First Lady Melania Trump applauds as gallery guest Rush Limbaugh is recognized by President Donald J. Trump during the State of the Union address Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Limbaugh received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the address.
Public Domain, Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks
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Humanize Rush Limbaugh’s Life-Affirming Strength

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Mr. Snerdley recommended that I reprint this piece in my newsletter. I like it, if I say so myself. So I instructed my Editrix to go for it.

Rush Limbaugh in The Limbaugh Letter (February, 2021)

I deeply admire Rush Limbaugh. Not because of his conservative viewpoints, and not because he’s a uniquely talented broadcaster who can make dropping a pencil interesting radio.

No. I have been most impressed over the years by Limbaugh’s strength of character, a crucial leadership attribute in woefully short supply at a time of failing institutions and callow public personalities.

Strength of character? Limbaugh?

Yes, Limbaugh. For those who may be unaware, in January, Limbaugh was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. After nearly a year of pursuing experimental treatments, he recently told his audience that his illness has entered a terminal stage. Yet, Limbaugh continues on with his show — if anything, with greater gusto than before he fell ill — only taking time off periodically during “treatment week.”

Limbaugh also hasn’t yielded to the emotional toll a terminal illness surely takes. He never complains publicly. He never feels sorry for himself. To the contrary, his persona — a mixture of faux hubris combined with a passion for conservative politics mediated by a great sense of humor — remains unchanged.

Indeed, if he hadn’t announced publicly that he’s ill, I doubt the audience would be able to tell the difference.

The only change I have noticed after listening to Limbaugh regularly since the early ’90s—and really, the only allusion he makes to the severe difficulties he is surely experiencing — has been a greater willingness to reveal his personal faith, something he rarely discussed previously.

Limbaugh says he believes in Jesus Christ and regularly tells his audience that upon awakening every morning, he thanks God that he’s still breathing. Healthy or ill, such thankfulness is a practice we would all be wise to emulate because you never know what each day will bring.

In his great public aplomb, Limbaugh reminds me of the late actor Michael Landon’s valor in the face of his 1991 terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Landon was a hugely popular television star, having played “Little Joe” on “Bonanza,” “Pa,” on “Little House on the Prairie,” and an angel on “Highway to Heaven.”

When he became ill, rather than stay behind closed doors, as was usually done back in the day, he publicly announced his diagnosis on the Tonight Show — unprecedented back then — and in so doing, helped shatter the cruel stigma often faced in those days by terminal cancer patients.

For months, Landon uplifted the nation by tackling cancer head-on. As his illness progressed, he gave several interviews announcing his determination to hang on until the end, telling Life magazine, “If I’m gonna die, death’s gonna have to do a lot of fighting to get me.” In his People obituary, Mark Goodman wrote, “Landon closed his own book with a stolid grace that refused to succumb to tragedy.”

In his dying, Landon modeled what it means to face death with poise and composure. In that, he served humanity and undoubtedly helped others face their own impermanence.

Limbaugh is doing that too, which may even be more important now than it was in Landon’s time. By keeping on keeping on, the great broadcaster presents a vivid rebuttal to the usual nihilistic advice these days that committing assisted suicide is the best means to grapple with the suffering caused by terminal illness.

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Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.
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