In the late 1980s one of my friends, a Lutheran pastor, recommended that I listen to his favorite radio commentator, a fellow with the unlikely name of Rush Limbaugh. I found him on WISN in Milwaukee, and since then have listened to his program on the car radio whenever I have happened to be on the road in the early afternoon.   In twenty-five years that amounts to a lot of listening on my part—and on his, around seven thousand hours of broadcasting.

For a long time now I have felt I owe him something in appreciation for accurate, good tempered (considering the provocation) and well-informed political and social commentary, especially since I am a member of a class with a well-deserved reputation for despising him. Naturally he is hated—and this is not too strong a word—by secularist liberals, but there are not a few Christian intellectuals who disparage him as well. I have several guesses on why: they are put off by his bumptious and roughshod midwesternism, and/or they haven’t listened to him at any length—since, though professing to dislike him, they agree with him on nearly every matter of substance, or they run in circles, including Christian intellectual circles, where it is more than unfashionable to speak well of him.

So I hear from them criticism of his cigar-smoking, his inability to stay married (he is at this writing on his fourth wife), his struggle with addiction to prescription drugs, his alienating rudeness–especially his insults to feminists–his detachment from the church, and the company he keeps. Rush, for his part, appears to belong to a class of believer, not uncommon among conservatives in public life, who decline to wear their religion on their sleeves for a complex amalgam of personal and strategic reasons. While he occasionally identifies himself as a Christian on his weekday broadcasts, the program itself is not distinctively so, although I think it safe to say that it rests on a theistic base–namely, “talent on loan from Gawwd”–and the paradigm of natural law, including moral law, that flows from it.  With a weekly audience of fifteen millions, he is with little doubt the most effective popular advocate of the natural law outlook at work today, for he has made a specialty of aggressive common sense which he (more studied and far more intelligent than his detractors will admit) understands in terms of a compelling universality, the tao as C. S. Lewis describes it, and not as merely a partisan tool.

It is remarkable how little substantive criticism his enemies are able to mark up against him after so many thousands of hours expressing his opinions publicly. The preponderance of them appear to rest on the unmistakably correct charge that he is biased, which seems to me not unlike the accusation that the plumber is biased on behalf of efficient sanitation, and is made by those for whom bias is defined as opinion beneath contempt because it is not held by liberals. Rush is dogged by quotations of things he never said and contorted interpretations of things that he did say.  Like all controversial public figures, liberal and conservative, he has a great many people seeking to take advantage of anything than can be made out as a misstep, and who are, if not enough material comes to hand, perfectly willing to invent something. (There are numerous lies in circulation about Barack Obama as well, presumably not fabricated by liberals.)  Most of what I have heard against Rush, however, is unquestionably liberal invention, soiled and slovenly rhetoric intended for a “low information crowd” of mainstream media-saturated nincompoops.

I have a personal interest in what Rush says and how he is treated because the more I listen to and about him, the more I am frightened by the venom and mendacity of charges brought against the sanity and simple goodness for which he stands as a national symbol, his faults notwithstanding.  Christians who speak ill of him should in justice recognize him as an ally, for if he sinks, they will sink with him, and for the same reasons. Where the hatred of his accusers, fortified by absolute faith in the rectitude of their madness, is not constrained by law and superior force, it will surely lead to persecution, eventually bloody, because that is the way of the world.  Hatred must have a victim to charge with its own sins, and to visit with the appropriate punishments.

Rush seems to me something like a canary lowered into the pits of progressivism to test them for killing airs.  However messy his nest may be, he is doing his job and should be appreciated for it.