Could The End Of Political Hate-Speech Be Due To a Fluke?

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Georgetown University Law Schooler Sandra Fluke may have been able to do something George Soros’ millions, a whole gaggle of Democratic strategists, and Al Franken’s book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, couldn’t do – dethrone the King of Caustic in the court of public opinion.  She may have done something else, too. Something truly unexpected in red-blue battlefield where American politics is played. The feisty feminist may have just made political discourse civil again.

On February 29, 2012 (appropriately a leap year for such a pratfall), Limbaugh started the firestorm calling the 30-year-old women’s rights advocate a “slut” and “prostitute” after her testimony before an unofficial congressional committee in support of mandated private health insurance coverage for contraceptives. Fluke’s crime: calling for coverage of birth control drugs to treat her friend’s polycystic ovarian syndrome. Prescriptions for pain from ovarian cysts is just one of many noncontraceptive uses of birth control denied women when their employers refuse to include contraception services in their health care plans because of moral or religious reasons.

Refusing to accept Ms. Fluke’s motivation, Rush doubled down a day later offering what he termed was a “compromise” to contraception coverage: purchasing “all the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as possible”. He continued that he “[ran] some numbers” on contraception costs and arguing that contraception coverage was “flat-out thievery” that would force taxpayers to pay to “satisfy the sexual habits of female law students at Georgetown”.

The rant was unrelenting: “So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” bellowed the wounded giant. He then added, “Who bought your condoms in junior high? Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade? Or your contraception. Who bought your contraceptive pills in high school?” He described Fluke as “a woman who is happily presenting herself as an immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman. She wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences.” By some counts, he attacked Ms. Fluke 46 more times that day and throughout the broadcast.

By March 2nd, Rush still wasn’t done with Ms. Fluke. Limbaugh said that requiring insurance companies to cover contraception is “no different than if somebody knocked on my door that I don’t know and said, ‘You know what? I’m out of money. I can’t afford birth-control pills, and I’m supposed to have sex with three guys tonight.’ ” He added “she’s having so much sex she can’t pay for it and wants a new welfare program to pay for it,” he’d be “embarrassed” and “disconnect the phone”, “go into hiding”, and “hope the media didn’t find me”. He continued later, “Oh! Does she have more boyfriends? They’re lined up around the block. They would have been in my day.”

Criticizing someone for an out-of-control libido must have caused even hardline — but memory-equipped — “ditto-heads” to blush. In March of 2009, Limbaugh was reportedly detained by US Customs officials for three hours  with 29 tablets of the male sexual enhancement drug, Viagra, in his suitcase. Limbaugh’s  Gulfstream IV jet (courtesy of Premier Radio Networks)  with Rush and 4 male buddies aboard had landed in Palm Beach, Florida, fresh off a stag party vacation in the Dominican Republic. Nothing newsworthy there except that the Viagra prescription was not in the radio celebrity’s name. Instead, it was “labeled as being issued to the physician rather than Mr. Limbaugh for privacy purposes,” according to Roy Black, Limbaugh’s attorney. For his part,  Limbaugh was nonplussed and in a bragging mood about his sexual proclivities south of the border. “I had a great time in the Dominican Republic. Wish I could tell you about it,” he beamed.

Such arrogance all but guaranteed a backlash from both Right and Left labeling Limbaugh both a bully and misogynistic. Advertisers began to hear rumblings from social media that boycotts were planned and got antsy, especially in view of the size of the potentially offended demographic involved. Laurie Cantillo, Rush’s old boss at WABC (770 AM) explained that,

It is perceived by many as an attack on young women. … Women 25-54 is the prize demo for most advertisers, and Rush’s remarks strike at the heart of the audience they’re trying to reach….

Reagan speech writer, Peggy Noonan, called Limbaugh’s remarks “crude, rude, even piggish,” and “deeply destructive and unhelpful.”  House Speaker John Boehner called the remarks, “Inappropriate.’ Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the party’s 2008 candidate for president, said Limbaugh’s statements were unacceptable “in every way” and “should be condemned” by people across the political spectrum. Even the bow-tied ambassador from the Country Club Right, George Will, clucked that  Boehner’s remarks were more suited to a faux pas of using a salad fork for the entrée and lamented that “… it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh.” Duh!  Now how about some coffee to really wake you up, George.

If the right was disappointed, the left was outraged. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), wrote that “Rush Limbaugh, the voice of the ultra-conservative right, issued one of the most vile tirades against women I’ve ever heard.” House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, called the diatribe, “obnoxious” and “vicious and inappropriate attacks.” Seventy-five Democratic Party lawmakers signed a letter expressing outrage at the remarks labeling them as “sexually charged, patently offensive, obscene”, “indecent” and “an abuse of public airwaves.” NOW described Limbaugh as  a “bigoted bully” and a speaker of “hate-filled speech” for trying to “shame a young woman for coming forward, speaking her mind and standing up for women’s rights.”

An apology was inevitable if not for ethical reasons then for financial ones. On March 1st, Rush issued the first of what critics would call his non-apologies. Grasping the golden EIB microphone on March 3rd, the Right’s most quoted standard-bearer bit the bullet saying:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.  My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

Too little, too late. And besides, Fluke was not in an accepting mood.  Talking with Barbara Walters on ABC’s The View, Fluke said,

I don’t think that a statement like this, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything, and especially when that statement is issued when he’s under significant pressure from his sponsors who have begun to pull their support from the show.  I think any woman who has ever been called these types of names is [shocked] at first. But then I tried to see this for what it is, and I believe that what it is, is an attempt to silence me, to silence the millions of women and the men who support them who have been speaking out about this issue and conveying that contraception is an important healthcare need that they need to have met in an affordable, accessible way.

Advertisers were not in a forgiving mood either.  confirmed that 141 — not 8 as once reported — sponsors have been identified in an internal Premier Radio Networks memorandum as declaring that their ad spots are to be run on controversy-free radio programming. Put another way, on Rush-free programming. The feminist trio of Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan  called for the FCC to ban Rush, and defender of all things woman, Gloria Allred, wanted the rotund pundit prosecuted.

Oh, there were some Rush defenders like actress/activist, Patricia Heaton, and the usual chorus of  wacky Michelle Malkin, educationally-challenged Sean Hannity, and Fox’ s trotted-out lawyer of the Right turned pundit, Megyn Kelly, but they were quickly caught up in the deluge and slinked away with lukewarm Twitter apologies (Heaton) or a quick change of topic (all the rest).

While extreme positions are easily dismissed as preposterous, they have the effect of focusing the debate on the reasonable propositions and then drawing a consensus as to the right course of action. It ‘s the case of two equally matched but exhausted palookas in a bar fight who are simply tired of the tussle that leads to no result and makes both look weak.  The fight may have gone out of both sides. Also the Law of Unintended Consequences may be at work, too. Speaking on msnbc’s Morning Joe, McCain’s 2008 campaign chief, Steven Schmidt, was asked to comment on McCain’s combative running mate Sarah Palin, the subject of  HBO’s new production, Game Change.  He made an interesting comment about the Hockey-Mom-Turned-Rogue, and in doing so, about the system the got her there in the first place.  ” She has become a person who I think is filled with grievance, filled with anger who has a divisive message for the national stage when we need leaders in both parties to have a unifying message. . . .” Schmidt seemed to be echoing Barbara Bush’s comments made a few days earlier at SMU about the 2012 campaign, “I hate that people think compromise is a dirty word. It’s not a dirty word,” the former First Lady emphasized.

The same sentiment was expressed by outgoing Republican Senator, Olympia Snow:

The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground …. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.

For change to occur, our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.

Snow, long regarded as one of the moderate Republicans in the Senate who was willing to work with the opposition in promoting the public good, left the institution in disgust at what she called the “corrosive trend of winner-take-all politics.” When the beneficiaries of the Lee Atwater school of politics think things have gone too far, things have really gone too far.

Other signs also point to an increase of civility in the wake of the across-the-board outrage at Limbaugh.

John "Jack" DeGioia, President of Georgetown University

Following the lambasting of Ms. Fluke by Limbaugh, Georgetown President Jack DeGioia stepped up to defend his student’s right to speak and called for civility. The leader of the Jesuit school — that officially opposes the mandatory contraception services — eloquently laid out the case for letting the opposiong view be aired. In a letter to the school, DeGioia wrote, “[Ms. Fluke] provided a model of civil discourse. 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.”

And here’s what Carbonite CEO David Friend said about this company’s decision to pull its ads from the Limbaugh show.

No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.

Friend made the statement in the face of a threat by investors to leave the Inc. 500 company if he abandoned the ad campaign on the Limabugh show. Sensa Weight Loss, another show sponsor, tweeted: “Rush Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with SENSA values so we are pulling our ads indefinitely which should be down in the next couple days.’  That tweet was mimicked by VitaCost, another longtime sponsor. GEICO Insurance issued a strongly worded statement that it was not a Rush Limbaugh sponsor and never would be one, “We do not place ads on Rush’s program. We do not sponsor the show. We have repeatedly alerted our partners that our ads are never to run during his program. If this does not change rest assured that we will remove all advertising from this radio network.” Tell us what you really think there, Caveman! JC Penney immediately followed suit on Twitter.

This incident bears striking resemblance to the 2007 scandal when long-time shock-jock Don Imus called the Rutger’s Women’s basketball team “a bunch of nappy headed hoes.”  Though known for his off-the-wall commentary, Imus was not insulated when sponsors and fellow performers at CBS demanded that his show be cancelled. Eight days after uttering the fateful words, it was. CBS later settled with the radio host but the public sentiment was clear.

The point to be made is that when Wall Street, Congressional Republicans, Congressional Democrats, and the media all agree that civility should improve, civility will improve. It seems now that they have.

Ironically, perhaps the first step in fostering toleration is in politely refusing to tolerate the intolerant. Sandra Fluke  taught us that important lesson by simply standing up for what she believed was right when it mattered.  Real persuasion starts in speaking your truth humbly, compassionately, knowledgeably, and honestly.  That may be the true antidote to the politics of haughtiness and hate. Sandra Fluke reminded us of that, too, with every word.

Sources: Linked Throughout; Wikipedia, Daily Beast; NY Daily News; Smoking GUn; Huffington Post

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

88 thoughts on “Could The End Of Political Hate-Speech Be Due To a Fluke?”

  1. Raff the post is a left leaning paper and is not to be trusted.

    Just teasing, but thats how you responded to one of my links as have others.

  2. POLL: Texas Voters Want The State To Keep Funding Planned Parenthood | Fifty-nine percent of Texas voters oppose a new rule that cuts off funds from the joint state-federal Women’s Health Program to Planned Parenthood, while 38 percent of voters approve of it, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling. About 130,000 women could lose their access to affordable health care because of this measure, which Texas Health Commissioner Tom Suehs approved in February. “Texas voters are sending a clear message to Governor Perry: they think the Women’s Health Program is important and that he should leave it alone,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.

  3. Republican-Controlled Arizona Legislature On Cusp Of Defunding Planned Parenthood
    By Scott Keyes on Mar 16, 2012

    Arizona is the latest battleground in the conservative war on women as the state legislature appears poised to strip funding from the women’s health care provider Planned Parenthood.

    Earlier this week, an Arizona Senate panel approved HB 2800 on a party-line vote. The Arizona Senate Committee on Healthcare and Medical Liability Reform’s move came on the heels of support from the Arizona House, which approved the legislation earlier this month.

    If HB 2800 is indeed passed by the full Senate, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is expected to sign the legislation into law, stripping state funding from any group such as Planned Parenthood that performs abortions.

    Unfortunately, the move would have a pronounced impact on poorer Arizona women who rely on places like Planned Parenthood for many of their health care needs. As the following chart shows, abortion accounts for just 3 percent of the patient care provided by Planned Parenthood. The other 97 percent included mammograms, STI treatment, and other health services.

    If passed, Arizona will join a growing list of Republican-led states to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. The largest was Texas, who last year stripped the women’s health provider of approximately $47 million in state funds. As a result, 12 clinics were forced to shut their doors, many in rural areas with few other health care providers. Other states, such as New Jersey and Wisconsin, have taken away funds as well.

    Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who is running for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat, criticized the state legislature, calling the Senate panel’s approval was an “extremely misguided” decision. “As a longtime health care professional,” Carmona told ThinkProgress, “I can say without hesitation that restricting access to reproductive health care is detrimental to the health and safety of women. Period.”

    Arizona state law already prohibits using tax dollars for abortions. The real effect of HB 2800 would be to take away necessary health care services to low-income Arizonans.

  4. Planned Parenthood Official Says Texas Clinics Will Have To ‘Cut Corners’ Without Women’s Health Program Funds | Now that Texas has forfeited millions in Medicaid funds for women’s health because Republicans cut off Planned Parenthood from the program, the organization’s local affiliates in Texas are preparing to cut back, said Rochelle Tafolla, vice president of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She told the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff that they are not anticipating closing clinics, but “we are going to have to figure out ways to cut corners to make sure we’re here when women need us.” Texas’ Women’s Health Program, which is no longer receiving federal funds that made up 90 percent of the program’s funding, provided access to health care for 130,000 low-income women. “To see that Governor Perry would rather score political points than focus on women’s health care, it strikes me as a pretty callous move forward,” Tafolla said.

  5. Right you are, rafflaw.

    Obama Administration Ends Medicaid Funding For Texas Women’s Health Program
    By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Mar 16, 2012

    Federal law prevents states from banning specific providers from Medicaid programs, leading to the Women’s Health Program showdown. Mann said that while they try to give as much flexibility as possible, “on this case, federal law precludes us from doing so.”

    Last year, the federal government gave $39 million for the program. The state pays $1 for every $9 Medicaid puts into the program, but Gov. Rick Perry (R) has insisted the state will fill the gap to keep the program going without including Planned Parenthood. Texas Democrats are seeking alternate federal funds to continue the program through a different route.

  6. Bdaman,
    It isn’t just about contraception. The war on women also includes the right to decide what to do with their own bodies. For some reason you don’t think the government should be regulating corporations through the EPA, but you have no problem with the Republicans regulating women’s bodies.
    The Texas issue is in response to Perry’s defunding of Planned Parenthood clinics that service women patients and the fed regulations don’t allow a state to defund.

  7. “So, if the GOP has lost women this must mean the democrat party has gained, right?”
    I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t an inverse ratio between gas prices and political polls…it’s like a guaranteed thing…Dems do better…..gas prices rise……Dems do worse…..gas prices go down…..
    which makes me REALLY wonder what are the true market movers…and why? I mean really….it sure ain’t supply and demand….supply and control maybe….

  8. James in LA,

    Pointing out the folly of the GOP’s attack on women is only going to frustrate Bdaman.

    Good work.

  9. @BDAMAN: Elain posted this, excerpted from Republicans Still Trying To Thread The Needle On Contraception
    Evan McMorris-Santoro March 16, 2012

    “It is about women, not about unborn babies. Irin credits the amped-up outrage to the “growing realization that these aren’t isolated incidents, but rather systematic attacks based on a worldview that is actively hostile to female self-determination.”

    BDAMAN, is this your world-view? If it isn’t you have nothing to worry about.

  10. Grand, Old and Anti-Woman
    March 15, 2012

    Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska got it half right on Tuesday when she told her Republican colleagues that their party was at risk of being painted as anti-woman. It would be more accurate to remove the hedges and say flat out that the G.O.P. is anti-woman.

    There’s really no other conclusion to reach from the positions Republican lawmakers, and the contenders for the party’s presidential nomination, have taken on contraception, abortion and reproductive health services, including their obsession with putting Planned Parenthood out of business.

    Republican opposition to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act certainly won’t help the party’s reputation. That law, which provides federal money to investigate and prosecute domestic violence, has had broad bipartisan support since it was enacted in 1994. Congress renewed it in 2000 and 2005 without struggle.

    Senate Democrats have revised the law to include LGBT victims of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault. New provisions would also allow more immigrant victims to claim temporary visas. The latest version has five Republican co-sponsors, but it failed to garner a single Republican vote in the Judiciary Committee last month.

    Despite what Republicans might say to the press, the Democrats did not dream up these changes to infuriate their opponents—they were responding to calls from groups that help victims of domestic violence. A 2010 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs detailed a woeful shortage of services for LGBT violence victims – including scarce access to shelters. An expanded Violence Against Women Act would reflect the reality of American life in the 21st century – when gay men and lesbians actually get married and illegal immigrants cannot merely be deported or wished away.

    Naturally, certain out-of-control right-wingers are eager to fight over this bill. Phyllis Schlafly said last month that it promoted “divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.” Because, I guess, women whose husbands are beating them should stay in those relationships and just try to work it out. Or maybe because if we provide assistance to lesbian women whose girlfriends beat them up, straight women will hate their boyfriends. (Honestly, what is the logic here?)

  11. BDAMAN: “So, if the GOP has lost women this must mean the democrat party has gained, right?”

    That will be for voters to decide. The GOP is not interested in focusing on the things you mentioned or we would be talking about them. They do not discuss jobs because they are not interested in creating jobs.They do not run for office in the traditional manner, as they have zero governing achievements on which to run.

    They instead expose their hands at all times as wanting to weaken government at all levels such that it can toppled, an the waiting theocratic oligarchy can be ushered in. They put forward mock candidates who lie and lie and lie, and do not care that we can all now hear it, and repeat it, thanks to the great video vault. The GOP is interested in helping no one, most exclusively, itself.

    The attacks on women are coming from the federal, state, and local levels, all at once, now, in some dreadful last gasp to try to turn the clock back to 1812. They have been losing with the gays, so it was time to switch targets. They chose unwisely.

    Women will be left with a crystal-clear choice. And the GOP will lose.

  12. TPM2012
    Republicans Still Trying To Thread The Needle On Contraception
    Evan McMorris-Santoro March 16, 2012

    A pair of polls out this week appears to prove what the Democrats have been saying for weeks: The Republicans have lost the national contraception war. But Republicans are prepared to press on in the states, where they say the polling and the electorate favor them.

    New polling shows a majority of Americans are so far unconvinced — they see the fight over access to contraception coverage as a women’s health issue — not a matter of religious liberty. What’s more, they don’t think religious liberty is generally in peril.

    A Bloomberg poll released Wednesday found 62 percent of all respondents say the fight over new rules requiring insurance plans to cover contraception “involves health care and access to birth control.” Around 70 percent of women said the same thing.

    That’s not great news for the GOP, which has banked on voters agreeing that religious liberty is endangered.

    Another new poll out Thursday confirms Republicans are not persuading voters to see things their way. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a Public Religion Research Institute poll “do not believe that the right of religious liberty is being threatened in America today.” (Thirty-nine percent do believe it is under threat.)

    It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Early in the contraception fight, many Republicans said Obama had finally gone too far, giving the GOP the angle of attack it needed to press the case that he was out of touch with average Americans. Some in the GOP warned the Republicans against trying this, but they forged ahead anyway.

    The polling suggests the national fight has gone the way Democrats (and the GOP critics) said it would. Republicans on the national level are now on the defensive. The NRSC, which has been pushing back hard against Democratic plans to capitalize on the contraception issue in Senate races, says the issue still plays in their favor on the ground in the states.

  13. James in La

    “What you cannot possibly change, no matter how Limbaugh-esque you choose to become, is that the GOP has lost women, likely for a generation.”

    according to Wootsy

    “Women are more than 50% of this society. I imagine that must be a tad scary to the likes of the Rush’es of the world.”

    So, if the GOP has lost women this must mean the democrat party has gained, right?

    But yet looking at the latest poll numbers Obama is dropping like a rock. One would think that his approval numbers would be going up because women who are more than 50% of this society have all turned on the GOP. The people, men and women, at this particular moment in time, could care a less about contraception, could care a less about global warming, could care a less about Sandra Fluke. What they care about is jobs jobs jobs and the price of gas. Unfortunately you guys say I’m trying to distract when it’s the administration that’s doing it with the issue of contraception as a way to distract you from the real issues. People need jobs to buy food not birth control pills. If they are spending an extra $20 a week for gas that’s $80 a month worth of food. Get real

  14. Elaine M.1, March 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    The Biggest Right Wing Lies
    The majority of right wingers, (I’m become to believe), can not conceive of a perspective that is rooted in advocacy and not self-serving. The Sandra Flukes of the world will always be strange to them.

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