Was Rush Limbaugh A Worthy Recipient Of The Medal Of Freedom Award?

What an easy question.

Of course he was. Those who argue otherwise do not appreciate his remarkable influence on the culture, entertainment, and the political landscape. In many cases, they blame him for opening up public discourse and eroding the liberal domination of news commentary and political advocacy. They are the same people who find free speech “problematical,”

I am not a dittohead. Rush Limbaugh’s politics and causes are not mine; I admire his skills, but not always his employment of them.  In the Nineties I  sometimes listened to Rush in the car before I moved permanently to a home office. I have parallel life in theater, acting, comedy, skit writing and stage directing, and I was impressed with Limbaugh as a performer, which is what he is, and has always maintained that he is. His combination of politics, satire and  deft disc jockey patter was unique. It was obvious why he had become, by far, the biggest star in talk radio.

The end of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present all sides of opinion when discussing public issues—(riiiight)—was  repealed in 1987, and  Limbaugh invented a new format, a conservative talk radio show that was dominated by a quick-thinking , quick-tonged, generally jovial ideologue with a sonorous voice. Rush took phone calls from people on all sides of the political spectrum, and unlike so many talkmeisters that followed him, was never rude or abusive to those who challenged his positions.

Limbaugh was at his best. however, in his extended monologues, usually based on his research into the news, before the internet made that task as easy as it is now.  The riffs and rants were articulate, often funny, frequently outrageous, and always conservative in attitude and content. He was the Fox News of radio: when he launched the first national syndicated daytime radio talk show in 1987, there was no other mass media show concentrating on conservative views. He satisfied and excited  a huge unserved market, with a resulting massive effect on the political scene and culture wars.

We are told by the Guardians of the Honor that “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” When he gave out one year’s parcel of Medals of Freedom, President Obama said that they stood for idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. 

Rush  objectively qualifies on all of these criteria. He certainly checks the “wherever we come” from box. Born in a small Kansas…wait, make that Missouri—town, he attended a state university for two years, but never graduated. All he was interested in was radio. Those who argue that Limbaugh didn’t have the kind of major and lasting cultural impact that the medal is supposed to recognize are either in denial, or the kind of doctrinaire progressives who believe the world would be paradise if every conservative were liquidated.

When the Republican Party won control of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, the Newt Gingrich-led freshman Republican class awarded Limbaugh an honorary membership in their caucus to recognize of his role in catalyzing the conservative political movement. His stunning popularity (and profitability) also helped convince Rupert Murdoch that the liberal monopoly on TV news could be successfully challenged,  leading to the launching of Fox News in 1996.

As for the Presidential Medal of Freedom itself, it may be the “highest civilian honor” (I believe being elected President is the highest civilian honor), but one can’t deny that it is an arbitrary and frequently political one. What qualifies any individual honoree is completely subjective, and Presidents have recently used the award to pander to particular political constituencies, exactly as President Trump did during his State of the Union address, though never quite as crudely.

Peruse the list of honorees (which begins in 1963, when President Kennedy created the award), and two facts hit you right away: the quality of recipients has declined precipitously, and Barack Obama, who gave out more of the medals than any previous President, was substantially responsible for cheapening and politicizing the award. Gloria Estafan? Ellen Degeneres? Marlo Thomas? Patsy Mink? Quick now, who was Edward Roybal?  Joe <cough> Biden? Many of Obama’s recipients will be footnotes in our history at best, if that.  Some already are. The arbitrariness of the distinction is now glaring. Why Robert De Niro (who now goes to public, often televised ceremonies to scream “Fuck Trump!” at every opportunity) and not, say, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman or Dustin Hoffman? Why Loretta Lynn and not Johnny Cash? Why Stephen Sondheim and not Jerry Herman? Why Chita Rivera and not Rita Moreno? Why Vin Scully and not Ernie Harwell?

The attacks on Rush for his occasional excesses, like his ugly attacks on Georgetown student Sandra Fluke for her advocacy for government funded contraception, and his more than occasional inflammatory criticism of the African American community and its leaders, feminism, same sex marriage and homosexuality have validity; in quite a few cases, but perhaps not enough, he has publicly regretted his choice of words. As a high-wire radio artist who has spoken extemporaneously for three hours a show three days a week for nearly 40 years, some of his gaffes should be dismissed as the inevitable hazards of a risky and difficult craft. Others cannot be so easily excused. However, unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, this honor recognizes positive and significant impact on the culture without requiring an unblemished record.  Res ipsa loquitur: Edward Kennedy, Bill Cosby, Harvey Milk, Tiger Woods, James Taylor, Bill Clinton.

President Trump’s selection of Limbaugh is definitely defensible, especially in the relatively neglected category of radio (The only others: Lowell Thomas and Paul Harvey). To a great extent, the viciousness with which Limbaugh has been attacked since the President’s address validates his honor. The Left is still apoplectic that it no longer has unchallenged access to the public’s hearts and minds, and they blame Rush.

They should. And that’s why he deserved his medal.


Sources: Washington Post, National Review

24 thoughts on “Was Rush Limbaugh A Worthy Recipient Of The Medal Of Freedom Award?

  1. The vicious comments online since Rush announced his cancer diagnosis cements my belief that we would all be better off without Twitter. Anyone who can make leftist extremists more heartless than they already are deserves to be honored.

    • They shouldn’t complain when we on the right hammer them when they get sick or die. I am so posting a link to “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” when Ginsburg finally goes “toes up” or shrivels away to nothingness.

  2. He created an industry when none existed . And then dominated it for three decades. Do you know how hard it was to become Rush Limbaugh when there was no rush Limbaugh? Congratulations rush.

    • Exactly. Not only did he create the industry and dominate it, but it’s been nearly impossible for the liberal persuasion to gain any traction in it, and not for lack of trying. Conservatives have owned the “talk radio” genre, really without a pause, and that is to Rush’s credit. I kind of consider him one of the pioneering “fact-checkers” of liberal politics…certainly the first to fact-check to a vast audience.

      He has said some outrageous – and a few unethical – things over the years, but as Jack mentioned, that happens when someone speaks largely off-the-cuff for as long as he has. But the Medal of Freedom isn’t for pristine behavior and perfect speech, it’s for contributions to the American landscape. And as far as the media landscape goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger contributor.

      The award is deserved, and Rush was clearly touched by it.

  3. Rush introduced me to may facts I had never gotten from the lefties in the mainstream media. I appreciate the push into realizing that I was being lied to.

    Nothing has changed, but at least I recognize the gaslighting.

    Live long and prosper, Rush.

  4. Notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds.

    If I understand correctly Jack’s position: he does not agree with Limbaugh but he recognizes that he (certainly!) put into practice his free speech right. And because he had influence, changed the culture, and influenced people, he can be said to deserve the medal.

    But according to the same argument so do David Duke, George Rockwell, Louis Farrakhan. It all depends on how ‘democratic’ one can stand to be I guess.

    I have not paid attention but I’d imagine ‘the Left’ is having spastic fits (with froth) because Limbaugh got the medal? They consider that he ‘crosses the line of civility’ and is too far out there to be considered.

    But similarly there are people — those I named I just grabbed out of the air — who are slightly too far out of the center-realms of conservative sensibility.

    A good deal of what I see here is *charade*. Isn’t Limbaugh getting the award, and being given it in this TV ceremonial, a way to kick ‘the Left’ in the teeth at the (seeming) end of a long cycle of the wars of culture?

    Oooooh how it must irk ‘the Democrats’!

        • it’s easier for me to read and effortlessly understand sentences that are not written in the passive. Some of us probably perceive non-passive sentences as more vigorous and straightforward.

          Someone who made a mistake and wants to hide it likes to say “Mistakes were made” rather than “I made a mistake” or “He made a mistake.” The omitted subject makes a difference. Thus the joke, “Mistakes were made (but not by me).”

          I’m not here every day reading the comments. Alizia has an unusual style of sentence construction, as if English is not her first language. Most people writing above would use the colloquial “Tell me, I want to know.” “I am interested to know” sounds a little non colloquial, and also non-native. Not that it matters.

          Alizia, people do get suspicious when there is too much passive voice for no obvious reason. Consider it as a hypothesis, at least. It’s formal, bureaucratic, and kind of shady, sketchy, cagey, Shifty. I can’t come up with the right word offhand.

          • OK, fair enough. But most of what I wrote there, if I understand the difference between an active and a passive voice, is in fact in active voice. Certainly the first paragraph:

            If I understand correctly Jack’s position: he does not agree with Limbaugh but he recognizes that he (certainly!) put into practice his free speech right. And because he had influence, changed the culture, and influenced people, he can be said to deserve the medal.

            How could that be made more active?

            [You are right, English is not my first language. I grew up on one of the moons of Jupiter: Ganymede to be exact. My parents are weird, fish-like aliens who communicated with what would sound to you like morse-code or underwater crackling. Thereafter, through strange events I don’t care to think about, I was translated down to earth-life in a Sephardic family of earth-loons over there in Venezuela. I escaped and, as you now understand, am basically trying to make it back to my Jupiterian moon! I suffer syntactically, this I admit, but in many other ways too. Show some mercy!]

            • I’m not certain about your example above. I’m not an expert. Offhand I don’t see any passive construction. I think you are correct.

              I don’t have any formal training in linguistics. And I’m not trying to be aggressive when i say you write like a non-native. People notice this.

              English speakers who are imperfectly speaking Spanish use “Yo,” the equivalent of “I”, too much. Apparently the Spanish speakers call this “Yo-ismo.” In Spanish the subject is implied by the verb endings. “Yo hablo” is too much–may as well just say “Hablo.” it still means “I speak.”

              A vigorous English sentence is typically S V O : Subject Verb Object.

              “I made a mistake.”

              the passive voice, based on my crude understanding, omits the Subject.

              ” Mistakes were made.” That’s O V . and the Subject is left to the reader to figure out.

              Thanks for your reply. I tend to post comments here only occasionally. I salute everyone who keeps this blog going, especially our fearless leader, Jack Marshall.

  5. I think this is definitely deserved. Rush created a brand new industry where nothing had existed.

    When I was listening to him, back in the 80s and 90s, he was always entertaining — in my opinion whether you agreed with him or not (although those who were frothing at the mouth at him might not have really been hearing what he said). I can remember listening to commercials for “Spatula City” and I never did know whether they were a spoof or not (nor did I care, they were funny).

    I think Rush especially made his mark during the 1st Iraq war, when no one really knew how it was going to turn out.

    I wish him the best.

  6. Jack,

    I agree with your contention that previous presidents (our most previous among them) have cheapened the award through overuse, but I don’t see how you can justify Rush Limbaugh while thinking Ellen DeGeneres un-worthy? Despite what you may think of her or her character flaws, she’s achieved a level of fame that shadows that of Rush and, moreover, supports a worldview (intentionally or otherwise) that previously lacked mainstream attention.

    She was the fist female comedian asked to sit down with Johnny Carson, the first openly-gay talk show host, a major proponent of veganism, she’s donated millions to charity, encourages people to “be kind to one another.” Come on, how has she not contributed “to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”. I realize the worldview she promotes is not yours and that, numerous times, you’ve covered her ethical deficiencies here and elsewhere (including the infamous dog adoption fiasco), but to people who DO share her world-view (a huge number) she has brought acceptance and understanding to numerous communities that felt under-represented. Lastly, (to many) she’s every bit as articulate and funny as Limbaugh (especially her early material). She’s proven herself an amazing story-teller, incredibly charming, and by many accounts a generally swell lady.

    The media had begun it’s liberal slide before Ellen, so perhaps she only hastened a tide while Rush tried to turn it but, again, her supporters saw it differently. She gave a voice to many group who felt voiceless and validation to idea that had previously had none. Again, you may dislike those ideas, but I don’t see how it’s unethical to hold them, if genuine.

    • Hey, I’m a big Ellen fan. I think her cultural significance is wildly over-sold, that’s all. Among other things, who didn’t know she was gay> I have a hard time getting excited about someone who dramatically announces what so many people had figured out anyway. You make the best case for Ellen that can be made, and she’s a nice person so I don’t begrudge her any anything. I put her in the footnote category, though. I don’t think the nation is any different than it would have been had she never existed.

  7. The Left is still apoplectic that it no longer has unchallenged access to the public’s hearts and minds, and they blame Rush.

    They should. And that’s why he deserved his medal.

    This is exactly right.

    I don’t think I have ever seen the Medal of Freedom given for reasons other than political ones. You almost never see a virulent ideological opponent awarded the medal, only like-thinkers or people with a broad appeal who can bring some kind of political benefit to the president awarding the medal despite any disagreements.

    That’s just how things work these days, I guess.

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