Rush Limbaugh gave us Fox News and the Tea Party: How his conservative media revolution wrecked Washington for good

In a new piece, Limbaugh extols his own legacy, blames Dems for DC dysfunction. Here's why that's rich

Published November 5, 2015 4:33PM (EST)

  (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)
(Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

Rush Limbaugh penned a column for the National Review yesterday. The piece is a kind of origins story, with Rush explaining – in characteristically self-congratulatory style – how he was just a humble entertainer looking to revolutionize the radio industry and moderate political discourse:

When I arrived in New York City 28 years ago to begin my national radio program, my objective was to have the most-listened-to show in the country. At that time, the national broadcast media included three television networks and CNN. That was it…No one had ever succeeded in syndicating a national daytime radio show, and I was predicted to fail, too.

You see, Rush wasn’t just a trailblazer, he was a much-needed counterbalance to the liberal mainstream media.

“I was the only conservative voice in national broadcast media,” he writes. So if you thought Rush was just a self-serving blowhard, a man choking the airwaves with his vapid and offensive commentary, well, you’re wrong. And if you thought Rush was deliberately poisoning the discourse by exploiting conservative angst for profit, you’re also wrong. Rush had higher intentions.

He wanted to engage serious conservatives in this country. And in the process, he says, he happened to launch a conservative-media revolution: “Today, there are more than 2,500 stations doing talk radio, the vast majority of which lean conservative. There is Fox News...There is the conservative blogosphere, and there are more conservative websites than you can count.” Rush built that. He made it possible.

What’s the greatest consequence of Rush’s noble mission, you ask? Obviously it’s “been the destruction of the Left’s national-media monopoly.” Before his revolution, Rush writes, the media was covertly biased. Now, however, the liberal media (which presumably includes everything but Fox and right-wing blogs and talk radio) has been forced “to abandon any pretense of objectivity and fairness and actively advocate on the Left’s behalf. This has led in turn to the hyper-partisan nature of our politics today [emphasis added].”

Read that last part again. Rush claims, on the one hand, that he launched a conservative-media revolution in this country, a revolution that changed the political landscape and inflamed partisan rivalries, and on the other hand he says it’s the leftist media that is responsible for “the hyper-partisan nature of our politics today.” Rush then added, “It is not I, nor anyone else in conservatism, who is to blame for the partisanship in Washington. That is on the Democrats and the Left.”

Even for an un-self-aware hack like Limbaugh, this is remarkably dishonest. Rush is the titular leader of the “conservative-media revolution,” which, in the last decade or so, has hijacked the Republican Party and made it almost impossible to govern. And that’s because Fox News and conservative media have created a closed epistemic bubble for Republican voters. GOP politicians are now constrained by a constituency whose political education consists entirely of talking points and absolutist narratives spun by people like Rush Limbaugh.

And the notion that all the vitriol and hyper-partisanship stems from the liberal media is absurd. The majority of the venom spewed on radio and TV comes from the right, and Limbaugh is a prime offender. Here are just a few highlights:

  • “We have a president of the country who’s comfortable with suffering. It benefits him politically. We have a president who’s comfortable with the pain his policies…are inflicting.”
  • “They may never get there, but the Republicans are going to have to realize that if they are to prevail, they are going to have to engage in a political fight that results in the defeat of the Democrat Party — not bipartisanship.”
  •  “Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.”
  • “If you feed them, if you feed the children, three square meals a day during the school year, how can you expect them to feed themselves in the summer? Wanton little waifs and serfs dependent on the State. Pure and simple.”
  • “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.”
  • “Let’s say we discover the gene that says the kid’s gonna be gay. How many parents, if they knew before the kid was gonna be born, [that he] was gonna be gay, they would take the pregnancy to term? Well, you don’t know but let’s say half of them said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t wanna do that to a kid.’ [Then the] gay community finds out about this. The gay community would do the fastest 180 and become pro-life faster than anybody you’ve ever seen. … They’d be so against abortion if it was discovered that you could abort what you knew were gonna be gay babies.”
  • “Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”
  •  “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”
  • “Some people are self-starters, and some people are born lazy. Some people are born victims. Some people are just born to be slaves. Some people are born to put up with somebody else making every decision for them.”

Rush’s list of offenses is too long to catalogue, but this is a snapshot of the sort of garbage you hear on his program every day, for the last 28 years. And he has millions of listeners who take their cues from him and vote on the basis of his false claims. He’s also inspired other political entrepreneurs to do the same. This is the disingenuous bullshit that has helped create the “hyper-partisan” climate we see today, not CNN or NPR or NBC.

This is Rush’s legacy, and no one should let him forget that.

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By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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