Rush Limbaugh has been a polarizing figure for years. To many of his adoring “dittoheads,” he was a political god. To many Democrats, he was the devil incarnate. His bizarre comments last week that law student Sandra Fluke is a “slut,” though, surprised many of those who love him.
Limbaugh’s apology Saturday was meaningless and perfunctory. With many of his allies condemning his remarks and sponsors pulling out of his show, he didn’t have any real choice. I don’t think anyone believes there’s any sincerity to the statement, any more than there typically is when a parent forces a child to make an apology to an adult for being disrespectful.
It would be easy to pile on Limbaugh here, because he’s an easy target and he deserves the derision. (I’ve made it clear in the past that I have no use for him.) But Limbaugh is just a symptom of an ugliness that stains our political culture. It’s not something unique to Republicans or conservatives. I’ve seen it from progressive leftists and libertarians, too.
It’s a hate for their enemies that’s so strong that truth and fairness don’t even matter to them any more. What’s worse, they don’t even recognize their double standard. I can’t imagine how corrosive that hatred must be for them on the inside.
When stories such as this one with Limbaugh happen, those on the progressive left are smug and self-righteous. Many of them are no more fair and honest in their reactions than Limbaugh is. Consider this graphic offered by the progressive left website Daily Kos for readers to use online in attacking Republicans over this issue. The headline on the graphic says, “Republicans hate women.” It’s a lie, of course, but the truth doesn’t matter when you hate your opponent. Honest disagreement becomes “hate.”
The truth is that the social conservatives and progressive leftists have very different opinions about several issues related to the whole matter of Fluke, contraception and health insurance. If you start with the assumptions about reality that each side makes, it’s understandable why they’d come to the conclusions they come to. So even if you disagree with the other side, you should be able to civily disagree.
It seems convenient for the progressive left to forget for the moment that one of its heroes was attacking a Republican woman last year in very crude terms. Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a “cunt” in an interview last spring. And on his own show, Maher called Palin a “dumb twat.” (Just in case you’re not sure, look up both words. You’ll find that they’re both vulgar terms for female genitals.) Maher’s language betrays a juvenile inability to make points without resorting to personal insults and an intellectual shortcoming in not being able to make his points without obscene language.
So did the people at Daily Kos make up graphics lasy year saying, “Democrats hate women”? Of course not, because attacking their own party didn’t fit with their political agenda. So Maher’s comments were mostly ignored. They certainly didn’t get sponsors pulling their ads from his television show, as has been the case with sponsors pulling out of Limbaugh’s show.
I wish more fair-minded folks would get upset with people such as Limbaugh and Maher, but not for political reasons. I wish more people would start holding others accountable — even people they agree with politically — just on grounds of honesty and fairness. I disagree with Fluke’s position when it comes to her demand that employers be required to pay for contraception, but I’m not going to call her a slut. (I have no reason to think it applies, and it would be ridiculous to say in this context even if I had reason to believe it.) I disagree with Palin about most things and I think she’s one of the less-bright politicians on the American stage today, but I see no reason to call her obscene names.
This sort of dishonesty and unfairness is done by individuals, not by entire political groups. It’s not a conservative thing or a liberal thing or any such thing. It’s about petty-minded and hateful individuals, whichever group they’re a part of. You turn it into a group thing when you have different standards about how you react to it depending on who says it.
As long as you justify the dishonest and unfair things that your own allies say — by saying, “They do it too!” — nothing is going to get better. Public discourse is just going to get worse.
Limbaugh was very wrong to say what he said last week, but he’s just one symptom of a very deep sickness in our political culture.