Limbaugh’s Audience

When considering the impact of radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed away yesterday, it’s important to check our hypocrisy.

For many years Madison had a left-leaning shock jock. He was essentially a liberal Limbaugh. Among many other outrageous statements, he once suggested that a Madison alderwoman be raped in a stairwell. And, yet, when he lost his job due to a station restructuring a few years later, liberal politicians actually circulated a petition to try to keep him on the air.

Howard Stern would be a fair approximation of this brand of liberal populist entertainer.

Rush Limbaugh is gone, but his brand of crudeness and cruelty live on.

So, the sad phenomenon of Limbaugh doesn’t just speak poorly of the right; it speaks to the overall coarsening of public discourse among populists of either stripe. Limbaugh, after all, had failed to break through in broadcasting until he hit on this persona of the over-the-top bombastic blowhard. If it wasn’t just a persona, if he really was that guy, then you have to wonder what damage was done to create a warped personality like that.

What’s really sobering isn’t just Limbaugh himself, but the fact that the man had an audience and a large one, at that. Yes, Limbaugh brought out the worst in his audience, he pushed the “Overton Window” in making crude and cruel fact-light commentary acceptable to so many. But he could not have been the commercial success he became if people weren’t buying what he was selling.

And, of course, he prepared the way for Donald Trump, who was and is to politics what Limbaugh was to entertainment.

It’s people like Limbaugh, Trump, Stern and that Madison radio host that got me thinking about the need for moderation. It’s that whole toxic environment that led to the creation of this site. Because Limbaugh and Trump didn’t create crude populism; they just found a way to exploit it.

I can’t think of anything more important right now than to be, in every way, the polar opposite of Rush Limbaugh. He’s dead, but the brand of politics and entertainment he unearthed is still very much with us.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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