On Saturday, a reader named Barbara left a comment saying she had hoped I would have something to say about Rush Limbaugh's attempted smackdown of Georgetown Law student, Sandra Fluke. Half a dozen others emailed with a similar request. So because there has been hardly any other news to read, see or hear, this is what I think (in way too many words).
Let's get the Constitution out of the way up front. Aside from a handful of exceptions recognized by the courts, in the United States all speech is allowed without government restriction or penalty. I am a First Amendment absolutist and I would, if necessary, defend Rush Limbaugh's statements in regard to Sandra Fluke.
That doesn't mean his words were not awful, contemptible, fetid, grotesque, loathsome, monstrous, odious, repellent, repulsive, repugnant, scummy, sexist, unspeakable and vile (shall I go on?) as is the man himself. But that's not new information.
(I am not going to repeat what Mr. Limbaugh said in regard to Sandra Fluke. If you've been under a rock since last Thursday, just Google Limbaugh.)
What enrages me as much as Limbaugh, however, is the tepid response from Republican leaders. A spokes person for John Boehner (not Boehner himself) said the House Speaker
“...obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation.”
The best presidential candidate Mitt Romney could come up with was, “it’s not the language I would have used.” (I cannot resist asking if that means Romney thinks the misogyny okay, only the words were poorly chosen.)
“Well, he's taking - you know, he's being absurd. But that's, you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And - and he's taking the absurd, you know, the absurd - absurd, you know, sort of, you know, point of view here as to how - how far do you go? And, look, I'm - he's - he's in a very different business than I am.”
Newt Gingrich allowed as how Limbaugh was “wrong” to call Ms. Fluke a slut and a prostitute.
Ron Paul thought Limbaugh's words were in poor taste:
"It sounded a little crude the way it came across to me," Paul said. "I don't know why it has to be such a political football like this, so you have to ask him about his crudeness."
Inappropriate? Absurd? Entertainer? Wrong? Crude? Good god. The men who want to be leader of the free world are all brushing off a recitation of profound hatred of women like it's a social faux pas.
Personally, I think their responses show that they rank Rush Limbaugh's imprimatur of them way above the status and stature of women. If I were inclined to vote for any of them, these answers alone would disabuse me the notion.
Many liberal and progressive groups along with various social media called for Limbaugh sponsors to withdraw their advertising from his radio show and by the weekend, many had done so: Sleep Train, Sleep Number, Legal Zoom, Citrix, Quicken Loans among them.
I'm not impressed. Rush Limbaugh has a long history of vicious bullying, accusations and degradation of people he doesn't like. My question is why any company pays money to be associated with him. I guess 20 million “dittohead” listeners trump honesty, integrity and principle.
However, pressure on Limbaugh – or his advertisers – apparently gathered enough strength that by Saturday, the man issued an apology – if you can call it that. Here it is as it appeared on his website – every self-serving word of it:
“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
“I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability?
“Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.
“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”
“Chose the wrong words?” “Absurd? “Humorous?” Don't you believe it. Rush Limbaugh said exactly what he intended to say and he and his 20 million believe it is acceptable to talk in this manner about women. This was no apology.
By the way and as an aside, it irritates the hell out of me that almost everyone in the punditry class makes a big deal of the million women in the U.S. who use oral contraceptives for conditions unrelated to birth control - as though that makes such use more acceptable or honorable than when used to prevent pregnancy.
There is nothing wrong with women engaging in sex as often and with as many partners as they want; frequency and slutitude are not synonymous and who cares if they are.
But I digress.
It appears to me that this ado will blow over. For reasons that are a mystery to me, Republican politicians grovel at Limbaugh's feet and do not dare to cross him. In 2008, then-Republican Party chairman Michael Steele apologized profusely to Limbaugh after criticizing him. Others have crawled up to lick his boots after their own transgressions.
Plus, take the case of Don Imus. In April 2007, he made terrible remarks of a racial nature against the mostly black players of a women's basketball team.
Sponsors pulled out of his show. Like Limbaugh, Imus apologized dishonestly and inadequately. Within days, he was suspended and then his show was canceled. But by December, eight months later, Imus was back on the air where he remains today.
If Clear Channel Communications, the company that syndicates Limbaugh's show, cancels him, I have no doubt he will be back on air long before the end of the year with, undoubtedly, many of the same advertisers. (By the way, it amuses me that Clear Channel is owned by Mitt Romney's Bain Capital.)
If you have watched any of Sandra Fluke's media appearances, you know she will be fine. She is a smart, level-headed woman imbued with a natural dignity who, I have no doubt, instinctively understands that Rush Limbaugh stepped in it this time and he cannot, did not harm her.
UNRELATED NOTE ON TOMORROW'S SUPER TUESDAY PRIMARY: Thanks to once-a-decade redistricting by a Republican state legislature in Ohio, two worthy Democrats are in a bitter fight against one another for their party's nomination for Congress from the 9th District.
There will be only one winner between Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur and that is a terrible loss for Congress.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: What Makes Me Laugh