So just who or what is Rush Limbaugh?
He’s a provocateur, we all know that. But at different times throughout his 25-plus years as a radio talk show host, Rush has claimed to be an entertainer. He has even sometimes referred to himself as a comedian. On the other hand, Rush has also claimed to be a serious political commentator, a truth-detector for conservatism. He does not dispute that he is an influencer of the Republican Party, and he proudly carries the mantle the right-wing has laid upon him as a spokesman for the conservative movement in this country. So when Limbaugh makes disparaging remarks about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, which is he? Is he the lampooning entertainer, or is he the captain of conservatism looked up to by myriad Republicans?
Rush can’t have it both ways – not with the type of misogynistic, vile, cruel and possibly slanderous remarks aimed at Ms. Fluke. He can’t claim to be a mouthpiece for conservatives AND be simply an entertainer. If he’s an entertainer, or a comedian, that says to me he's not to be taken seriously. Does that then mean Rush’s trashing of everything liberal is just a joke, that it isn’t meant to be serious? That would make him a fake, a fraud. Either Rush is preaching genuine conservative philosophy or he’s not. One day it appears he is. But on another day, after criticism pours in about some “over the top” commentary of his, Rush always comes back with the excuse that he was merely “entertaining.” (What, little ol’ me, the Maha Rushie? Nah, I was just kidding. Can’t you libs take a joke?) Well, which is it? When do we know he’s sincere?
Was Rush serious when he was belittling Ms. Fluke? Sure sounded like it. Advertisers (some, anyway) certainly seem to think so. They’re pulling their ads. In response to this backlash, Rush has been forced to apologize. He now says he did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke and that he used insulting word choices. I was not expecting that. I fully expected he would revert to his excuse that his bombastic outbursts were simply sarcasm and that he was lampooning to make his point. (Of course, he did make sure not to leave that point out of his apology.) This time, though, it may not work. Because his remarks regarding Ms. Fluke were beyond “over the top,” that excuse may have just run its course. And his apology may be too little, too late. Never before has Rush experienced this amount of adverse reaction (due in large part to Facebook and Twitter posts.) Advertisers have never been pressured like this to pull their commercials and a growing number of them are courageously responding to that pressure, even after the apology.
To be sure, Rush has survived past embarrassment and shame, such as his prescription drug addiction and allegations of sex tourism in the Dominican Republic. He has also come through fairly unscathed following his many previous bigoted, homophobic and sexist rants. But this latest provocative (and perverted) act aimed at Ms. Fluke, in which he actually urged her to post videos of her having sex so he could watch, may well be the beginning of his end. Sorry Rush, but your attempt to be humorous there didn’t quite cut it. Other media folk, as well as comedians and entertainers, have made similar foolish, foul and offensive remarks, and have gotten suspended or fired. Why not Rush?
Don’t misunderstand. I’m a First Amendment freak and am against nearly all forms of censorship. I’m not calling for Limbaugh to be taken off the air nor demanding radio stations that carry his program stop carrying it. Rush has a First Amendment right to say what he wants. Just as Ms. Fluke has a First Amendment right to state her views on insurance coverage for contraception. And in a free society, the rest of us have a right to denounce speech that smears. There are repercussions for remarks that clearly cross the lines of decency. Reactions can include protests and boycotts. In Rush’s case, advertisers are reacting in a way they deem necessary. Unfortunately, Republicans are not. Those who have responded have chosen words that fall short of a real repudiation of Rush’s remarks.
Rush will later probably want to claim the liberal media is trying to force him off the air. But actually (ironically?), it’s the very principles of freedom of speech and choice that he espouses that may end up doing so.