Oprah. Elvis. Beyoncé. There’s a small number of people who are so famous and so important in their fields that you know them by their first name alone. So it was with Rush.
Rush Limbaugh, who died Wednesday of complications from cancer at age 70, was one of the most important media figures of the past quarter century. Setting aside his conservative ideology for a moment, he singlehandedly reinvented how radio was used to discuss politics. Before Limbaugh, radio personalities were almost entirely disc jockeys known for their banter while spinning tunes. After Limbaugh, the radio star was a political maestro, promulgating his or her views on truth, justice and the American Way for millions of devoted listeners.
He discovered that many people didn’t want their politics served nicely on a china platter, with a smattering of ideological courses served for edified sampling. They wanted the political equivalent of backyard barbecue, served smoking hot straight from the grill with the chef’s heavy sauces. Moderating qualifiers such as “perhaps,” “on the other hand,” or “it’s just too soon to say” were not regular vocabulary in his airtime. For hours every day, Limbaugh’s self-described “dittoheads” — the listeners who would call in just to say “Ditto!” — knew exactly what he thought on every issue known to mankind.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.