The Secret of Rush Limbaugh’s Success

Rush Limbaugh is a conservative talk radio host in the United States with over 20,000,000 listeners a week, making his program the single most watched or listened to source of news in the USA. Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh is demonized by the mainstream media as a right-wing extremist. For his listeners, however, he is a breath of fresh air. One constant desire on the part of the Left in America is to come up with a counterpart, the liberal Rush Limbaugh. Attempts have been made on the Left to do this, but no one has succeeded. Yet on the Right, numerous radio talk show hosts have repeated Rush’s success (e.g., Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham). Why is this?

I am student of Neil Postman’s popularizing and refining of the ideas of the late Canadian professor, Marshal McCluhan, who coined the aphorism, “The medium is the message.” Television, according to Postman’s book Amusing ourselves to death, is a medium which is image driven and appeals most acutely to the emotions. He compares the ability of 19th century Americans to listen to seven-hour presidential debates of Lincoln and Douglas to a people today who desire always to be entertained. According to Postman, even the TV news is really a form of entertainment and never of serious political discourse.

The Left owns TV–with all of its incoherence. It has created a nation of people who view most things on an emotional level. Consider the recent election: a Zogby Poll showed that the people who voted for Obama mostly got their information from TV, and they were largely ignorant of many of the basic issues, such as which political party was in charge of the US Congress. In TV, the anchormen and anchor “babes” are not hired because they are smart or coherent, but because they look good on TV. Limbaugh tried TV over a decade ago but gave it up. There is a reason for that: his appeal is not based on his looks. He is a kind of a fat guy (in a culture that values thinness) with average looks (Postman maintains that the overweight President Taft could never have been elected after the invention of the TV).

While I am a great fan of Limbaugh, since my childhood I have never enjoyed watching news on TV; as an adult, I loath its tendentious and incoherent presentation, where serious issues like politics are given sound bites and great attention is paid to the exploits of such airheads as Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. The TV news is seemingly unable to distinguish between serious opinion and the fluff coming from entertainment community and we are expected to take it seriously?

It is not so with Limbaugh. His program is based upon a relentless presentation of conservative principles. Radio does not allow for mere emotional appeal. It requires coherence not emotion. It is based not upon images which appeal to the emotion but upon the spoken word which appeals to the mind–upon sustained argument and debate: the art of rhetoric.

In America, rhetoric was a dead art before Limbaugh revived it; television had killed it. Our new president, the young and handsome Barak Obama shows well on television. He has also been praised as a great orator, but to Limbaugh he cannot hold a candle. Consider that Limbaugh speaks three hours a day without a script. During the campaign, Obama could recite a speech with a teleprompter, but once he was off the prompter he was a different man–he stutters and pauses, he is unsure of himself. Consider this clip:

If Limbaugh spoke like that, instead of having the largest radio audience in America, he would have none at all. Limbaugh speaks fluently without stuttering and without annoying verbalized pauses. He can do so partly because he has a God-given talent, partly because he boldly sets out his own principles based on a coherent conservative position. If the Left cannot duplicate Limbaugh, it is for two reasons:

(1) The positions of the Left are often incoherent. The Left has assembled for itself various victim groups: blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals and women; and various interest groups: anti-war groups, communists/socialists, environmentalists, welfare recipients and unions. The interests of these groups are not always consistent. So for example, the promotion of homosexual rights is not always appreciated by blacks, as we saw in California recently. Unionists are against illegal immigration, while many Hispanics are illegally in the US. Environmental restrictions threaten union jobs. Etc. It is hard to speak coherently with so many competing groups making up your constituency.

(2) Many of the Left’s true positions are not appreciated by the majority of Americans, and when they speak as politicians, they must often hide these opinions while taking stances on issues without true convictions, as when John Kerry walked into a hunting-supply store and said, “Where can I get me a huntin’ license?”

Limbaugh meets a certain longing of the heart: that of making sense of the world. The incoherence of television media actually creates disorder and fear in people’s hearts. It is this fear that causes them to turn to demagogues who promise to bring hope and change; they look to a saviour to find release from their fears. Limbaugh however speaks to our need to make sense of the world in which a benevolent Creator has made it possible for human beings to have the freedom to be able to pursue happiness without interference from the chaos and powers all around us. As we pursue this happiness we are able to find our own solutions in our homes, in our communities, and in our churches. The Left is unable to provide this coherence on the radio; instead the Left attempts at duplicating Limbaugh become incoherent childish rants that nobody wants to listen to. It is better to watch the constant entertainment of the television medium than that to listen to that kind of bile on the radio.


Roy Spencer, PhD, “20 Years Of Rush Limbaugh National Review: The Mainstream Media Still Doesn’t Get His Appeal”

James Lewis, “Why Rush Limbaugh is a leading American intellectual”

Take the Limbaugh Challenge: Liberals who hate Rush Limbaugh — why don’t you actually listen to his show before bashing him? by Andrew Klavan

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