Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rush Limbaugh vs. Sandra Fluke

Parents teach certain half-truths to children because children do not have an adult understanding of the world. One of these half-truths is the claim that it is inappropriate to call people by rude names. We teach children this because we know their nature. They act rudely out of mean-spiritedness or out of indifference.

Satire is an alien concept to young children. They do not easily distinguish between ad hominem and attacks on actions and ideas, nor do they comprehend the paradox that impoliteness (satire is rude by nature) must play by certain rules of civility.

Back in 2007 I attempted a treatise on name-calling, inspired by the recent controversy over Ann Coulter's uncalled-for "faggot" remark at CPAC. It could probably use some cleaning up, and since that post I'm liking the term "Islamofascist' (cited there as an example of proper name-calling) less and less, since the root term "Fascist" is so overused and widely misunderstood to those who don't read Jonah Goldberg.

My chief concerns about name-calling are that names:

  • Should ridicule ideas or actions, abstaining from ad hominem.
  • Must stay on-message.
  • Must not give ammo to the opposition.
  • Should refrain from vulgarity in most cases, depending on audience.

Rush Limbaugh violated these principles with last week's remarks about political activist and Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. He issued an apology Saturday, and elaborated on the issue Monday.

His Monday dialogue offers an excellent summary of Fluke's Congressional testimony - read the whole thing.

The central theme to Rush's mea culpa:

I don't expect -- and I know you don't, either -- morality or intellectual honesty from the left. They've demonstrated over and over a willingness to say or do anything to advance their agenda. It's what they do. It's what we fight against here every day. But this is the mistake I made. In fighting them on this issue last week, I became like them.

On March 2, Ann Althouse (a Rush fan) posted a thoughtful criticism of Rush's controversial remarks. She notes some factual errors - mainly that Rush had misreported Fluke's call for insurer subsidies as a call for taxpayer subsidies - and she said this about the vulgarities:

Quite aside from the lack of a factual basis for his humor, it's just mean to aim words like "slut" and "prostitute" at a woman, especially a young woman, even if the metaphor is apt. Even when you get the joke and agree with the criticism of the policy she's advocating, it feels ugly. The humor backfires.

Michelle Malkin accurately labeled Sandra Fluke as a "moocher." (And "femagogue.") Robert Stacy McCain reports that Fluke is mooching for more than just free birth control - she claims that insurers are legally obligated to fund sex-change operations.

About a month ago commenter Bart at Transterrestrial Musings cast the Democrats as the Veruca Salt Party. Unfamiliar with that name, I turned to Google and found one of those films that should not have escaped my youth but did: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Veruca is the spoiled, demanding rich girl whose big number is I Want It Now. I will forever associate that YouTube clip with Sandra Fluke. Am i comparing candy to contraception? No, I'm comparing Veruca's covetousness and sense of entitlement to Fluke's.

A lot of conservatives are in a cranked-to-eleven fury over Rush's apology. The mest illumination on this comes from Rush himself. In the post on the Ann Coulter flap I mentioned early in this post, I excerpt Rush's comments on the matter:

I think what people misunderstand about the rank-and-file in the Republican Party is that they're sick and tired of taking it on the chin day in and day out. The mainstream press can assault every one of our icons. The mainstream press, the Drive-By Media and the left, can assault every one of our presidential candidates. They can call George Bush "Hitler." They can write movies on how Bush ought to be assassinated, do movies and produce them; write books on how Bush ought to be assassinated; can say that they wish Cheney had been killed -- and there is no condemnation of it. There are a lot of people in the so-called conservative movement who are fed up with the docileness of Republican leaders in Congress, and even in the White House, who just sit by, don't respond, and just take this stuff.

People are hungry for leadership and they want there to be a response, and they want fighters...So when somebody like Ann Coulter comes along and says what she said, they simply react to it. "All right! Somebody's fighting back! Somebody is saying something in return to these people and pointing out their hypocrisy." I think that's why the support that is there for Ann Coulter is there, because she represents something that the leadership of the party doesn't provide them. The leadership of the movement these days doesn't provide them an outlet for their own anger. You know, individuals are sitting out there roasting and frying and getting angry each and every day at the things that are in the Drive-By Media: the unfairness, the imbalances, the constant defense of the people who are invested in defeat of their own country. They're never called on it. It's never portrayed. The Democrats and the left in this country are never portrayed for who they really are in the Drive-By Media. The White House won't say it and many of the Republican leaders in the House and Senate won't say it. They won't be critical of anybody. The Drive-Bys totally give Bill Maher a pass for wishing that Dick Cheney were dead, and saying that more people would be alive were that the case.

Conservatives (and other foes of the Left) want someone to fight back against the Left, and those people are hard to find among our elected representatives (folks who I labeled the Vast Right Wing Complacency). They get excited when they see someone who appears to be fighting. But sometimes they fail to discern what ever successful boxer knows, the difference between fighting and lashing out. Fighting exposes and/or counters the opposition's efforts. Lashing out is just an emotional vent (not necessarily an angry one, as Coulter illustrates).

Many are also enraged by the perception that Rush conceded something to his foes. He did no such thing. He conceded to a principle that scarcely any prominent figures on the Left support. Do a Google search on the phrase "civility bullshit" for relevant articles. Scour the Internet and see how hard it is to find examples of lefty opposition to the celebrations of Andrew Breitbart's death.

One thing we need to remind ourselves is that when people battle over politics the combatants aren't the only ones watching. Rush's apology serves not only principle, and his side's moral authority to criticize the incivility that dominates the Left, but also it benefits the unconverted. Rush's powers of persuasion have changed a lot of minds over the years. That ability diminishes if he abandons principle, and the impressions of conservatives and conservatism among the unconverted suffers.

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