I grew up in Minnesota, the heart of the Midwest: a blue state of really nice, hard-working people who love winter, lefse, and Al Franken. Starting at about 13 years old until college, I worked for my dad, a successful remodeling contractor, over school breaks.
I hated the work. Often the only female on a construction site or a hotel in the midst of remodeling, I felt awkward. I got dirty. I wasn’t good at painting or wallpapering. The hours were longer than anything I’d ever experienced, and we rarely ate out during the day. (Somehow cold granola bars just added to the laboriousness.)
I know, I sound like a wimp. I was. I gained great respect for hard-working men and blue-collar workers during that period. The only glimmer of happiness in the job was that I got quality time with my dad and this other guy: Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he has been diagnosed with “advanced lung cancer.”
At every job site, the routine was the same: I’d dress in painters’ clothes, drive to the site with my dad, and along with all the tools we set up, we plugged in the radio set to AM 1500 KSTP. If memory serves, Limbaugh didn’t come on until 11 a.m. The next three hours were a respite of opinion, intellectual stimulation, and philosophical and political concepts I’d barely thought of yet.
As other workers labored nearby, I forgot the sounds of construction and my self-pity faded. Over time I started looking forward to this part of the day more than anything else. Along with the one-on-one time I had with my dad, three hours of Rush Limbaugh’s ideas, observations, wit, and humor provided everything I needed for a foundation in conservative thought.
Limbaugh’s quirks grew on me until they became inside jokes with my dad. The golden microphone. The dramatic paper shuffling. The cigar smoking. I wondered: When Limbaugh did that sneezing-squeal, was he laughing, crying, or just old?
Talking from the “Southern Command,” Limbaugh seemed untouchable, yet so in touch with politics, culture, and what the Everyman needed to know. His arrogance, sardonic jokes, and disdain for the media coupled with his cigar smoking had a jerkboy-fraternity-meets-William F. Buckley appeal.
I couldn’t get enough of how he stripped bare the ideas Buckley wrote about so that even a young teenager could understand. Between commercial breaks or callers, I would ask my dad what Limbaugh meant about the topics he was covering that day: welfare, the media, and liberal ideology.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I learned about core conservative principles through my dad’s interpretations of Limbaugh’s monologues and observations of critical news of the day. Later, I developed these ideas into a more cohesive political philosophy through the influence of other teachers and reading iconic authors. In college, I minored in political science—an homage to the “Rush baby” inside.
Limbaugh Created Comraderie Among Those He Influenced
I began an “adult” life: graduated from college, worked in politics, started a family, and moved to Northern Virginia, where I met some of the most influential members of the media and politics working today. I wrote for The Atlantic, Politico, The New York Times, National Review Online. I observed something incredible: Limbaugh was right.
He was right about the MSM (“the mainstream media”) he loathed, elitists, and liberals. While living nearly ten years outside DC, I observed how mainstream media skewed to the left and that Limbaugh’s observations were spot-on. One only needs to spend a little time in D.C. or New York City to see how pervasive leftist rot has become.
Limbaugh’s talking points became my talking points, and I discovered I could talk to painters or attorneys equally about conservative ideas. Even if I ended up talking with lawyers who tried cases at the Supreme Court, I could sort of keep up. Countless hours of Limbaugh’s history lessons, sharp media analysis, and relentless commitment to conservative ideals—free market, individualism, religious liberty, small government—were embedded in my mind.
Whether I met media icons, politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, or Supreme Court justices, and whether I met them at fancy galas, fundraisers, the Federalist Society, or Fox News, Limbaugh’s Buckley meets the common man conservatism proved true over and over. My dad wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only one. There were throngs of us with various skill sets, different values, and changing priorities, but we all had the same purpose: we were lovers of liberty.
A Steady Influence for Decades
A cursory glance at Limbaugh’s career shows how he touched someone like me as a teenager, along with the likes of Ben Shapiro and countless others. In 2018, Limbaugh was America’s most-listened-to radio host and reached a monthly audience of 25 million on more than 650 stations. That year he was the world’s second highest-paid radio host, reportedly earning $84.5 million, just behind Howard Stern.
A 2008 Pew Research survey found that Limbaugh drew a significantly conservative audience, including National Rifle Association supporters and what was known then as “Tea Partiers” and “Christian conservatives.” About 37 percent surveyed said they tune in for opinion, but another 28 percent say they enjoy the blend of news, opinion, and entertainment. According to a 2009 survey, only 28 percent of Limbaugh’s audience is female. Even so, I got a kick out of the male-oriented humor. How not?
Even as Rush spoke to more than 25 million people, it felt like he was just talking to me. Were it not for his daily show, and filtering ideas I heard with my dad, I would not have become a political conservative, a writer, a lover of liberty, and as we say at The Federalist, anxious for the fray—a sentiment I know Limbaugh would appreciate.
I’ve wanted to write this essay for at least a decade, to tell people—or maybe just to tell him— how just one person can so powerfully influence another. Mr. Limbaugh, we the millennial Rush babies thank you. We wish you healing, grace, mega dittos, and many more cigars. You changed everything for us.