February 18, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Death is Limbaugh’s only accountability

His lies will be killing people long after he's in the ground.

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Unitarian Universalists like me try to remember every day, and put into practice every day, a set of seven principles. I’m telling you this, because the first principle has been on my mind since hearing news of the death of Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing broadcaster. Perhaps no one in the United States, not even Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is more responsible for poisoning the public mind, for the revival of fascist collectivism, the tolerance of cruelty and violence, the appetite for meanness, and the near-impossibility of solving social problems everyone faces in this country.

The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” This isn’t dogma. It’s a commitment toward a more fully realized morality. Not a private morality, mind you, though that too is important. For Unitarian Universalists like me, morality arises from the bonds of human relations, so we really are indebted to each other even if it’s simply seeing, recognizing and honoring our shared humanity. These seven principles, as I see it, are a modern revamp of the ancient pre-Christian creed of doing unto others as I would have done unto me.

Joining the effort to remember him kindly would be in effect refusing to meet lies with facts, and refusing to meet lies with facts would be complicity in the lie. I won’t do that.

You can see why I’m troubled. I would not want anyone to say, after I’m gone, that the country is better off. I would not want anyone to say, after I’m gone, that my legacy can’t follow me into the ground fast enough. There is a pronounced tension between my desire to treat everyone equally and to speak truthfully about evil men. So I find myself returning to the principles of UUism, not because they will resolve the tension (I don’t think it can be resolved), but because thinking about them, setting them side-by-side in this place, in this time for this purpose might be of some use to someone.

The fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism is “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This is designed to be vague so as to apply to every unique person with unique histories and unique ways of understanding the world in which we all live. But as it applies to Rush Limbaugh, that principle takes on a ghastly specificity.

In the beginning of his career, Limbaugh operated in accordance with the “fairness doctrine,” a federal rule requiring equal airtime for political opinions. The Ronald Reagan administration did away with that in 1987. Under the old order, Limbaugh had to be responsible. He had to keep up the public square. He had to take care of the truth. Under the new order, he was “liberated” from responsibility. And given this is Rush Limbaugh we’re talking about, that meant going to the ends of the earth to make bigotry desirable, sadism acceptable, and most of all lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie and lie. In the process, he got very obscenely rich and spawned three generations of imitators.

Here’s the tip jar!

He said, per the Times, that “advocates for the homeless were ‘compassion fascists,’ women who defended abortion rights were ‘feminazis,’ environmentalists were ‘tree-hugging wackos.’ He called global warming a hoax and cruelly ridiculed Michael J. Fox, imitating the tremors that were a symptom of the actor’s Parkinson’s disease.” David Neiwert said: “He ran a segment saying he was going to show welfare recipients going about their day, then ran video of apes of various kinds playing and lazing about in a zoo.” Chris Hayes said: He presented “a giddy celebration of the deaths of gay people with AIDS set to Dionne Warwick’s ‘I’ll Never Love This Way Again.’ (Get it?)” Mehdi Hasan said: He once “played the song ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ on his show.”

Perhaps worst of all, Limbaugh had vast powers to spread lies faster and deeper into the American psyche than anyone else. His radio audience ran into the tens of millions, dwarfing those of all the shows on Fox. He alone could replace political reality with political fiction. Embarking on “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” could inspire one’s assassination. Barack Obama was not a citizen. The probe into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia was a hoax. The covid is no worse than the flu. Joe Biden stole the election. By the time lung cancer got him, Limbaugh’s lies were still killing people long after he helped foment insurrection against the United States.

Naturally, Limbaugh’s friends and allies are now reliving memories of the man they remember. But those memories are themselves a product of the Big Lie that the man himself spent a lifetime building—an “alternate-universe-on-the-air,” according to the Times, in which “alternative facts,” as Kellyanne Conway once said, are true. Joining the effort to remember him kindly would be in effect refusing to meet lies with facts, and refusing to meet lies with facts would be complicity in the lie. I won’t do that as a journalist. I won’t do that as a Unitarian Universalist. Honoring “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” calls for holding people responsible for their choices. Limbaugh never once faced accountability in life. Perhaps he will now in death.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

7 Comments

  1. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    Well said

  2. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    The truly sad part is that no one will miss him. Really. Since his career subsisted on tearing things and people down instead of building anything, no one feels any gratitude for what he had accomplished since he didn’t really accomplish anything. He just stood in doorways.

    Those who currently “miss” him do so only for the most short-term and transactional of reasons. He was good for their business (freedom medals, anyone?) Now that he’s gone, they’ll just move on to the next enabler (that would be Tucker Carlson at present).

    And as for his “fans,” whose rage-aholism he fed on a daily basis, they too won’t in any true sense miss him. Honestly, how can anyone say “I miss how Rush used make me feel so angry.” Sure, there will be some who may say just that. But it’s a sentiment that rings hollow and is easily filled from other sources. He will join Father Coughlin in the history books as just one more of America’s dangerous cranks, alongside Bill O’Reilly (so forgotten already!) and Glenn Beck (where is he now?).

    Now consider what will happen when Jimmy Carter passes away, who–like the remarkable Tony Bennett (z”l)–somehow just grew from strength to strength in dignity, recognition, and respect with age. Now there is someone who a lot of people will actually miss!

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      Great stuff, Bennett. Thanks.

  3. abbyinsm on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you for putting Limbaugh’s death into a faith context. I too am a Unitarian Universalist, and I have a spiritual practice of never celebrating the death of anyone, no matter how vile they have been. In this case I am making an exception. The world will be much improved with his absence.

  4. RaffleBuffle on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    The first time I remember thinking “Limbaugh is literally getting people killed” was in 2015, when a fanatical mass shooter killed 3 people at a Colorado abortion clinic. He specifically said he did it because of the “baby parts” –that deceptively-edited secret sting video that anti-choice people put out that year that made it seem like Planned Parenthood was selling fetuses. Rush Limbaugh put that bullshit on a megaphone, made this lie as loud as possible, and basically pushed an already-fanatical anti-abortionist into shooting people to “save the babies” from being sold for parts. And there was also his terrible characterization of John Lewis at the time of the Tea Party rallies, which led to a mob of tea partiers physically attacking Lewis. I’m sure there were many others, long before the covid lies. Rot in Hell.

  5. otellus on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    After years of hearing nonsense coming out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth, I settled on this description of him:
    Ignorance masquerading as intelligence.

    Upon his death, this came to mind:
    “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” -attributed to Mark Twain

  6. dan tynan on July 30, 2021 at 11:31 pm

    “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” — Voltaire.

    Intercourse Rush Limbaugh. There is a special circle of Hell reserved just for him (and his Trumpish toadies, as they join him).

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