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Rush Limbaugh: The Coal Miner's Friend
August 2, 2002
By Mike McArdle

I ordinarily find Rush Limbaugh and similar talk show hosts rather easy to ignore and discount. I don't think even their most rabid devotees consider them to be serious political commentators. I will even acknowledge that I am occasional listener of Limbaugh and some of the others while I am at work although I've found it to be a tad embarrassing to have someone walk in at work while Limbaugh is on the radio. I suppose I think it would make a better impression to have the local hip-hop station on.

But this week Limbaugh made a truly preposterous attempt to identify the nine rescued coal miners of Western Pennsylvania with his philosophy of endless corporate sycophancy. There weren't any liberals in that coal mine, he told his audience, they were rugged individualists, true Americans, not liberals who would have only cared about whether trees were being cut down. The man who's made a career out of believing in the benevolence of American business and touting laissez-faire capitalism as an boon to those at every level of the economic scale has now adopted the coal miner as his own. I think then that it's fair to take a look at how Limbaugh's philosophy has benefited those who make their living in the mines.

And that's because, possibly more than any other group of American workers, coal miners have been the victims both of Limbaugh's philosophy and of the corporate types whom he treats the way Monica treated Bill. It isn't the unionized miners that Limbaugh has such an admiration for; it's the owners and operators of the mines, those entrepreneurs whom the radio blowhard so often tells us were the people who made America great.

The story of the American coal miner is the story of the often ugly power of wealth and the long, often dangerous struggle of the powerless worker to achieve dignity in a society where the cards have been stacked against them. For decades miners much like the ones who were trapped in that Pennsylvania mine last weekend were subjected to extremely long working days, frighteningly unsafe conditions and deadly lung diseases. They lived in substandard (to put it mildly) housing and paid rent to the very people who sent them into those unsafe mines. They were frequently paid in script that could only be used to pay inflated prices in stores owned by the same coal operators who lived quite comfortably and would never have thought of treating their pets the way they treated the miners.

The lot of the miner improved but through no fault of the coal barons who did their best to intimidate, physically abuse and if necessary kill any miners who had the nerve to ask for socialistic notions like a shorter work day. The operators were not above hiring goons or using compliant local police officials to do their dirty work for them. In September of 1897 in an effort to gain better conditions a peaceful group of United Mine Worker supporters marched in Lattimer, PA. The march was stopped by company and local police who wound up gunning down nineteen workers and wounding 50 others. No one was ever prosecuted.

In 1914, in Ludlow CO miners attempting to join UMWA were evicted from their company-owned houses and set up a tent colony on public property. Company thugs opened fire randomly into the tents and poured kerosene on them to sent them on fire. Twenty people were shot and burned to death, a dozen of them wives and children of the miners. Again none of the perpetrators were ever brought to justice but many of the miners were arrested and blackballed by the coal industry. There were other places - Matewan, Cabin Creek, Bloody Harlan. The struggle lasted decades. Miners didn't get health benefits until the late forties or safety protection until 1969.

Now if there had been talk radio in those days whose side do you think Limbaugh and those like him would have taken in incidents like these? Do we even have to ask? He'd have been screeching hysterically about "socialism" and how the union organizers were trying to destroy free enterprise and the great men who were nice enough to give them jobs and places to live. For all his professed admiration for the miners it was people like him who fought them every step of the way and made some of them risk their lives to get an 8 hour work day and collective bargaining rights and health and retirement coverage, things that we all take for granted today. The people who brought dignity and a decent life to the miners were people like John L. Lewis and William B. Wilson and that marvelous cantankerous hell-raiser who was at both Lattimer and Ludlow, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones. There weren't any conservatives working for the welfare of miners.

And how much effort and money do you think the coal operators would have expended to rescue those nine men who were trapped in that hole in the ground ? After the rescue the mining company made no effort to contact any of the nine miners and it wasn't until late Tuesday that the company grudgingly announced that the miners would be paid for the three days they spent trapped underground fearing for their lives. It was agents of government, the institution Limbaugh so despises, that saved the miners.

His grotesque hypocrisy won't dampen the enthusiasm of Limbaughs mindless followers. It's hardly his first venture into the world of self-contradiction.

But wouldn't it be nice if old Mother Jones was still around to walk into his studio and smack that ignoramus upside the head and tell him about Lattimer and Ludlow and John L. Lewis and some people who were truly friends of coal miners?

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