The era of big Rush Limbaugh is over.
It’s been almost a week since Limbaugh hurled vile insults against a private citizen who had done him no harm, Sandra Fluke. As is well known by now Limbaugh likened her to both a “slut” and a “prostitute”--I thought those terms were antonyms--for her opinion that contraception should be considered part of general health care. To top it off he then suggested that women who want such services should first submit sex tapes.
The general repulsion against Limbaugh’s comments was immediate and visceral. So far 11 major advertisers have left his show and two stations have dropped him. Perhaps the image of Rush Limbaugh drooling over amateur porn was too vile for them to stomach for an additional minute.
Limbaugh broke with his all-bluster style to issue a classic non-apology “apology.” He said his choice of words “was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir … I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
Wow, so your choice of words were really “not the best” Rush? Calling a law student a slut didn’t come across the way you intended? You apologize for your “insulting word choice” but not for the actual insult? No wonder your quarter-loaf mea-culpa is a non-starter.
So that’s the past, but what about the future? I think this episode represents the moment when it is revealed to all that the times have truly left Rush Limbaugh behind. First he doesn’t seem to know beforehand that you can’t simply call a woman with a different point of view a whore. Then he and his supporters ignore the problem for a little while, and only when his wallet starts to get a little thinner, if only his wallet, he issues an apology that is as insincere as it is late.
And, now there is some circling of the wagons taking place. Look on the web, it’s all there. If you try not very hard you will get to see remarks like these: “Sarah Palin and her family have endured far worse than the professional agitator Fluck and CNN has remained silent. If liberals didn't have DOUBLE STANDARDS, they'd have NO STANDARDS!” That’s from the comments section of an excellent piece written by David Frum on CNN.com. As if Sarah Palin had anything to do with this at all.
Or this one from Rush’s Facebook page from a guy named Richard Paris: “Dear Mr. Limbaugh, There is no need for you to apologize to that liberal "lusting" Sally Fluke … This Ms. Fluke aka ho-bag is paying over $252,000.00 to be indoctrinated into the ‘progressive’ agenda. She's a ‘plant’, not a ‘fluke’!” So, Fluke's a ho-bag? No, she's a law student at Georgetown University, one of our best schools. And what are you again?
In Politico’s story about Rush the comments section ran 1212 responses long. And there were many like these from a person calling themselves Kilowatt: “Maybe if you had really heard the testimony instead of of just jumping to your liberal conclusions,you would realize I wasn't talking about her using contraception but the way she portrayed her insatiable sexual appetite and loose moral character. In other words she ADMITTED to being the promiscuous slut that she was called.” Funny, I have a hard time imagining Fluke's personal testimony lived up to the "Scarlet Letter"-inspired masturbatory fantasies of Mr. Kilowatt.
They are not the only ones defending Limbaugh: Newt Gingrich’s PAC, Winning Our Future,--which, by the way, is not winning Newt's present--had stepped up its ad buys as other advertisers flee. But it would be a mistake to think that this is a minor tempest, and that Limbaugh’s lame non-apology is going to make this all go away. The only thing going away is Limbaugh’s air of invincible influence over Republic party discourse, and, by extension, America.
It’s already happened. Look at the shambles we call the Republican primaries. It’s no secret Limbaugh despises Mitt Romney, yet Romney soldiers on, seemingly despite himself, and Rush. Limbaugh can inveigh all he wants, but all he’s accomplished is a historic disunity in the GOP. He’s helped lead it down the cannibalistic path toward what Barbara Bush has called the worst campaigns she’s ever seen. And she's seen more, way more, than a few.
But, on a more primal level, Limbaugh is just the latest example of a person who has been isolated from the real world for so long that they have lost touch. As we’ve heard a million times before, he just doesn’t get it. And when people of his stature don’t get it, “it” in this case being a world that’s changed, they really don’t get it.
Limbaugh doesn’t seem to grasp that you can’t call a woman the vilest things imaginable and expect people, not just women, to not be offended. He then didn’t get that his usual doubling down on a bad bet and bluster would not get him out of it. Then he didn’t get that when he apologized for being so gross he actually had to mean it.
It’s also like he didn’t get that women are an extremely powerful and massive part of American life, growing more powerful every day. And they don’t like their desire for safe, affordable reproductive control to get them labeled as town whores, like we were all back in a bible-belt high school in the 1970s. That’s considered offensive. This should be obvious. But he’s happy to write off more than half the American population.
Think women, as a group, don’t go the mat for their right to reproductive choice? Ask the Susan G. Koman people.
We’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. It’s the moment when someone powerful comes up against a problem that they used to be able to wish away. Then they no longer can, and are unable to comprehend that things truly are different.
We saw it with Joe Paterno. Completely believable allegations of horrific child abuse were brought his way. He passed the buck and forgot about it. More kids were likely abused by his negligence, and when it all crashed down he looked as clueless as a newborn.
We saw it with another radio host, Don Imus, who didn’t get that you can’t call a team of female college student nappy headed ho’s.
We saw it with Michael Richards, aka Kramer, who immolated his career, by hurling a bunch of racial insults an audience member in a comedy club. But Richards didn't seem to understand that this wasn't the Friars Club, and that people now have smart phones. After that Kramer was never welcomed into America’s living room again.
Will Rush make a full recovery? Maybe, but probably not. His divide and conquer tactics have reduced his potential number of future listeners again and again. I can’t imagine he’ll get a whole lot more new female ditto-heads after this all blows over. And they make up, again, half the country. His Captain Ahab-like political brinksmanship has likely isolated him from what used to be called “Reagan Democrats.” Instead he is left with a hard core of conservatives. It’s a huge core, of course, but don’t expect it to grow. Already Rush is less influential than he was two weeks ago.
Once this primary season is over and his enemy, Romney, gets the nomination expect Limbaugh’s influence to diminish even more. He won’t go away over night. But over time he will fade in power and influence, inexorably, his name immediately leaving a bad taste in people's mouths. He will end as he began, a lonely man in a radio booth, shouting at the air.