To be clear, Rush Limbaugh has never been on a list of people who entertain me. That being said, I usually find it easy to ignore his crass jokes and inappropriate attention-grabbing antics. If you take what he has to say with a grain of salt, he’s just another talking head with fewer limits than the others.
I did not expect to write this column, thinking someone else might first. But, since no one has, Rushgate 2012 should be examined, not least because Sandra Fluke ’03 is a Cornellian.
After graduating from Cornell, Fluke worked at Sanctuary for Families, an organization in New York City that provides extensive services to domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims and their children. Despite her apprehensions about Georgetown’s limited health plans for female students, Fluke attends Georgetown Law School because she is unwilling to compromise her education regardless of institutional policies she does not support.
Fluke is an admirable individual who provided five years of important work to victims and three to students at Georgetown, lobbying the administration to change their policies as president of the school’s Students for Reproductive Justice group. She is also the woman who Limbaugh referred to as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for arguing that private insurance plans should cover contraceptives during a Congressional hearing.
On Feb. 23, Fluke testified before House members that all private insurance plans should cover contraceptives. Her audience was not as diverse as it should have been however — her testimony was denied during the actual House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing a week earlier. Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) failed to ensure that any women at all testified during that hearing. He argued that Democrats had recommended Fluke too late, an assertion Democrats contest. Regardless of the Democrats’ involvement, it is a clear indication of House Republicans’ priorities when no women participate in a panel on reproductive health.
The first hearing had been billed as: “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
Clearly, contraception access is a religious issue to House Republicans and a gender rights issue to House Democrats. The stark absence of mutual understanding colored Fluke’s participation in a second hearing last week even before pundits had a chance to devour her argument, ultimately spitting up a severely distorted version of what she said.
But devour they did, with Limbaugh leading the pack. Despite the fact that Fluke never mentioned her personal sex life, he asserted that she couldn’t afford the amount of sex she was having and that she should post videos of her sex life online to give taxpayers’ their money’s worth.
Since Fluke was talking about private health insurance, taxpayers really have nothing to do with this. More than his inability (or lack of desire) to understand Fluke, however, Limbaugh’s tirades over three days of broadcasting are offensive for the misogyny they belie — toward Fluke and toward all women.
Calling a woman a “slut” because she participated in a serious political discussion about women’s health is not an accident. It is not a casual term or the “wrong word” as Limbaugh said in his half-baked apology. It is the right word for the wrong sentiment and Fluke is not a “Femi-Nazi” for being offended by Limbaugh’s blatant use of hate speech.
Limbaugh’s implication that Fluke should not have said what she said backs up the House Republicans’ focus on contraception as a primarily religious, as opposed to gender, based issue. To them, her opinion is not relevant, and since it was provided anyways, it is subject to ridicule. Seeing the contraception debate in black or white, religious or gender, is wrong of both the Republicans and the Democrats. Limbaugh’s display of the outcome of seeing this issue as one or the other should teach us a lesson.
A good start on learning that lesson would be for Democrats and Republicans both to have better reactions than they have thus far. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Speaker of the House, should have done more than he did, calling Limbaugh’s comments “obviously inappropriate.” That kind of milky language just doesn’t cut it when your party is being associated with a crazed sexist like Limbaugh. In the same vein, Senate Democrats should not point the finger at Limbaugh as “the mouthpiece of the GOP.” While his statements might reflect poor conservative thought processes, he clearly isn’t representative of the entire Republican party.
Another consideration in this lesson to be learned is whether the Democratic Party should benefit financially from Limbaugh’s highly inappropriate conduct. Many people, including Boehner in his comments on the escalating debacle, criticized the massive fundraising that Democrats pursued against the “war against women.” All I can conclude is that fundraising at the expense of causes like homelessness and poverty would be a shame, but fundraising at the expense of misogyny is genius.
Limbaugh’s supporters interpret this weekend’s backlash as abusive towards his right to free speech. But just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean that I have the obligation to support it being spread further than your Sunday night dinner table. So while I don’t endorse the Senate Democrats’ explicit connection between Limbaugh and GOP leadership, I certainly think we should all sign this:
Condemning Limbaugh shouldn’t just be the job of the advertisers who he uses as a piggy bank. Cornellians should support Fluke’s right to free speech and Limbaugh’s obligation to say something worthwhile to get paid for his.
Maggie Henry is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get Over Yourself appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.