After spending three days on his radio show calling Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who testified in front of Congress about the importance of health insurance coverage, names like “slut” and “prostitute,” Rush Limbaugh did something unusual: he apologized.
It’s being reported as an apology, but if you actually read it, it’s not.
In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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In other words, Limbaugh is saying that there’s nothing wrong with his belief that women who use contraception—that is, 99 percent of American women—are immoral, filthy sluts. He just wishes that he had chosen better euphemisms, perhaps “hussy” and “lady of the night” while arguing that the only proper course for women who don’t want to get pregnant is to abstain from sex completely. (Limbaugh very pointedly doesn’t suggest this to men. On the contrary, he demands that women provide sex tapes if they dare use contraception, so he can masturbate to them. While celibacy is required for women in Limbaugh’s world, he has no problem with male sexuality. Or Viagra coverage, for that matter.)
By the way, we’re already aware that he wasn’t just making a personal attack on Fluke. Since 99 percent of American women use contraception—and since contraception is already covered by insurance and subsidized by the government—Limbaugh was using Fluke as a stand-in to argue that every woman who has ever had sex for any other reason than procreation is a bad person. In other words, pretty much all women. Which is a way of saying that Limbaugh wasn’t attacking Fluke, but just using her for a punching bag to express his hatred of all women.
The non-apology involved him doubling down on this argument:
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.
Worth repeating that Limbaugh continues to only detest the “sexual recreational activities” of women; Viagra coverage continues to go without a whit of criticism. But let’s break this argument apart. First of all, Limbaugh is acting like insurance coverage of contraception is a new idea; in fact, it’s been around for decades now, so his supposition that women who use it are prostitutes really is universal to women. Second of all is his claim that “American citizens” are the ones on the hook when we’re debating private insurance coverage of contraception. Well, I suppose American citizens ARE on the hook. After all, the women using the contraception are the ones paying for it and they are American citizens.
Conservatives keep arguing about this as if private health insurance were some monetary redistribution program. In fact, the health insurance women use to pay for these services is theirs, just as surely as their wages are theirs. Insurance you get through your employer is paid for by you through a combination of labor and money. Limbaugh’s claims that he’s paying for my contraception when I use my insurance to pay for it make as much sense as Limbaugh taking over my checking account and declaring it’s his money. It’s true that taxpayers subsidize access to contraception for low-income women through programs like Title X and Medicaid—rightly, since public health is a concern of the taxpayer—but that’s not actually the money in dispute here.
We can safely say therefore that money thing is just a distraction technique. This is just Limbaugh using the occasion of contraception being in the news to wage all-out war on women who have sex for pleasure, instead of grimly enduring it to make babies. The fact that he believes that more sex is more wicked confirms this, as did his assurance than any parent of a grown woman would be mortified to discover that their daughter acts like the vast majority of people her age and has sex.
Will Limbaugh get away with having this taken as an apology, even though he’s still arguing that all women are sluts (while just apologizing for the word, probably vowing to use “hussy” in the future instead)? Sadly, I have to guess so. Conservatives have become masters at playing the “who me?” game, insisting that you can’t label even the most egregious racism and sexism for what it is unless they manage to utter certain words. Unfortunately, the mainstream press has gone along with this.
Take, for instance, how conservative insistence that it can’t be racist unless you utter the infamous N-word works out so well for them. Limbaugh is a good example. But for his avoidance of the N-word, it would be easy to mistake Limbaugh’s show in recent months for speeches made at KKK rallies. On a near-daily basis, Limbaugh has been ginning up outrage that black people live in the White House, making it utterly clear that he believes their race should prevent them from having the nice things he himself enjoys. He argues that Obama’s race means that the President is trying to destroy this country, spinning paranoid conspiracy theories about how Obama is leading some kind of black takeover as an act of “revenge.” While Limbaugh miraculously avoids the N-word on a daily basis, however, he has played around with the racial epithet “Oreo,” and also describing Michelle Obama with the loaded word “uppity.” There hasn’t been a national outrage around this, because our discourse has lost all interest in nuance and context, and everything has been reduced to policing for certain words. Absent those words, apparently, any kind of racism or sexism is just fine.
The response of some politicians confronted with this speaks clearly to this problem. Mitt Romney, when asked about this, said, “I’ll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used,” which sounds like he’s agreeing with the contention that all women who use birth control are sluts, but he just prefers to use euphemisms to advance the basic argument. Rick Santorum dismissed the whole thing as “absurd,” even though he’s made the same idea—that 99 percent of American women, including his own wife, are deviants who are bringing ruin to this country—a major talking point of his campaign. Regardless of what word you use to paint the whole of womanhood as disgusting creatures whose sexual desires make them monsters, it still should be treated as unacceptable. I don’t have much faith that will happen, however.