Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, spoke before a Congressional hearing last Wednesday giving a statement supporting the inclusion of birth control and contraception into the proposed Federal health care system. Now, no matter what your impression of Ms. Fluke's testimony might be -- I admit to being shocked that a year's worth of birth control cost over a thousand dollars -- you had to figure some snide commentary was going to come from somewhere.
And somewhere it did: Thus spake Rush Hudson Limbaugh III:
"What does that make her? 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....Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.”Wow. Just....wow. Let's double-check that. Yep, he sure did say that. And he didn't stop there. In fact, he didn't stop until a critical mass of advertisers on his radio program pulled up stakes and hid in a bomb shelter.
Because of my past political tinkering, I must admit to not being shocked. I'm not a fan of Rush Limbaugh. I would call myself an occasional listener to the man over the last 20 years, so I am already familiar with many of his tropes, especially "illustrating the absurd with absurdity", which many non-regular listeners miss the point of. Sometimes it's funny and thought provoking, such as his "phone call abortions" back in 1991, where he would sometimes say, "If I disconnect the caller before I answer it, was it still a viable phone call?"
Limbaugh has, from time to time, claimed that his statements are cherry-picked by his enemies for maximum shock value, and that in order to understand him, you need to listen to the show for three weeks, and then pass your judgment. And to some extent, he has a point. I've done the "three weeks" thing and understood what he meant by it. Anyone in the political public eye is going to say things in certain contexts that would be considered offensive by the rest of us taken alone. Politicians understand this, and certainly political entertainers (and let there be no doubt: he is an entertainer, not a journalist) understand this. The shock value of such topics drive the business end of things.
Limbaugh's problem, though, is that he doesn't necessarily know when to stop. And that's when the public pins his ears back. Kinda like now. This isn't the first time Limbaugh has crossed the line (he probably pays to have the foul lines repainted every so often like a baseball grounds crew) and it won't be the last. But I predict that very soon, Limbaugh and his lawyers will be learning a lot about libel laws in the near future.
It's a topic none of the remaining Republican presidential candidates want anything to do with. I laughed out loud when Rick Santorum was asked about Limbaugh's weak apology to Ms. Fluke, and he said, "That's not my business." Mitt Romney gave a typical Mitt Romney non-answer, "(That's) not the language I would have used, but I'm focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today, and that's why I'm here talking about jobs in Ohio." (Ugh...excuse me while I get some ibuprofen for my whiplash injury). Newt Gingrich said it was "silly" to suggest that Limbaugh speaks for Republicans. (Ron Paul, lost somewhere in the Alaskan outback trying to find a state he can win, was apparently unavailable for comment.)
This entire spectacle wouldn't exist unless we, as a country, had some pretty conflicted ideas about sexuality. The abortion issue is just the small tail-end of a larger problem the Republican Party has: blatant gender bias. Of course Conservatives would scoff at a national health plan. After all, how expensive can condoms be? That's their entire argument, right there. Never mind that effective birth control for women is magnitudes of ten more expensive. There is also the widespread notion that young men sleeping around are "virile" while women sleeping around were "sluts". Heck, my dad recognized that quandary when he was in high school. My Dad was frisky guy in his youth, and it was my mom who ended being the girl nice enough to take home to introduce to his parents. Pregnancy was a women's issue, and too many people still treat it as if it still is.
Conservatives' entire platform on sex is based on one simple idea: If you don't want to get pregnant, keep your thighs closed, or at the very least, "lie back and think of America." Conservative men don't want to pay for sex in any fashion (it's not love, it's one conquest in an admirably long line of conquests), don't want to use condoms (it doesn't feel as good), and don't want to be bothered by whatever women they last had sex with turning up pregnant (they entrapped me for the child support).
Forget the entire health care debate/debacle for a moment. Of course any Libertarian worth their salt would say, "we shouldn't have Federalized health care anyway" (even though directly unfair, anti-individual laws that would embarrass any Libertarian exist in nearly all states, and that gets no attention from politicians or media; or the widespread fraud in individual health insurance). If we're going to have it, it needs to work right, equal protection under the law, and all that. So if women can't have contraception, what can't men have? Condoms? Vasectomies? That anti-sperm vaccine drug companies keep experimenting and failing with? Antibiotics for venereal diseases (mens' own "morning after" pill)?
And does the Republican Party have the shear strength to endure its own internal debate between now and Election Day? Pop your buttered popcorn, because this is political theatre at its nastiest.