When the Limbaugh-Fluke brouhaha erupted earlier this month, I was stranded deep inside one of those interminable freelance projects that are a fact of life for writers without glossy six-figure publishing contracts or lofty media pulpits. While the public’s fury swelled, I had to clench my teeth and press on with my project. Since then, I’ve been fighting a war with myself, chomping and bucking like a race horse trapped inside the starting gate.
Was it too late to comment? Would it do any good at this point to toss my own two cents into the communal opinion bank? If I did, would my inner contrarian rise up and alienate most of my right-thinking (i.e., slightly left of center) friends and acquaintances — particularly the womenfolk?
Well, let me sound off and take the consequences. I’m a fiercely opinionated moderate, and staying silent much longer would probably kill me or at least wreak havoc with my vintage arteries.
Rush Limbaugh willfully distorted the truth to score points. No surprise there. He took a female law student’s articulate testimony about the medical need for birth control pills in women with certain reproductive disorders — and spun it into a snarky, mean-spirited diatribe about the law student’s own sex life. Most of us winced at Limbaugh’s wanton attack on a blameless private citizen, and the man deserved to have his knuckles rapped.
Even an obtuse male chauvinist pig like Limbaugh must know that the number of birth control pills consumed by a woman has nothing to do with the frequency of her sexual encounters. He was maliciously retooling Sandra Fluke’s testimony to make her look like a godless skank and a burden on the system — balm, no doubt, for his mostly male, mostly Christian, all-conservative, all-traditionalist and part-Neanderthal listening audience.
Here was the biggest lie: nobody was forcing the public to “pay” Fluke to have sex. It was all about her school’s health coverage — and the broader implications of restrictive insurance for women who need the pill.
Still, Fluke left herself open to right-wing attacks. She drew no real distinction between women who use contraception for medical purposes and those who simply use it to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. She never suggested that her school’s insurance should cover only medically necessary birth control. In fact, she never mentioned the pill’s handy role in recreational sex at all. So we can reasonably assume that she’d be fine with mandatory coverage of all birth control pills and devices, medically necessary or not. And of course, she was expecting a venerable Jesuit institution to override the Church’s militant opposition to birth control. Nobody forced her to go to Georgetown, after all. It might be a smart idea for women who want free contraceptives to steer clear of Catholic universities, right?
Limbaugh saw an easy target and fired away at it. But the shot went ’round the world and finally hit his own amply padded posterior. His mendacious, over-the-top “slut” spiel should serve as Exhibit A for the pitfalls of polarization: nobody out there seems content with the facts; they prefer an artful spin that plays to their prejudices. “Those self-entitled liberal women just want us to pay for their sexual escapades… yadda, yadda, yadda.”
Liberals responded with (mostly) justifiable outrage, along with some disturbing undercurrents. I don’t blame them for fuming over Limbaugh’s remarks… his words were eminently fumeworthy. But (and of course, since this is a moderate blog, you knew there would be a “but”) I think the organized Left made a little too much hay while this particular sun was shining. Just as Limbaugh used Fluke’s remarks to advance his agenda, they avidly used Limbaugh’s remarks to advance theirs.
All across the Twitterverse and the left bank of the Internet, “right-thinking” lefties and even the milder sort of liberals rose as one against Rush and the conservative movement in general. Now they railed against the “War on Women” — a deliberately provocative new liberal catchphrase for the Right’s opposition to abortion and (especially among the Vatican faithful) contraception.
This united progressive front wrote to Limbaugh’s sponsors, threatening to boycott. The pressure worked: the sponsors, good capitalists that they are, thought about their bottom line, gulped nervously and started bailing — a dozen or so within the first few days, then dozens more, until over a hundred of them abandoned ship. (Who knew that a single radio show — even Limbaugh’s — could field that many sponsors, let alone lose them?) By last week most of the ads on Limbaugh’s show were public service announcements.
The Left seized the opportunity to silence a longtime foe. Here’s where they raised my moderate’s hackles: as usual, when lefties don’t like the opinions the other side is spouting, they use threats and collective action to stifle those opinions. (Not for them the free marketplace of ideas.)
The Left’s intolerance of wayward opinions is nothing new, but it’s as unsettling a phenomenon as ever. For a couple of generations now, the Enlightened Ones have been routinely barring the more controversial conservative speakers from campus, discriminating against conservative Christian students in the college admissions process, and thwarting the careers of conservative scholars (the more fortunate of whom typically end up plying their trade at think tanks).
In the realm of ideas, they’ve been enforcing codes of political correctness that selectively protect favored groups — but not whites, Christians, men or (naturally) conservatives. And when they hate someone, they go for the jugular as ferociously as any Tea Party fanatic. It’s not enough for the Left simply to denounce Rush Limbaugh for his ill-considered remarks about Sandra Fluke; they have to sabotage him… silence him… eliminate him.
They overlook the fact that although Limbaugh is a major polarizing force, he’s also an entertainer — a jovial bloviator who thrives on controversy if he can make it amusing enough. The man doesn’t take himself nearly as seriously as his enemies do. We’re talking about an oversized imp who calls himself “El Rushbo,” proclaims that he has “talent on loan from God,” and is “having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have.” He’s turned blustering hyperbole into a minor art form, a practice that obviously backfired when he used it on Sandra Fluke.
Underneath the semi-facetious bluster, Limbaugh is a man of multiple biases: against liberals, of course, but also against feminists, blacks and any other minority perceived to be getting an unwarranted free pass from the establishment. As such, he reflects the cynicism and simmering resentments of his aging white male audience.
Rush’s “dittoheads” are mostly battle-scarred lower-middle-class and working-class stiffs, overwhelmingly white and Christian, who have routinely been denied entrance to elite colleges and institutions. Nobody has ever rolled out the red carpet for them, let alone paid their way. Yet they’ve had to absorb decades of acrimony from the very minorities and women who have been supplanting them at those elite institutions. Limbaugh tapped into their resentment and became fabulously wealthy as a result.
We need to listen to disaffected white males on the right, as much as we need to listen to any other aggrieved minority group. “White male privilege” is a myth if you’re not an upper-middle-class white male. The Left refuses to acknowledge that inconvenient point, preferring instead to aim its own withering brand of snarkery at less privileged, less educated white Christian dudes.
It grows tiresome, all this chi-chi contempt for the masses — from the very people who are supposed to embrace ordinary working folk. It disturbs me that the NPR demographic regards the Fox News demographic as an alien and inferior species. It disturbs me even more that we’re evolving into two separate and mutually incompatible nations. It should disturb you, too.
It doesn’t reflect well on the educated Left that their people have joined the Far Right in hopping aboard the Polarization Express. Above all, it’s ultimately dangerous for the Left to mock and marginalize such a vast segment of the population: that’s how this particular segment fell into the clutches of willful manipulators like Rush Limbaugh.
In its obsession with Limbaugh’s offensive misogynistic remarks, the Left is missing El Rushbo’s real offense … that he exploits the anger of ordinary white Christian males to enlist them in a cause that’s antithetical to their own interests. He teaches them to resent government intrusion, resent taxes on their hard-earned income, resent pampered minorities and uppity women.
And here’s the ultimate irony: instead of identifying with the “99 percent,” these unloved, unappreciated, mostly unsuccessful men end up supporting the agenda of the conservative plutocratic elite! Joe the Plumber and Goldman Sachs make a mighty odd couple.
Should we try to silence Rush Limbaugh for the damage he’s done? No, we should get inspired, drop our snobbery and compete with him for the hearts and souls of all those marginalized Middle Americans. They’re not an alien species, after all… they’re our brothers, uncles and cousins. They’re Americans. They’re us.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Founder-editor of The New Moderate, a blog for the passionate centrist who would go to extremes to fight extremism. Disgruntled idealist… author of The Cynic’s Dictionary… inspired by H. L. Mencken… able to leap small buildings in several bounds. Lives with his son in a century-old converted stable in Philadelphia.