AS a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun.
At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way?
Then, once you accept the fact that he has become the puppet master of the Republican Party by stirring bloodlust (earning enough to bribe Elton John to play at his fourth wedding), you still cringe at the thought that your mom might hear the ugly things he said.
Now he’s brutalizing a poised, wholesome-looking 30-year-old Georgetown law student as a “slut,” “a prostitute” and “round-heeled” simply for testifying to lawmakers about wanting the school to amend its health insurance to cover contraception.
Sandra Fluke “goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her?” Limbaugh coarsely ranted. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.”
Isn’t this the last guy who should be pointing fingers and accusing others of taking pills for recreational purposes?
He said insuring contraception would represent another “welfare entitlement,” which is wrong — tax dollars would not provide the benefit, employers and insurance companies would. And women would not be getting paid just “to have sex.” They’d be getting insurance coverage toward the roughly $1,000 annual expense of trying to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and to control other health conditions. This is something men and conservatives should want too, and not just because those outcomes actually do cost taxpayers money.
Limbaugh leeringly suggested that were taxpayers to be stuck with the bill, Fluke and other “feminazis” should give them something back: sex videos. “We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” he said.
Fluke was lobbying Georgetown University to change its policy for three years before she became a cause célèbre outcast when the Republican congressman Darrell Issa barred her from an all-male panel on contraception. But her conflict with her Jesuit school did not stop its president, John DeGioia, from eloquently defending his student (who ended up testifying for Nancy Pelosi’s all-Democratic panel).
“She provided a model of civil discourse,” he said in a letter to the school. “This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression.”
He branded the reaction of Limbaugh and some other commentators as “misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”
Given this season’s lava spill of hate, it was fitting that DeGioia evoked St. Augustine: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth.”
It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, Bob Dole, the former G.O.P. leader and presidential nominee, was a spokesman for Viagra. (Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since “when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.”)
Rush and Newt Gingrich can play the studs, marrying again and again until they find the perfect adoring young wife. But women pressing for health care rights are denigrated as sluts.
On Thursday, the Senate narrowly voted down a puritanical Republican attempt to let employers and insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives on any religious or moral grounds they could dream up.
Only a last-minute media glare caused Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, and its Republican-led Legislature to modify a shockingly punitive law aiming to shame and in many cases penetrate women seeking abortions. The version that passed on Thursday is still harsh enough to damage McDonnell’s vice presidential prospects.
By Friday, President Obama, who had started out fumbling the contraception issue, and the Democrats were taking gleeful advantage, raising $1.6 million to combat the G.O.P.’s “war on women.”
Mitt Romney reacted to Limbaugh for days with craven silence before finally allowing on a rope line on Friday night that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Is there a right way to call a woman a slut?
Rick Santorum, whose views on women are medieval, said “an entertainer can be absurd.” Speaker John Boehner offered a tepid comment through a spokesman that Limbaugh’s words were “inappropriate.”
President Obama called Fluke and bucked her up, probably hoping to get Limbaugh to double down. El Rushbo, as he calls himself, obliged. “Did you ever think of backing off the amount of sex you’re having?” he demanded of Fluke on Friday’s broadcast as some advertisers were fleeing: Sleep Train Mattress Centers, Quicken Loans, Select Comfort and AutoZone.
The law student got the call from the president as she was about to go on Andrea Mitchell’s show on MSNBC. She darted into an empty office to talk to Obama and closed the door; soon Chris Matthews was wondering who was inside and sending a staffer to check it out.
“The president just wanted to make sure I was O.K.,” she said. “And I am O.K. I’m pretty level-headed.”
The childless radio yakker wondered snidely how Fluke’s parents, who live in rural Pennsylvania, would feel about her crusade. Fluke, a Methodist Democrat, said she was particularly touched that the president told her, speaking as the father of two daughters, that her parents should be proud.
“My parents and I don’t always agree politically,” she said, but about the issue of insuring contraception, “we see eye to eye.”Update: On Saturday evening, Rush Limbaugh posted a statement on his Web site, which can be read here.