The irony of lung cancer and Rush Limbaugh

I’ve been a Rush Limbaugh “listener” for several decades now. I’ve heard him proclaim that there’s no such thing as hunger in America. I also heard him purposely conflate the term “personal autonomy” with “personal anarchy” while discussing how Dr. Jack Kervorkian described people making choices related to end-of-life decisions.

Today’s story in the Chicago Tribune quotes Limbaugh saying that he’s engaging a much more personal relationship with God now that he’s diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer. I recently had a friend and former coach die of that disease. He was a lifetime smoker and it finally caught up with him.

On that subject Limbaugh once prevaricated that we should all be thanking smokers for their contribution to the world. As recorded in a direct transcript from his live radio show, he conducted this conversation with a caller about the subject of smoking.


CALLER: Earlier you were saying about smoking, that people ought to be thankful that there are smokers, because the money gotten from smoking helps to fund all these child programs and everything? But that’s like saying I’m glad that there’s bumper accidents because then auto mechanics would still have jobs and it improves the economy. Or knives. It’s a good thing that people cut themselves because that’s good for the bandage industry. That’s just my opinion.

RUSH: Well, now, wait. Hold it, hold it just a second. I’m sure the hospital industry would agree with you that they support knives, there wouldn’t be scalpels without knives.

CALLER: No. They’re not doing it on purpose, now. Wait a minute. People in hospitals that are —

RUSH: Hey, you need bandages.

CALLER: You’re doing that to cure somebody. They’re not doing that to hurt anybody.

The Caller hit a sore point with Limbaugh in that last statement. Rush has always claimed he’s trying to help America with his cut-and-dried brand of ideological advocacy. He once raved out loud that it was tough luck if some people couldn’t see well at night when vehicles equipped with high-intensity headlights blinded them. In other words, it’s never been caring about others than Limbaugh has advocated. He has been the King of Selfish Motivations for many decades, and now it’s come back to haunt him. Immediately after the initial exchange with his concerned caller, Limbaugh conducted a harsh yet brief tirade in defense of smokers.

RUSH: Well, smokers aren’t killing anybody.

CALLER: Except themselves.

RUSH: Yeah, but how long does it take?

That question is about to be answered for Limbaugh. It may indeed take a while for him to die, or it may snatch him overnight. He’s never appeared to be the picture of health, given his heavy lean toward obesity and an addiction to pain pills that turned him into a criminal of sorts to get his fix.

But he’s never been much for serious contrition about a single thing in his life. He instead claims to not suffer fools gladly, and that includes denying any form of science that contradicts his closely held beliefs in his own brand of “personal autonomy.”

The day that Rush stood on his soapbox bragging about the benefits of smoking, the Caller went on to bring up another topic

CALLER: — secondhand smoke.

RUSH: No. You can’t. That is a myth. That has been disproven at the World Health Organization and the report was suppressed. There is no fatality whatsoever. There’s no even major sickness component associated with secondhand smoke. It may irritate you, and you may not like it, but it will not make you sick, and it will not kill you.


RUSH: Firsthand smoke takes 50 years to kill people, if it does. Not everybody that smokes gets cancer. Now, it’s true that everybody who smokes dies, but so does everyone who eats carrots.

Right there we have the horrific template for dismissing serious issues using simplistic examples. The same held true when Senator Jim Inhofe held aloft a snowball as evidence that climate change is a hoax.

Limbaugh is a fool about the subject of smoking, and many others. The real costs of smoking are documented in a Reuters story published in December, 2014:


“Hoax” is a favorite word of ideological propagandists.

(Reuters) – Of every $10 spent on healthcare in the U.S., almost 90 cents is due to smoking, a new analysis says.

Using recent health and medical spending surveys, researchers calculated that 8.7 percent of all healthcare spending, or $170 billion a year, is for illness caused by tobacco smoke, and public programs like Medicare and Medicaid paid for most of these costs.

“Fifty years after the first Surgeon General’s report, tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death and disease, despite declines in adult cigarette smoking prevalence,” said Xin Xu from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who led the study.”

The examples we could list here of subjects in which Limbaugh purposely obscured the real costs of willful disregard for personal and public health are legendary and  manifold. Here’s what the stubbornly ignorant Limbaugh said on his radio show about the subject of climate change:

RUSH: By the way, have you seen the latest lame attempt on this? You know what now, folks? Food crops are getting much harder to grow. Oh, yes! Climate change. Climate change has affected the pH of the soil. Climate change is causing soil to become more arid. Climate change is making it really, really, really tough on farmers to grow more food. We are on the verge of predictable starvation! They know no limits.

The dirty little secret about climate change, whether it’s man-made or not, is when it does happen, there’s gonna be a whole lot of the world that’s gonna be capable of growing food that now can’t, if they’re right. There’s no argument from here that the climate is not changing. Only a fool would say that is because the climate is constantly changing. We go ice age, we go dark age, we go sun age, we go oppressively hot; nobody can survive this. Earth has been around a long time.”

Gaslighting America

This is Rush Limbaugh seeking to dismiss human influence on climate change. In other words, it is a direct attempt to avoid personal responsibility for a problem that people can fix if they put their mind to it. But Rush Limbaugh and his listeners don’t like to admit the need to change, and that’s deplorable. They don’t like to confront challenges ranging from racist outlooks to religious fears of science. They prefer instead to ignore the fact there is a problem while claiming that smoking or toxic greenhouse gasses provide a benefit to the world. That’s called gaslighting. It’s an attempt to abuse truth in favor of selfish, controlling behavior. And it’s rampant in America right now. Rush Limbaugh is a big reason for these attitudes.

Fixing problems 

IMG_3787Now the whole world is having trouble breathing, and the cancer that is causing it is human activity. We are responsible for the fix we’re in.

And like Limbaugh, some turn quickly to God looking for a fix and a cure. Some even deign to claim that the destruction of the earth is itself God’s Will, and that we are only helping to bring that about.

That’s a killer philosophy, a pathology of the spirit aptly expressed by the likes of Donald Trump in his cloying attempts to recruit evangelicals to his side in a relentless pursuit of power. Trump preaches the depressingly nihilistic religion of the selfish, ignorant and fearful who love to claim absolute authority even as their worldview proves to be a cancer on everything it touches. It is willful naivete disguised as wisdom.

Proponents of willful naivete place their hopes in the near-term glory of a healthy economy, yet economic markets shudder at the merest hint of the newest flu virus whether it emerges from a snake, a monkey, a pig or a bird.

They claim Christian virtues by insisting that the nation can never come to true harm under the providence of God. Yet scripture documents the many ways people ignored the prophets in favor of selfish desires and aims. Nature and God combined to crush those cultures and empires for their hubris. A selective reading of scripture can produce whatever justification one desires, and the Christian religion has done that for nearly two millennia, killing Jews for the literal death of Jesus, a battle cry adopted by Adolf Hitler who justified the Holocaust by saying, and we paraphrase, “We are only doing what the Christian religion has been doing for 1500 years.”

Prejudice as principle

That brand of prejudicial hubris is precisely what Rush Limbaugh has preached and propagandized in America for three decades. His targeting of “liberals” has turned the ire of authoritarian believers into a murderous cabal craving absolute control over the American populace. His strain of political cancer now attacks the core of constitutional law in a Senate that refuses to hold a corrupt President accountable because it is too inconvenient to treat that cancer with the chemotherapy of impeachment. “It would be too rough on the country,” some Senators insist. This is what happens when prejudice is substituted for principle.

The realities of cancer

I’ve had friends die of cancer. I’ve had a wife die of cancer after eight years of survivorship. My mother died of cancer, but she passed much more quickly. In her case it was a mercy. In my wife’s case it was a journey. So I know what it means to confront cancer and to trust in God and friends to help deal with its concussive effects, whatever they may be.

I don’t wish those difficulties on anyone. But one cannot help recognize the irony of the unique brand of cancer now scourging Rush Limbaugh’s body. He’s already experiencing shortness of breath. Perhaps the doctors can save his life. Yet one wonders whether anyone is capable of saving his clearly vindictive soul. That is the challenge Rush Limbaugh truly needs to face, because he’s spent thirty years wishing evil upon those he abhors and hates. So we’ll see. Sometimes cancer changes people. And wouldn’t that be a remarkable outcome for one of the most cancerous personalities in American history?




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