The cancer of Rush Limbaugh

Christopher Cudworth
Feb 4 · 11 min read
Photo by Micah Walter, Reuters.

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. How interesting it is that Limbaugh now faces a life-threatening disease. May he never face the pain that drives some people to want to end their own life. But there are no guarantees.

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. He conducted himself with immense personal dignity and concern for others, gathering friends in a series of parties to say goodbye.

Smoking kills

The fact of the matter is that smoking kills. 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. I listened once as he raved that it was tough luck if some people couldn’t see well at night because vehicles equipped with high-intensity headlights blinded them. He didn’t care. “People should be able to drive whatever they want,” he contested.

In other words, it’s never been caring about others that Limbaugh has advocated. He has been the King of Selfish Motivations for many decades, but now it’s come back to haunt him as chronicled in this 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.

He’s just never been much for serious contrition about any topic he chooses to address. He instead claims to not suffer fools gladly. Yet that includes denying any form of science that contradicts his political beliefs and his immensely selfish brand of “personal autonomy.” For that bully pulpit style, his viewers and listeners seem to worship him.

And Rush wasn’t done with the Caller who brought up the topic of smoking:

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.”

Simpletons rule

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 clearly an idealistic fool about the subject of smoking, but his view often blow up in his face whether he ever realizes it or not. Because while Limbaugh claimed that smoking is a net benefit for society, the actual costs of smoking and public health are documented in a Reuters story published in December 2014:

(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.”

Off the rails

Hoax is a favorite word among conservative propagandists

Those statistics illustrate the massive flaws in Limbaugh’s selfish logic that smoking is a “benefit” to society. In yet another discussion with a different caller on the subject of healthcare, Limbaugh uses his soapbox to aim darts at social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. First, his listener has to get n the requisite “I agree with you” missive:

CALLER: Hey, Rush. How you doing? Mega dittos.

He proceeds to serve up a topic Limbaugh loves to hate, government-run healthcare. “I was wondering, with this health care talk that’s going on now, I mean, I thought that Trump wanted to get rid of Obamacare. Apparently that’s not what they want to do right away. But if the government was so good at running the health care or dictating health care, why isn’t the VA or the American Indian plan a shining example of what government can do?

Limbaugh jumps on the chance to hate on government.

RUSH: Your curiosity is such here that you have to have been able to come up with some answers to your question. Let’s set it a different way and let me turn it back at you. You have just demonstrated that when the government administers health care institutions, they’re a disaster, okay?


RUSH: So why do you think they want to continue to exercise that kind of control and power over health care when every example of them doing it is pretty bad?

CALLER: Because I don’t think it really has anything to do with health care. I think it’s just the redistribution of wealth, the power. That’s all I can think of. I don’t understand how they — if they can’t handle the limited amount of veterans that are in the VA system — and I realize that’s a lot of people, but it’s a limited amount compared to the population of the country, how are they gonna get 300 million people?

The closer for Rush is the takedown of his two most-hated government healthcare plans:

RUSH: You can look at Medicare and Medicaid. Does anybody want them expanded as the American health care? Well, yes, some people do! They’re the exact people you’re talking about.”

All this supposed “insight” occurs while Limbaugh ignores the cogent fact outlined in the Reuters story quote earlier that an estimated 10% of Medicare and Medicaid costs stem from treatment of smoking-related diseases. So Limbaugh is the direct cause of the very problems he claims to be able to solve by cutting government-run healthcare programs. That, my friends, is the height of hypocrisy. Limbaugh is a selectively calculating liar.

More idiocy

City Canyons. Painting by Christopher Cudworth.

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.”

Of course, his creationist listeners would disagree with that last claim. Yearly polls show that between 35–40% of Americans believe in some form of the creationist narrative that says the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

Gaslighting America

Controlling personalities all use the same tactics.

The premises Rush Limbaugh uses to dismiss the concept of human influence on climate change are not based on science. They are based on stubborn personal belief that people who believe in what Rush Limbaugh says can do no wrong. And his listeners reward him with the classic phrase, “Dittos, Rush.” It’s all about salving his ego. Nothing more. The same tactic works for Donald Trump with Make America Great Again. Controlling abusers always demand fealty.

Yet that brand of ideology is a direct attempt to avoid personal responsibility, specifically for a problem that people can fix if they put their mind to it. Because man like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump are at heart critically lazy about anything that requires more than a moment’s attention to detail and actual facts.

That’s alway why Rush Limbaugh and his listeners don’t like to admit the need to change. It is deplorable to them. 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 any problem at all. Hence the claim that smoking is a benefit to society and that toxic greenhouse gasses provide a benefit to the world. Both are ironically literal forms of gaslighting. It’s all an attempt to abuse truth in favor of selfish, controlling behavior.

These perverse values are running rampant in America right now. Rush Limbaugh is a big reason for their propagation. He’s a cancer upon the Republic that keeps on giving.

Fixing problems

Now the whole world is having trouble breathing. The cancer is human activity. We are responsible for the fix we’re in. It is our job to change or die.

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.

Naive assumptions

Butterfly Banquet. Painting by Christopher Cudworth.

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

We don’t know all the things that cause cancer. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use science to learn.

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?

Christopher Cudworth is author of the book The Right Kind of Pride, a chronicle of cancer survivorship available on

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade