Rush in the arena

Rush Limbaugh, who died Wednesday at 70, was, to liberals, leftists and maybe to a good number of people in the political center, an agitator and showman at best, and, at worst, a lout, a loudmouth and a demagogue.

But to many conservative Americans, libertarians, populists and just plain folks who are tired of being told what to think and how to say what they think or feel, he was a hero. He was a truth-teller. He spoke truth to the power of the dominant media and academic culture.

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And not only was he fearless. Not only was he uncrushable. He was funny. His one-liners went to the heart of the hypocrisy and rubbish he perceived in American life.

He said, for example, that the reason we have a Second Amendment is in case the First Amendment is destroyed.

Listen to a few other Limbaugh bon mots:

• “Liberals measure compassion by how many people are given welfare. Conservatives measure compassion by how many people no longer need it.”

• “Liberalism is a scourge. It destroys the human spirit. It destroys prosperity. It assigns sameness to everybody. And wherever I find it, I oppose it.”

• “I must be honest. I can only read so many paragraphs of a New York Times story before I puke.”

Limbaugh was one of a kind. He said no one else did what he did, and he was right.

Long before Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh — who started his career at Pittsburgh-area radio stations — was the champion of the forgotten working class, small-town America and the unsanctioned and invisible disenfranchised.

Long before Fox News, he became the voice of the Nixon-Reagan not-so-silent majority.

He had more wit than anyone on Fox and he lacked Trump’s demons. He was actually optimistic about America and he loved what he did. He enjoyed life.

He loved the battle. He loved being in the arena as a gladiator of prejudices and controversies.

He said conviction plus research would attract people like a magnet.

And he proved it. He built an empire in radio and was the most important broadcaster since Paul Harvey.

Second only to Ronald Reagan, he stood as the champion of a traditional America that questioned the inherent goodness of change.

Was he also a part of the coarsening of America? Yes, he was.

Did he sometimes damage the public dialogue more than he fed it? Yes.

Did he insult those who disagreed with him? Often.

And was he often wrong?

Like all of us, yes.

But he also mellowed with age and illness, and he usually listened to the arguments of the other side (the better to dismantle them), and he was a genuine patriot.

And, like I.F. Stone on the left, he did afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

Liberals don’t see that because they don’t see themselves as powerful or comfortable and they don’t see the former autoworker who is now a security guard as afflicted. They don’t see him at all.

Half of America will shrug at this man’s death and say, “Farewell to a right-wing primitive.”

But the other half knows in its collective heart that Rush Limbaugh was a giant of his kind and genuinely grieves the loss of their tribune.

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If the two Americas could recognize each other’s feeling and opinions, if we could see each other, we would be a better country.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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