I became a conservative because of Rush Limbaugh. In fact, only three contemporary American political figures have had a real life-changing influence on me: Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan during his presidential runs in the 1990s, and Ron Paul, for whom I remain a humble servant as his 2012 campaign’s official blogger.
But first there was Rush.
In the summer of 1992, my mother would often fold laundry in the family kitchen while listening to Limbaugh’s radio program. Regularly listening with her, usually over lunch, quickly my interest went from curiosity to ardent devotion. By the time I was 17, I considered myself a hardcore conservative, scheduling my days around Limbaugh’s program, which I would eagerly listen to for all three hours. I devoured his books “The Way Things Ought to Be” and “See, I Told You So,” and I watched virtually every episode of his television program. When Rush appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1995, I arrived at the store as the clerk was turning the key to get the first copy, which asked: “Is Rush Limbaugh Good for America?”
Seeing the cover, I exclaimed, “Yes! Of course he is, you stupid liberals!” aloud in the store.
In the time between then and now, a chasm widened between Rush and I, particularly during the dark days of George W. Bush’s presidency. In the 1990s, Pat Buchanan’s wars with the Republican Party became my wars, and the same has been true of Ron Paul’s battles with the GOP — but these fights were always about the Republican Party not being conservative enough. The Goldwater-Reagan tradition of limited government that Rush preached to me as a teenager, what today we might call “constitutional conservatism” — this has been almost completely absent from the GOP for most of my adult life, and certainly during the Bush years. In my own capacity as a talk radio host in Charleston, South Carolina (inspired by Rush) and as a columnist, I regularly attacked the Bush administration for not being conservative enough. I also attacked my fellow conservatives for not attacking Bush enough. It was tough love, and Limbaugh was a frequent target.
But let’s forget all that. Let’s forget about some of the negative things Rush has said about Ron Paul (and Buchanan). Let’s instead focus on something of vital importance that Limbaugh said this week.
Mere hours before Paul announced his “Restore America Now” budget plan in Las Vegas on Monday, Rush was asked by a caller on his program how any of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates were going to seriously address our looming fiscal crisis once they reached the White House. The man was looking for answers — and Rush gave it to him: “You’re not going to believe my answer. Ron Paul has a good idea.”
Limbaugh chuckled with the caller a bit, but then got serious as he outlined Paul’s budget proposal, quoting Kevin Williamson, who wrote an article about the proposal for National Review Online:
Ron Paul is about to show the Republican presidential field what a serious fiscal reform plan looks like. He is going to propose $1 trillion in real spending cuts. He is going to propose immediately freezing spending by numerous government agencies back to 2006 levels … Beyond that the EPA would see a 30% cut. The Food and Drug Administration would see a 40% cut. Foreign aid would be zeroed out immediately. And he would take an ax to Pentagon funding for wars. Medicaid, food stamps, family support programs, children’s nutrition programs would all be block-granted to the states and be removed from the mandatory spending column of the federal budget. Some functions of the eliminated departments, such as Pell grants, would be continued elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy. The federal workforce would be reduced by 10% …
What this indicates is something, folks, that we have got to face, if we are serious about this. Fooling around the margins isn’t going to get it done. A 2% tax cut here, or a 3% tax variation over there is not going to fix what’s wrong. Genuine, big spending cuts are the only thing that is going to bring us back …
Limbaugh then said something interesting: that Paul’s ideas were just conventionally conservative ideas. Explained Rush:
Now, these are not really Ron Paul’s ideas. On this program I myself have suggested freezing spending at 2008 levels. Let’s freeze spending back to Clinton’s years. Paul is stealing that idea. Cutting the EPA? We’ve long been an advocate of this … eliminating whole bureaucracies. But nobody on our side has ever seriously proposed this and Ron Paul is going to.
He finished: “We have called for everything that Paul is suggesting. He will be the first candidate to actually do so.”
Needless to say, hearing this made me feel like a teenage conservative all over again.
If Limbaugh believes that real conservatism is about real limits on government and spending, and that “nobody on our side has ever seriously proposed this and Ron Paul is going to,” what choice does this leave the conservative Republican voter?
In 2006, after the Republicans did horribly in the midterm elections, Rush said something equally illuminating:
I feel liberated. … I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I think don’t deserve having their water carried. … If those in our party who are going to carry the day in the future both in Congress and the administration are going to choose a different path than what most of us believe, then that’s liberating.
Rush was basically admitting what I had accused him of during the Bush years. Believe me, I took no pleasure in this. My first concern has always been conservative principle, and I was delighted that Limbaugh had said that no longer carrying water for phony conservatives felt “liberating.”
Now Rush and I — and countless other conservatives — can be liberated. Please, let’s forgive and forget the old tensions, including any of the criticisms Limbaugh might have levied against Paul in the past.
What’s important is this: America’s most popular and influential conservative talk host basically said this week that Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate offering the sort of limited-government platform real conservatives have always believed in. This is a monumental revelation that could feasibly help return the Republican Party to its conservative roots. Saying “see, I told you so” does none of the parties involved any good. But remembering “the way things ought to be” could save conservatism, and with it, this country.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.