RUSH: Columbus, Ohio, this is Dan. You’re up, sir, nice to have you with us first.
CALLER: Rush, first I have to say, ‘Go Buckeyes tonight.’ Secondly, you said you’ve been number one radio show or radio program for, what did you say, 16, 17 years?
RUSH: Yeah, 17 years. I’ve been on the air 18 and a half.
CALLER: I have been listening to you literally forever. Who do you take over number one from? Who was number one before you?
RUSH: The reason I wanted to take your call is because I saw that up there, and it’s actually a good question, and I think, being truthful here, there was no number one in the sense that I am now. You’d have to go back to radio prior to television, to the Jack Benny days and when all people had was radio to find an audience of this size. When I started in 1988, there wasn’t a national radio program. The national radio programs ran from midnight to six. Well, there were some at night. You had Sally Jessy Raphael and other people, but the audience was tiny. I guess you’d have to say at some point they would have been number one by default.
RUSH: But their audiences back then might have been significant, but they were nothing like the audience here today. So in the modern era, there probably hasn’t been one this large.
CALLER: So you’re saying if I look up number one in the dictionary there will be a picture of you there?
RUSH: Well, except I don’t like to use that phrase because it’s become a cliché, and besides, the people that write the dictionaries and all that are Rush Deniers.
RUSH: So you wouldn’t see my picture next to a definition of #1 me in the dictionary. Actually, it’s a good question, and I’m glad you asked. Speaking of this, I got an e-mail, and to me, this is also an interesting question. You know, last week I received the William F. Buckley Award — the very first one bestowed — for Media Excellence, by the Media Research Center in Washington on Thursday night. I spent a lot of time on the program Friday explaining my pride and what an honor it was to win this, and some of my experiences in meeting Mr. Buckley. He’s one of my idols. A guy writes me a note. His name is David Allen. He said, ‘Rush, you’ve told us a lot about Bill Buckley over the years, and I’ve read his column fairly regularly only recently. He’s obviously a great thinker and has mastered the language. He was a courageous pioneer. But I’d like to know what it is about him that means so much to you. Hope to hear from you. Thanks, David Allen, from West Friendship in Maryland.’
I thought, ‘This is a good question.’ It’s a good question because I’ve probably made the mistake of assuming that most in this audience can trace a relationship back to the fifties and sixties like I can with Bill Buckley, and I realize that a lot of people who have only recently been interested in or turned on to programs like this featuring subject matter like we face, might not have anywhere near the breadth of understanding of the role Bill Buckley has played in a lot of people’s lives and in the so-called conservative movement. But that’s not the real reason. That, of course, goes without saying. Now, this may be tough to explain, but I believe that human beings are born, and it is assumed that they have a static brain, that they have a static IQ, that you’re born with whatever ability to learn that you have, and once you’ve reached that, you’ve maxed it out. In other words, that you cannot exercise your brain. You can build up your body. You can change your body by gaining weight, losing weight, lifting weights, working out, whatever you want you had to. But your brain is your brain.
A lot of people think the brain is the brain and your personality is your personality and whatever is what they are, and I happen to disagree with that aspect about the brain precisely because I think that I’ve actually gotten not more informed and more educated, because that goes without saying. We all get more educated as we get older. Life experiences teach us things that we haven’t experienced before, so that would qualify as an education. It’s another thing whether you learn something from it or not, but clearly it happens, and I think people over the course of their lives not only become more educated, they obviously become more informed. But there’s more to it than that, and I think the best way I can explain the effect that my father and Bill Buckley had on me was I wanted to be smarter than I thought I was, and that was the primary inspiration for being exposed to people like that, not just in terms of learning the language but being able to use it — and I’m nowhere near Buckley’s league.
I didn’t have an objective to do that. I didn’t want to write a column of two or three words that nobody ever heard of before and had to go to the dictionary. It wasn’t that. It was just a means of expressing myself, a means of being able to communicate. Everybody has a lot of thoughts, but how many people are able to actually put them in words in a cogent, understandable, and even persuasive way? Over the course of my life, I’ve been persuaded, I have been influenced, and my mind, in my estimation… Now, there might be brain scientists, neurologists who think I’m all wet, and I could be, on this. You hear they do brain exercises for people that have Alzheimer’s and this sort of thing, and I don’t think that they’re casually mentioning that. I think there is a way to do it. I’m just telling you: Mr. Buckley and my dad interested me in my brain growing, in my ability to comprehend and my ability to absorb and retain, as in my memory and this sort of thing, and I know this kind of thing is possible.
We all start out as skulls full of mush, by definition. We start out want knowing anything, and the moment we’re born and we start absorbing things even before we know we’re absorbing them, and we end up going to school and we all end up being educated. We are able to be taught. I just think that a lot of people think that whatever their brain is, their IQ or their intelligence, they probably think that’s it, that there’s not any more they can do with it than what they’re born with, the brain is such a mystery. What this led to in my case was almost a total lack of satisfaction at the first explanation I ever heard for anything. Some may call that skepticism, but it wasn’t skepticism, and it wasn’t distrust. It was a realization that there can’t be just simply one source for all knowledge or for a point of view or what have you, other than me on this program for you. (Laughing.) That’s where the exercise of my brain has come in. When you’re around people smarter than you, some people get intimidated, and some people say, ‘Oh, I’ll never be able to do that.’
I didn’t look at it that way. Around smart people, people that I admired, people whose ability to learn and absorb and be vastly educated over a wide variety of things, inspired me. Buckley is really a renaissance man. He’s not had, until lately… I don’t know of anyone who’s life has been spent more actively in both recreation and sybaritic pursuits, serious pursuits. I don’t know anybody. I cannot imagine William B. Buckley, Jr., in his prime or even prior to that having ‘downtime.’ Everything in his life was pursuit of something pleasurable, or something important or what have you. You’d never describe him as lazy. He is someone who made it a point to get as much out of the opportunity of life as possible, in the realm in which he worked, the people he was able to meet, the things that he learned to do. He piloted a sailboat around the world, or maybe just across the Atlantic, and almost lost it all during a storm.
He’s an expert on countless subjects. There’s not one subject you can bring up in talking to him he doesn’t know a lot about it, not that he’s just heard about it. He’s a former CIA agent. He’s just tireless, indefatigable, and those are the kind of things that inspired me. So I’m thankful for the question to be able to answer this, because, like anything else, I was assuming (like a lot of people) that everybody was familiar with his life and his history and his work, as I’ve been since the time of my youth. I started reading his columns in the newspaper in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, which no longer exists, when I was ten or 11 years old, and I remember being mesmerized by him, not just because of the vocabulary being used. Everybody talks about Reagan and supply-side economics. I first learned it from Bill Buckley, in a newspaper column when I’m a teenager. His explanation just made total sense. He was bouncing off something that had happened in the news, I forget what it was, of course, from way back then.
There was also a book that he edited called, ‘Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking?’, and it featured essays by a number of people he had known, Whitaker Chambers and so forth over the course of his life, and that book — and I’ve told him this. It was not a big book. It’s obscure. I don’t know if you can even find it anymore. My father happened to have it in his dusty old library, and I happened to go over this thing. When I first was exposed to it in 19, what would it be? The years. I went back to radio after five years with the Kansas City Royals, and I was doing commentary on KNBZ in Kansas City and was causing all kinds of ruckus, because nobody was expressing political opinions, and this was the primary campaign of 1984. So this would be the spring of 1984, and the Hawkeye Cauci were coming up, and newspaper critics were writing about how mean and harsh and intolerant and all that, and I was just nonplussed by it. ‘What is all this? I’m just telling people what I think.’
It was so unheard of then, particularly on radio, that it caused a lot of dander, and just by happenstance, one weekend I was home at Cape Girardeau visiting, and I ran across this book, and the first essay I turned to was an essay by Whitaker Chambers who was analyzing somebody that was too harsh and vitriolic in their writings and therefore not accomplishing things in the realm of persuasion. It didn’t fit my situation to a T, but it was eye opening. It’s these kinds of things that — and I was always oriented back then (even then) to doing what I’m doing today, but doing it effectively, not just doing it to make people mad, not just doing it to get noticed, because anybody can do that and it doesn’t take any talent. So, learning to tell people why I think what I think rather than just soak it up like a sponge and repeat that without any backup, all these things and much, much more would have to be the primary reasons why Buckley has meant so much, and he never knew any of this. I didn’t meet Bill Buckley until 1991 or ’92. He gets embarrassed when I tell him this stuff. He gets embarrassed when I imitate him. At the National Review 50th Anniversary he said, ‘You go up there and no imitations.’ I said all right, ‘Fine, I won’t imitate you.’ But he’s a prince of a guy. He’s one of these people (I’m sure you know them) you go in the room with him, you sit there and don’t have to do anything for three hours and you’ve just spent over a semester in a classroom equivalent.
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Transcript: William F. Buckley ‘Greatest Conservative in the World’ Award
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