There’s no need to belabor the point about the media’s coverage of the death of Rush Limbaugh, which was as predictable as the death itself after his diagnosis with stage 4 cancer just over a year ago.
Here’s the lead paragraph of Marc Fisher’s obituary for The Washington Post: “Rush Limbaugh, who deployed comic bombast and relentless bashing of liberals, feminists and environmentalists to become the nation’s most popular radio talk-show host and lead the Republican Party into a politics of anger and obstruction, died Feb. 17 at 70.”
Once upon a time, if an obituarist felt it necessary to criticize his subject at all, the criticism, placed near the end of the article, would be muted and couched in euphemisms. Of a notorious womanizer, he might write that “marriage was no impediment to his gallantry,” or of a drunk or a gourmand that “he enjoyed the convivial pleasures of the table.”
Now the criticism is put up front, at least for anyone on the wrong side of the Post’s brand of politics, as if it and not the broader significance of the subject’s life were the point of noticing his passing at all.
John F. Harris writes a column in Politico under the rubric of “Altitude”—because of the Olympian heights from which it purports to be written down to lesser mortals. His notice of Rush’s passing says it all: “Let’s briefly praise Rush Limbaugh—then bury him forever.”
Cancel culture, in other words, has gone posthumous—which I guess makes about as much sense as impeaching President Donald Trump after he had left office.
There’s a certain irony, however, in Fisher’s faulting of Limbaugh for his “politics of anger.” I’ve never met Fisher and so, although he seems to me to be pretty angry himself, I would be reluctant to characterize him that way. But I have met Limbaugh, when I interviewed him for National Review’s cover story on him as “Leader of the Opposition” back in 1993. I don’t think I have ever encountered a more good-humored, less angry man.
He seemed to me, in fact, to be the original of Wordsworth’s “Happy Warrior”—which was all the more remarkable given the virulent hatred that, even then, he always seemed to inspire in his enemies. He never stooped to hating them back in order to feed his anger—because he never had any anger to feed.
Of course, you can see how angry such generosity of spirit could and did make them.
I think that what was true of Trump was also true of Limbaugh: that the left and the media looked at both men and could see only themselves reflected back; it was “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass” (as Oscar Wilde put it).
All their own anger and resentment and sense of grievance (“The radio host represented the aggrieved soul of the right for a generation,” claims the subhead of Harris’s article) was their own, projected onto him, not his.
Perhaps the best example of this kind of projection is to be found in the charge of “divisiveness.” The team of obituarists (Robert D. McFadden and Michael M. Grynbaum) employed by The New York Times to do what they regard as justice to Limbaugh put it prominently in their first paragraph, which refers to “the right-wing radio megastar whose slashing, divisive style of mockery and grievance reshaped American conservatism”—not to mention his “denigrating Democrats, environmentalists, ‘feminazis’ (his term) and other liberals while presaging the rise of Donald J. Trump.”
Heavy charges indeed! But “divisive”? For criticizing those who criticized him? I was reminded of the CNN report last July 4 that characterized Trump’s Independence Day speech at Mt. Rushmore calling for a revival of U.S. patriotism, in opposition to those seeking “to divide our citizens by race or background” as being itself just “another deeply divisive speech” that sought, precisely, “to deepen racial and cultural divisions in America.”
Excuse me? How is it again that a call for patriotic unity against the divisive exploiters of racial grievances is itself a divisive exploitation of racial grievances?
But the media, in pointing to the mote that’s in the eye of a Trump or a Limbaugh, somehow never manage to spot the beam that is in their own. I think they must have lost their sense of irony at about the same time they forgot how to write a civil, well-mannered, and informative obituary.
I venture to offer them this hint in the final lines of Wordsworth’s poem, mentioned above, in praise of the man who
“Plays, in the many games of life, that one
Where what he most doth value must be won:
Whom neither shape or danger can dismay,
Nor thought of tender happiness betray;
Who, not content that former worth stand fast,
Looks forward, persevering to the last,
From well to better, daily self-surpast:
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name —
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
That every man in arms should wish to be.”
No dead, unprofitable name is that of Rush Limbaugh, however much the likes of John F. Harris might wish that it were so.
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.