The death of Rush Limbaugh on February 17, 2021 was reported around the world. The headlines in mainstream publications were generally objective. For example, USA Today: “’A true American legend’: Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, more mourn Rush Limbaugh’s death.” NBC: “The political world reacts to Rush Limbaugh’s death.” NPR: “Talk Show Host Rush Limbaugh, A Conservative Lodestar, Dies At 70.” FOX: “Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk radio pioneer, dead at 70.” Crisis Magazine (a Catholic publication): “Rush Limbaugh, Defender of Life.”
In sharp contrast to Crisis was another Catholic publication, the Jesuit magazine America, that calls its contributors “the principal figures in the American church” and claims that “those with something to say to the American church” say it in its pages. The title on this report of Rush Limbaugh’s death was “Before Rush Limbaugh, Father Coughlin was America’s first demagogue of the airwaves.”
As that title suggests, the article was (oddly) more about Coughlin than Limbaugh. The entire article was a little over 1200 words, with fewer than 200 of them about Limbaugh. As if that wasn’t a clue as to the article’s slant, the image that accompanies the story showed Coughlin with unflattering pictures of Limbaugh to his right and Trump to his left. For those who don’t know, Coughlin (1891-1979) was a controversial right-wing priest in the 1920s and 1930s, decades before Limbaugh was born!
The America article claims that Rush Limbaugh “straddled the line between entertainment and deliberate incitement of hatred” and adds some charges made by CNN. Then it blithely pivots to the “notorious” Coughlin, calling him Rush’s “forebear” on radio.
From that point until the final paragraph, it’s all about Coughlin. And what is said is harsh indeed. It accuses him of anti-Semitism, nativism, supporting “genocidal strongmen,” encouraging sedition and vigilantism, engaging in “histrionic claims of censorship,” praising Mussolini and Hitler, and embracing “wild conspiracy theories and delusions of grandeur.” In short, not a nice fellow.
As if the intended connection between Limbaugh and Coughlin were not clear enough by this point, the final paragraph pounds it home. It begins by asking, “It all sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?” One reason, the author suggests, is because of Limbaugh’s behavior. Another is because Coughlin represented many “demagogues” (presumably Limbaugh included) who play on our “fears,” “hidden prejudices,” “deepest resentments” while wearing the flag or holding the Bible.
That’s all there is. The article says no more. No acknowledgement that Limbaugh at some moments during his 30 years on the radio may have been right about something or other. No suggestion that he may, just may, have sincerely believed in the political philosophy he held and was not demonic, or that he was in some respects a decent person who was occasionally was kind to others, or that he loved his cat. Nor is there any word of consolation for his family or his millions of followers, not even a half-hearted, “May he rest in peace.” Nada. Nothing. (Don’t take my word for this—check it for yourself; here is the link.)
At a time of mourning such absence of kindness is unthinkable, especially for Catholics who have been taught the prayer that Mary gave the children at Fatima—“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.” [Emphasis added.] This prayer honors Jesus’ teaching that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Note: Jesus did not add the qualifying phrase “unless you dislike their political views.”)
So how can the author’s avoidance of simple human decency be explained? The answer is not that he is unfamiliar with the Gospel and/or Catholic Theology. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University, a Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, taught theology at two Jesuit Colleges, and was an editor of a Catholic publishing company (Orbis). Moreover, he is not just a contributor to America Magazine—he is a Senior Editor!
Have I been too harsh with the author? Is it possible that he simply could not find anything charitable, kind, or consoling to say? Is there, in fact, nothing that can conceivably be said in Rush Limbaugh’s favor? Let’s see.
Rush believed in freedom; he also believed that conservatism values freedom and encourages people to use their God-given gifts more fully and effectively. In contrast, he believed, modern liberal policies and excessive regulations have created impediments to freedom and discouraged personal responsibility and independence from government. He devoted himself to overcoming those impediments and restoring respect for the Constitution.
Rush understood that Ronald Reagan shared his belief in conservatism, and he used his radio program to validate and advance Reagan’s vision for America and conservative principles. (Reagan himself called Rush “the Number One voice for conservatism in our country.”) As many conservatives have affirmed, Rush subsequently made a significant contribution to the success of the Tea Party, the Contract with America, and the election of many conservatives over several decades, including Donald Trump. Journalist Bill Hemmer explains Rush’s contribution this way: he was not just a talk-show host but also an effective force in “driving” conservative policy.
Those who knew Rush Limbaugh best, including Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, and Mark Steyn, testify to his intellectual brilliance, loyalty to friends and audience, and generosity. A few examples of the latter: He donated $100,000 to St. Jude, raised $50 million to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma, $5 million to Tunnel2Towers, and other large sums to the Dana Farber Cancer Clinic, the MCLEF, Move America Forward, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Fisher House, Toys for Tots, and Adopt-a-Soldier, among many other organizations, much of his charitable giving done anonymously. In 2008 he ranked fourth on Forbes’ list of the most generous celebrities.
Joel Rosenberg, research director of “The Limbaugh Letter,‘ who worked closely with Rush and knew him well, said that he was “struggling spiritually” for years. They talked frequently and in 2019 Rush “developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and converted to Christianity. Though Rush was a private person, Rosenberg said, “When he began talking about his faith in Christ, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it was real.”
Surely, there are some things in this information about Rush that everyone should agree are admirable. Whether many or few, they are worth acknowledging when the man has died, regardless of whether or not we admired him when he was alive. That acknowledgement is much more than a requirement of simple courtesy—it is also an opportunity to offer loving kindness to another soul created in the image and likeness of God, a reminder of our own need for forgiveness, and an example to those around us. The fact that the Catholic editor we are speaking of avoided that acknowledgement and his Catholic magazine approved his avoidance shames both and embarrasses the Church.
Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved