Who Is More Transgressive, Chris Rock or Rush Limbaugh?

That's just one topic Andrew Breitbart and Yippies co-founder Paul Krassner debated in a left-right showdown of provocateurs

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On Playboy's website, there is a fascinating debate between Paul Krassner, the legendary liberal satirist, and Andrew Breitbart, the conservative publisher who wants to "take down the institutional left." It runs three Internet pages and features too many noteworthy moments to mention them all.

Here are three particularly interesting exchanges.


KRASSNER: In your book you write, "Man, how I long for the days of Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, Abbie Hoffman, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce, and today the only people upholding their free-speech legacies are conservatives like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh." At first I thought you must be kidding. What about Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Rick Overton, Harry Shearer, Kathy ­Griffin, Wanda Sykes, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, ­Stephen Colbert, Larry David, Rachel Maddow, Paul Provenza? The place is overflowing with liberals upholding their free-speech legacies.

BREITBART: I would say that they exist within a protected class for the most part. As long as they adhere to liberal orthodoxy, they're protected and can say anything against anyone at any time. It's the conservatives who are challenged by the reigning order of political correctness. There's nothing transformative or dangerous about a liberal in Hollywood or a Sarah Silverman or a Chris Rock being offensive, because they know they're granted a "get out of jail free" card, whereas Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter exist outside that comfortable order. So I'm rooting for those people over the ones like Jon Stewart, who are in a protected class.

When Breitbart talks this way, it's evident that he grew up in Los Angeles, has spent most of his life among liberals in coastal enclaves, and still grants them the power to define "the reigning order." Why? Sure, there are places where it's more comfortable to quote Chris Rock doing standup than a Rush Limbaugh monologue. But where I grew up in Orange County, Chris Rock was considered far more transgressive than Rush Limbaugh. I was 13 years old when CB4 came out, and I certainly wasn't allowed to see it. Whereas I could hear Limbaugh any weekday ... at my grandma's house. This is someone who wouldn't have taken me to a PG-13 movie.

In Orange County, as in much of America, Rush Limbaugh very much exists inside "the comfortable order." Parents urge their kids to listen to him. His radio show is proudly carried by large corporate radio stations. He's been invited to the White House in multiple administrations! And in many places where Limbaugh is popular, Wanda Sykes would be booed off stage.

There isn't anyone on the left or right that is a modern analogue to free-speech heroes of old, because free speech won. Comics don't go to jail anymore. As far as I can remember, Maher is the only person listed above who lost his main gig (ironically, it was as host of the show Politically Incorrect) for being politically incorrect. That isn't to say that there aren't excesses of liberal political correctness or subcultures where it prevails (college campuses are the obvious example), but Breitbart ascribes more relative power and cultural cachet to liberals than they actually possess.

This is not America.


Krassner states, "In your capacity as Tea Party protector, you must be aware of the blatant disconnect between its plea for small government and its desire for social issues to be controlled by the government ... how do you react to the conservative movement's inconsistency about less government in their lives?"

Says Breitbart in his response:

I don't know what evidence you're offering that the Tea Party is focusing on any of those issues. The Tea Party is a bizarre amalgam of independents, conservatives and libertarians who have surgically excised the social issues from the table, and the people in those crowds have diverse opinions on all the things you mentioned. I happen to be pro-marijuana, certainly marijuana decriminalization, but I'm not asserting myself and my social views in this current environment.

If you can't see and if the media don't want to see that the Tea Party is about financial restraint and has nothing to do with social issues--­nothing, nothing, nothing--to the consternation of the social conservatives. I've had rifts and schisms with social conservatives over my stances on these issues. They can call me a libertarian if they want. I don't care what labels they call me. But the Tea Party is abused by the mainstream media ... we're putting our children in economic peril, period. It has nothing to do with marijuana, it has nothing to do with abortion, it has nothing to do with gay marriage. There are gay people in the Tea Party. There are people of all different social stripes within the Tea Party who have a singular focus on restraining government debt and applying constitutional principles.

Both men are being earnest in their analysis, and neither is entirely right or wrong. It's true that the tea party has focused on economic issues and size of government in its rhetoric. Visit the various tea-party websites. You'll find precious little, if anything, about social issues. On the other hand, the tea party is disproportionately made up of social conservatives if you judge affiliated voters by their beliefs.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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