political point of view. Limbaugh “once introduced himself with a pomposity and self-aggrandizement that, to this day, takes the breath away,” Colbert I. King writes in the Washington Post: “This is Rush Limbaugh, the most dangerous man in America, with the largest hypothalamus in North America, serving humanity simply by opening my mouth, destined for my own wing in the Museum of American Broadcasting, executing everything I do flawlessly with zero mistakes, doing this show with half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair, because I have talent on loan from God.”

Note to King: this is a joke. It’s so much of a joke that even if he meant every single word, it transcended the artist’s original meaning to become a joke he never intended. Seriously, though, take it from this leftist. It’s like that time Donald Trump asked the Russians to look for Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. It was a joke, everyone knew it was a joke, and Democrats looked stupid for pretending it wasn’t or, worse, not recognizing it.

            Go ahead, hate Rush. But it would be smarter for lefties to copy him.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)



  • “Go ahead, hate Rush. But it would be smarter for lefties copy him.” Smarter still for them to surpass him.

    Limbaugh excelled at spending a long time saying nothing. “ ‘What is sad is that such an imbecile and such an ignoramus ends up as a prominent cartoonist in major newspapers,’ he said about me, and who knows? Maybe he was right.” He’s using fancy words because, golly, saying you’re an idiot just doesn’t have any zing. But if you’re such an imbecile, why didn’t he have you on his show? Who wouldn’t tune in to hear that? Limbaugh knew his level and never went above it. But when you’re the only ice cream truck in town, all the kids come running, even if you only have barf-flavored cones with rainbow sprinkles.

    “What really galled liberals about Limbaugh was his success.” To lift a line from Charles Emerson Winchester III, Limbaugh was “the finest ballerina in all of Galveston, Texas.” You can’t picture the progressive analog because the centrists and their enablers are self-eunuching. LOOK AT THE LEFT! The lefties think the “Fight for $15” was a victory. In the middle of a global pandemic, with hundreds of thousands dead and tens of millions unemployed (and thus without health insurance), the LEFT still voted for the primary candidate who promised to veto Single Payer if it ever got to his desk. This is like bragging about beating your 7-year-old niece (the one who lost her legs in a knife fight) in the 100-yard dash after you kick her in the head when the starter’s pistol goes off. Limbaugh succeeded because the opposition sucked.

    “Limbaugh first made his mark as a conservative who criticized the GOP for failing to live up to the right-wing values he articulated and held them to account. He mobilized an army.” Tighten that up: “LImbaugh … held them to account and mobilized an army.” That’s why he was successful. It’s the same tactic Trump used to win, and the same tactic he’ll use to get re-elected.

    • “Limbaugh knew his level and never went above it.” The secret of wisdom right there.

  • Agreed one hundred per cent. Especially re: Liberal Americans and humour. It never ceases to baffle me how little they understand humour – or how they pretend not to understand it. Perhaps because noticing a joke you shouldn’t like makes you a Bad Person, though one would think it would be possible to notice it and still disapprove without it being a grievous moral failing on your part. I loathe Russian Liberals (AKA Reaganite Republican wannabes) a lot more than I do the Americans, but they don’t seem to suffer from that disability.

    EDIT: Non-partisan-political case in point. I recently chanced across this 2015 note on why one of your newspapers would no longer run a certain comic: Their overall reasoning as expressed here strikes me as fair – don’t like it, don’t run it. But they go on to describe the author’s work as “punching down” or else expressing “ironic sexism”, joking about politically incorrect jokes. Whereas to me it seems pretty clear that it is crude and absurd humour taking a swing in every which way, rather than setting out to mock any group in particular – let alone ironising about anything. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if not, how could they not get it? It’s like they’re in a whole other universe, at least on that topic.

  • Excellent Obit/Tribute column for the late Mr Rush.

  • To better understand the “left” media “Limbaugh-gap,” I recommend a recent podcast @ the Ralph Nader Radio hour, entitled “Why So Little Progressive Radio?” at the following link:

  • As a long time fan of the Grateful Dead and thus Jerry Garcia. more fundamentally still, psychedelics, I wish Ted would have linked to his criticism of Garcia that he alludes to. I’ve heard dispiriting stories about Jerry in the end was hopelessly hooked on heroin, forgetting the lyrics, morose and withdrawn, belligerently ordering people who knocked on his hotel room door away, and stumbling along in the songs on stage. He’s still one of the greatest guitarists I ever heard. I would have liked to know the nuanced judgment of an authoritative voice.

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