Reactions to the Reaction Against Rush’s Reactionism

Let’s be clear: it surely would be much better if everyone just ignored Rush Limbaugh and others like him. Like an insecure brat, his modus operandi is to grab attention by being as obnoxious as possible, and it’s probably a mistake to reinforce that behavior with protests. But some people are protesting in the wake of his latest display of tastelessness, and other people (Rush’s “dittohead” supporters) are responding to that response as they always do: with certain predictable, tried and true catchphrases.

Catchphrase # 1: “Suppressing Free Speech”

It’s hard to believe that there could be so many people out there who truly don’t understand the difference between suppressing free speech and holding people accountable for their actions. But apparently ’tis the case. They just can’t seem to bend their brains around the simple fact that freedom of expression encompasses the right to express displeasure with childish behavior- and to vote with one’s pocketbook. Neither the First Amendment nor the right of free speech in general affords people the guarantee that they can say anything they damn well please. There are laws against defamation, for example; and if Limbaugh hasn’t crossed that line, he at least has balanced precariously on the brink, many many times.

Suppression of free speech would mean, for instance, the government shutting off his microphone or passing a law prohibiting him from making an ass of himself in public. Or maybe someone mounting a high-tech assault on his website. Instead, what’s happening is that the public is using its consumer clout to pressure Rush’s sponsors to dump him unless he cleans up his act.

That’s a time-honored strategy that has been employed by citizens of all persuasions. One of the most notable instances occurred in 2003 when CBS had planned to air the miniseries The Reagans, but after howls of protest from The Cult Of Ron Worship because the series was less than adulatory, the network instead shuffled it off to Showtime. It’s the kind of “free market” social dynamic the dittoheads devoutly revere. Unless, of course, they find themselves on the short end of it. They objected to The Reagans because it portrayed a handful of people in a manner they considered “inaccurate”. (A Hollywood flick, inaccurate? Who woulda thunk it?) People are objecting to Rush Limbaugh because he portrays numerous people in a manner that is not only inaccurate, but deliberately misleading, scurrilous and venomous.

Catchphrase # 2: “Double Standard”

But why single out poor defenseless Rush? After all, David Letterman made a joke about Sarah Palin’s “slutty flight attendant” look, and Bill Maher has also made disparaging comments about the likes of Palin and Michelle Bachmann. And Michelle Obama is appearing as a guest on Letterman.  Where’s the outrage? We have a double standard here, no?

Oh, puh-lease.

Perhaps the best response to this silliness was given by The Provocation, which observes among other things that

Maher’s a comedian by trade and both of these women are public figures. The person Limbaugh attacked, by contrast, was a private citizen simply seeking to be involved in the process of affecting government. And Limbaugh’s no comedian. He’s a political attack dog who appears to relish demeaning and defaming people.

And no, testifying before Congress did not magically transform Sandra Fluke into a celebrity- Rush did that. The article also points out that although Maher and Letterman may step over the line occasionally, with Rush it’s a continuous process and has been for years. The dittoheads are trying to pretend that the furor is all about Sandra Fluke (some have even claimed, I kid you not, that she was a shill planted by the Obama administration for the purpose of creating controversy around Limbaugh); but this incident is no mere fluke. It was just the tipping point.

I might add there is a vast difference between making a tacky joke about someone’s wardrobe and making a tasteless and protracted assault on someone’s character.

Furthermore, neither Maher nor Letterman is a spokesman for a particular ideology. Both of them have hosted as well as insulted public figures of all stripes. Maher is a professed Libertarian who actually defended Limbaugh, stating that the whole incident left “liberals looking bad”, though he didn’t quite explain the twisted logic used to arrive at that contorted conclusion.

Still, if you wanna talk about double standards, consider this: during their time in The White House, George W. Bush appeared on Rush’s program no fewer than four times and Dick Cheney no fewer than five times; Bush has appeared on at least two other occasions.  His father also appeared on the program while serving as president.  And unlike The First Lady’s casual stint on Letterman, their appearances definitely imply approval of the host’s deranged and toxic ramblings. Where was the outrage over that?

Catchphrase # 3: “Liberal Hypocrisy”

To the True Believers, all this outcry over Limbaughism can mean only one thing: them librulz are at it again. Perish the thought that Rush himself might be even slightly at fault. And the librulz picking on him is of course a supreme example of librul hypocrisy. After all, they claim to support freedom of speech (see #1 above) and they’ve exhibited double standards (see # 2) and after all, there are plenty of librul commentators who also spew out hateful invective day after day like..well… er, um… hang on, we’ll surely think of someone eventually.

In the absence of a Limbaugh of the Left, you can always attack Jane Fonda, especially since she has been outspoken about Rush’s offenses. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing her either, of course. She exercises her freedom of speech, and her critics exercise theirs. Dog bless America.  But what’s interesting is that the same people who despise her for her actions four decades ago (and for which she has long since expressed regret) often have no problem with Rush’s continuous daily actions for the past three decades or so. In rejecting Fonda’s apology about her despicable deeds in the Sixties and Seventies, the vigilant watchdogs of hypocrisy and double standards assail those who supposedly reject Limbaugh’s apology for one of his numerous despicable deeds – an apology delivered only after he saw that his paycheck might be impacted.

At least 98 major companies have decided to distance themselves not only from Rush but other incendiary talk show hosts. These include Wal-Mart, Ford, Chevrolet and Sony. To suggest that all these corporations are run by a bunch of flaming lefties would be laughable even by the usual dittohead standards of lunacy.

You don’t have to be a progressive/liberal/whatever to be turned off by Limbaughism (though that certainly appears to make it more likely). After my recent piece on Ann Coulter, I heard from Coulter Watch, which is run by a fellow named Daniel Borchers, who calls himself a “life-long conservative” and, it appears, may actually be a true conservative, as opposed to  “conservatives”  of the Limbaugh variety. Accordingly, he attempted one year to distribute information warning about Coulter to the attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference. And how did the watchdogs of hypocrisy and dual standards respond? They escorted him to the door and made it clear that he was persona non grata in the future.

With a drastically declining listener base, Rush Limbaugh needed a godsend, and he got it in the form of Sandra Fluke, whom his fans are calling “Sandra Fluck” among other unbearably clever things. They’re mad as hell that she became one of the many victims of his schoolyard taunts, and they’re not gonna take it anymore. And his detractors, along with the ever-compliant mainstream “liberal” media, have handed him just what he wanted.

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Ann Slanders: A Classic Case Study

I’ll admit it: I actually read, once upon a time, Ann Coulter’s book Slander; Liberal Lies About the American Right. I had to swab my brain with Clorox afterward, but I did it. I had my reasons. And while Ann herself is no more worth discussing than any of the other vast horde of vitriolic pundits who have discovered that there are tremendous profits to be made in attacking “liberals”, this particular volume offers some fascinating  illumination of that pursuit, and of certain propaganda tactics in general.

You have to read no farther than the title to get an indication of Coulter’s degree of accuracy. Slander is a legal term for oral defamation; but if that defamation is published or otherwise issued in a transfixed form (including video and audio recordings), then the correct term is libel, and that’s what she supposedly is documenting in the great majority of cases cited in the book.  She should know better, since she’s reputedly a lawyer (if she ever represented me in court, I’d plead insanity pronto); and using the accurate word would have produced such a cute alliterative title to boot. Alas, while her inaccuracies and untruths begin with the title, they sure as hell don’t end there.

Just a couple of examples here. In discussing how some people had pointed out that George W. Bush, prior to the 2000 election, had been abroad only 3 times, she asserts that the issue didn’t come up during the 1992 election even though “Clinton’s wide travel consisted primarily of his joining antiwar protests across Europe and in Moscow during the Vietnam War.”, Actually, as a Rhodes scholar Clinton lived abroad for the better part of two years – and he didn’t exactly spend all of that time at demonstrations.

She also insists that family ties couldn’t have had an influence on George W. Bush’s university career, because at the time he enrolled at Yale, his old man was a little-known congressman fighting for political survival. Dubya’s wealthy and influential progenitors include not only George Herbert Walker Bush, but also Prescott Bush, Samuel Bush, James Smith Bush, William H.T. Bush, Robert E. Sheldon Jr. and George Herbert Walker; and all but the last named were themselves alumni of Yale. That Coulter is able to demote them all to nobody status in one fell swoop demonstrates that she is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

At other times, you’re not sure whether she’s consciously lying or just doesn’t know any better; she often just repeats right-wing talking points without any apparent concern for whether there’s any truth to them or not. She even obediently parrots a couple of oft-repeated rumors about Al Gore: that he claimed to have “invented the Internet”, and that on a tour of Monticello, he asked “Who are these guys?” when viewing busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. We’ve already discussed the Internet smear, along with several other legendary Gore “lies”. At Monticello, he actually said “Who are these people?”, but  he was looking at likenesses of John Paul Jones and the Marquis de Lafayette – whose visages do not appear on currency and are unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans, including, no doubt, the venerable Ms Coulter.

But the point here is not to go into a lot of detail about her loose grip on reality. Many others have already done that. For a hilarious take on her dishonesty delivered by Al Franken during a debate with her (and her catty attempt to recover by claiming that “liberals” believe one should never “paraphrase”), see here.

As I see it, the real focus of her little masterpiece is neither slander (libel) nor distortion, but something she says early in the game:”liberals hate conservatives”. That’s her apparent thesis, and the alleged “slander” she produces is an attempt to substantiate that : “liberals” lie about “conservatives” because they hate them so much.

Trying to prove that “liberals” hate “conservatives” is an obsession among many who call themselves “conservatives”. And they often blur the distinctions between (a) criticizing someone, (b) attacking someone in an uncivil manner, and (c) actually hating someone. There was a great deal of blurring recently when right-wing slime merchant Andrew Breitbart died, and some less-than-kind comments about his demise were posted on Internet forums. These comments were understandable even if not excusable; the passing of a polarizing figure always inspires a certain number of inappropriate remarks by anonymous individuals. And while in this case the imprecations were touted as proof of “liberal hate”, the truth is that such conduct spans the ideological spectrum.  But those in the public eye, and especially in influential positions, usually speak well of the recently deceased, or not at all.

If anyone has a right to heap invective on Breitbart, it’s Shirley Sherrod, whose career he wrecked with one of the notoriously fraudulent videos he distributed. But when pressed by the media to comment, she avoided saying anything directly about him, instead just noting:

“The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”

That’s the kind of thing mature adults say, and no doubt even ol’ Andrew himself would have been equally gracious about the death of someone he didn’t like.

Oops. Actually, on the occasion of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, Breitbart declared:

“I’m more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified,”

and further called Kennedy a “villain”, a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick”. So never mind.

Still, the thing is there’s another distinction that often gets blurred: the difference between attacking an individual and attacking a demographic. Not everyone who hates President Obama is racist (though certainly a good many at least border on that description). But this is a distinction that Coulter cannot or will not make. Over and over, she tries to prove that “liberals hate conservatives” by citing attacks by specific “liberals” against specific individuals who happen to be “conservative”.

So there I sat, pen in hand, eager to tally up all the instances she produced to substantiate the allegation that “liberals” hate “conservatives” in general. And after slogging through the whole tome, I’d counted a grand total of…4. Yes, FOUR. And even those were rather dubious.

One of them, for instance, came from Jesse Jackson:

“In South Africa, the status quo was called racism. In Germany, it was called fascism. Now, in Britain and the U.S., it is called conservatism.”

Is this really an expression of hatred? I wouldn’t necessarily say so, especially knowing what I do about Jackson. Nor is it really equating “conservatism” with fascism or racism, though it certainly suggests that all are an undesirable “status quo”. But here we see yet another line that often gets blurred: the distinction between condemning an “ism” and condemning those who adhere to it. If you’ve read very much by Michael Moore or Al Franken, you know that they certainly do their share of condemning “conservatism” as well as specific “conservatives”. But they also have bent over backward to find reasons to praise “conservatives” in general. Can you say the same about civility toward “liberals” by Ann Coulter? Or Rush Limbaugh? Or Glenn Beck? Or Sean Hannity? Or – well, you get the idea.

Well, if this is the best she can come up with, we’ll give it to her. Four instances of “liberals” hating “conservatives”. Very good.

Now you might think my pen got awfully bored with only four hash marks to make during the whole book. Bur fear not – I was also keeping another tally at the same time. I was curious to see how many times the author herself expressed hatred toward “liberals” in general. And the answer was a minimum of 163. Yes, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE, nearly once per page on average. And I say “minimum” because I was very strict in what I counted, excluding questionable slurs and sometimes even multiple slurs within the same sentence.

And unlike the alleged slurs by “liberals” there is nothing the least bit ambiguous or ambivalent about hers. “Liberals” are liars.“Liberals” are nasty. “Liberals” are hypocrites. “Liberals” are un-American. “Liberals” love abortion. “Liberals” are greedy. “Liberals” are unprincipled. “Liberals” are anti-religion. “Liberals” are stupid. “Liberals” are “savagely cruel bigots” who “lie for sport”. “Liberals” hate “ordinary” Americans. “Liberals” are communists—no, wait, “liberals” are actually fascists. (Self-contradiction, even in the same breath, doesn’t seem to be a problem for her.)

But if you expect her to explain exactly what a “liberal” is, you’re SOL. In fact, she suggests that the surest way to know you’re dealing with a “liberal” is that someone questions the term. This unswerving loyalty to labels, however, does not prevent her from questioning the term “religious right”, and even suggesting – I kid you not – that “there’s no such thing”.

So, to summarize the book: “Liberals” (whatever they may be, and you shouldn’t ask) have produced four possible slurs against “conservatives”. Ann Coulter (who is only one of many many many many many ideologues attacking “liberals”) has produced at least 163 very definite slurs against “liberals”. And from this we’re supposed to conclude that “liberals hate conservatives”.

Good one, Ann.