Kirsten Powers has written an article in which she claims that the American Left has a double standard when it comes to calling out public figures for misogynistic attacks on women:
[I]f Limbaugh’s actions demand a boycott—and they do—then what about the army of swine on the left?
During the 2008 election Ed Schultz said on his radio show that Sarah Palin set off a“bimbo alert.”He called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut.” (He later apologized.) He once even took to his blog to call yours truly a “bimbo” for the offense of quoting him accurately in a New York Post column.
Keith Olbermann has said that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp should have been aborted by her parents, apparently because he finds her having opinions offensive. He called Michelle Malkin a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick.” He found it newsworthy to discuss Carrie Prejean’s breasts on his MSNBC show. His solution for dealing with Hillary Clinton, who he thought should drop out of the presidential race, was to find “somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.” Olbermann now works for über-leftist and former Democratic vice president Al Gore at Current TV.
[W]hen it comes to high-profile campaigns to hold these men accountable—such as that waged against Limbaugh—the real fury seems reserved only for conservatives, while the men on the left get a wink and a nod as long as they are carrying water for the liberal cause.
David Frum sinks his teeth in:
The cases that conservatives cite as somehow equivalent to Limbaugh’s tirade against Fluke by and large did bring consequences for their authors.
After David Letterman for example made an ugly joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter, he delivered an abject seven-minute apology on air. (To which Palin responded by refusing the apology and insinuating that David Letterman was a child molester.)
When liberal talker Ed Schultz nastily called my dear friend Laura Ingraham a “slut” on his radio show, MSNBC responded by suspending Schultz for a week without pay from his TV show. Schultz likewise apologized in person on air. (Ingraham accepted the apology with grace and humor.)
The exception to the general rule is Bill Maher, who never apologized for calling Palin by a demeaning sexual epithet. But…Limbaugh’s place in American public life is in no way comparable to that of David Letterman, Bill Maher or Ed Schultz.
Letterman is not a political figure at all; and while Maher and Schultz strongly identify as liberals, neither qualifies as anything like a powerbroker in the Democratic Party. I’m sure the Barack Obama re-election effort is happy to have Maher’s million-dollar gift, but I sincerely doubt there is a Democratic congressman who worries much whether Maher criticizes him. A word of criticism from Limbaugh, by contrast, will reduce almost any member of the Republican caucus to abject groveling.
There’s even more to it than that though: To the extent that liberal male commentators are getting a pass for misogyny, it’s probably because they otherwise advocate for policies that are beneficial for women. Ed Schultz has been a staunch supporter of Women’s reproductive rights. Bill Maher has satirized Republican attempts to mandate medically unnecessary sonograms before seeking an abortion. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, has a long and rich history of opposing the “projects” of women’s rights organizations, and trivializing their political struggles with rank condescension and cavalier sexism.
The reason why Rush Limbaugh’s latest comments were so poisonous is because he wasn’t just insulting women: his comments potentially caused real harm. Limbaugh’s comments were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of reproductive health issues that is extremely detrimental to women; namely, the fact that birth control is not only prescribed for contraceptive purposes.
Birth control is frequently prescribed to treat medical symptoms unrelated to sexual activity. And in the case of the link above, it involves a 16-year old girl who was bleeding profusely due to an irregular menstrual cycle, which was accompanied by psychological distress and crippling pain. This is who Limbaugh was calling a slut. This is who Limbaugh was implicitly asking to make a sex tape so he could masturbate to it. These are the kind of issues that Rush Limbaugh fundamentally does not get. And by extension, his listeners don’t get it either.
Unlike Ed Schultz, Letterman, or Maher, Limbaugh was not simply taking a cheap shot at an ideological adversary by exploiting a gendered pejorative. He was denigrating the very real human suffering of women and girls who are in no position to defend themselves from his bilous remarks. Laura Ingraham cannot claim that Ed Schultz made her life more difficult to live when he called her a slut. As bad as it may have been, Schultz simply does not have enough influence on the left to make an impact on the thinking of large groups of people. And Schultz’ remarks immediately offended a large portion of his audience. The same cannot be said of Rush Limbaugh.
That’s why this time was different. That’s why there’s no equivocation between Rush’s vile assault on reproductive rights, and the alleged double standard that gets applied to liberal commentators. There was much more at stake, from a public policy standpoint, in Rush’s comments than there was in the counter-examples from left-leaning commentators. That’s why it was a big deal this time around.
In a seemingly unprecedented move, Rep. Boehner has issued a mild rebuke of Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, calling them “inappropriate.” Several advertisers have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh is definitely catching some negative pushback on this one.
I’m happy that something Limbaugh has said is finally generating some pushback amongst the business community and his political allies. But I can’t help but wonder what it was about this particular comment that finally resulted in that pushback. What Limbaugh said about Fluke was shameless, idiotic, and mean-spirited. But no less so than many of the absolutely abhorent things Limbaugh has over the course of his career. It has almost unviersally been the case that, more often than not, when Limbaugh says something terrible, he not only suffers no backlash, he actually benefits from the negative attention, because he turns it into another talking point to criticize his political opponents.
To wit: back in October, Limbaugh infamously gaffe’d by defending the Lord’s Resistance Army, an organization so heinous that there is a website devoted to tracking in real-time the amount of human rights violations they commit. While Limbaugh was panned by all the usual suspects at the time (i.e. those of us who hate Rush Limbaugh), there really was no quantifiably bad result for Rush. To my knowledge, there were no petition drives, no calls for pulling advertising, and no unusual public outcry. His employer had nothing really to say about it (given how much money he brings in). If defending the LRA doesn’t push Limbaugh over the edge, why would invidious sexism (which he has a proud history of) be the coup d’etat that finally results in some negative backlash?
The only thing that comes to mind is timing. The Republican “War on Women” has been raging fairly hot these past couple years. In fact, the number of anti-reproductive choice bills being submitted in state legislatures has been unprecedented in the modern era. The chart below demonstrates this quite vividly:
(via Daily Kos)
Over the past few years, we’ve seen Republican-led state legislatures declare war on Planned Parenthood, attempts to pass personhood amendments, a debate over mandating insurance coverage for contraception, and most recently, bills which mandate transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving an abortion. We are, in other words, in the midst of an all-out war on reproductive rights; and female voters (and their male allies) are organizing politically to fight this trend. And the polls are on their side on virtually every one of these issues. In short, Rush may have simply chosen the wrong time to call women advocating for reproductive rights sluts. They are politically organized, and both men & women are afraid of losing some of the reproductive freedom that they now enjoy. If that’s the impetus behind the substantive backlash against Rush, then I welcome this latest batch of serendipity.
I welcome it not least because Rush needs to be discredited among those sympathetic to his political stances whenever possible. A small business that advertises on his show might conceivably share his beliefs about high tax burdens and over-regulation. But those small businesses are not stupid. They know that associating one’s self with Rush’s show means associating with Rush’s rhetoric. And if people who are otherwise sympathetic to Rush’s message start abandoning him, he will start losing credibility amongst the very people who keep him relevant. I welcome the day that Rush Limbaugh finally recedes into the chasm of political obscurity, where his blathering can no longer infect impressionable minds from the comfort of his echo chamber. Here’s to hoping this is the beginning of that journey.