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A Pox on Both Houses in Limbaugh-Fluke Affair

By Cathy Young - March 10, 2012

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In any case, the focus on medical uses of birth control pills is somewhat misleading, since Fluke champions a much broader mandate for insurance coverage of contraceptives.

All of this could and should have been brought up by those who believe this mandate violates religious institutions' freedom of conscience. What should not have happened was Rush Limbaugh targeting Fluke with tirades about her imagined sex life, replete with epithets like "slut" and "prostitute." And what should not be happening now is some conservative pundits and activists circling the wagons around the rightly embattled talk show host.

It is sad to see bloggers I respect (such as former Frum Forum contributor John Guardiano) argue that Limbaugh's comments, however crass, were based on irrefutable logic: Fluke wants to be paid to have sex, and that makes her a prostitute. (I wonder what Guardiano, a former Marine, would have thought of a similarly impeccable argument that American soldiers are "hit men" because they are paid to kill people.) It is equally sad to see Limbaugh praised for his tepid apology, which came when advertisers began to flee and followed three days of attacks.

Limbaugh did not simply call Fluke nasty names. He harped endlessly on the notion that she must be having nonstop sex to be paying so much for contraception, repeatedly excoriated her alleged promiscuity, and offered to buy "all the women at Georgetown … aspirin to put between their knees" for birth control. Despite his claims that his objection was not to Fluke's sexual activity but to her desire to have it subsidized, his comments clearly came across as an attack on female "unchastity."

Then there's the "liberals do it too and get away with it" defense. Yes, there has been some vile misogyny on the left toward conservative women (notably Sarah Palin). Generally, the perpetrators of these slurs have been far less visible than Limbaugh. The more visible ones, such as the chronically sexist Bill Maher of HBO's "Real Time" and Hillary-hating MSNBC host Chris Matthews, have been harshly criticized by many fellow liberals.

What's more, attempts to pit Limbaugh's male chauvinist piggery against that of assorted leftists ignore the fact that this was not Limbaugh's first offense (take his jokes about Hillary Clinton having a "testicle lockbox" for emasculating men) and that he also has company on the right. In 2008, singer and conservative activist Ted Nugent brandished two rifles onstage during a concert and invited Hillary Clinton to "ride this into the sunset, you worthless bitch." Fox News host Sean Hannity defended Nugent's stunt as free speech, and Nugent has remained a frequent guest on Fox and on Glenn Beck's radio show.

The only effective way to police misogyny (and other ugliness) in politics is to call out the offenders in one's own camp. Instead, we have each side denouncing the other, while "our S.O.B." tends to a pass. Radio talk show host Mark Levin's message to Limbaugh's conservative critics is, "Do not ever throw our leaders under the bus." Such an attitude is a sure way to end up with leaders behaving badly.

Guardiano's piece on the controversy was titled, "Sarah Fluke Is No Martyr, And Limbaugh Is No Monster." Monster? No, but neither is Limbaugh the martyr some of his defenders make him out to be. The only real victim here is the conservative movement -- and the quality of our discourse. 

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Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine. She blogs at http://cathyyoung.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63. She can be reached by email at CathyYoung63@gmail.com.

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