Why Does Rush Limbaugh Get Away With Calling a Young Woman a 'Slut'?

Many conservatives ignore or excuse in the talk-radio host behavior that they'd be horrified to engage in themselves.


 


If the conservative movement's least charitable critic invented a talk-radio host to embody every stereotype of a contemptible right-wing blowhard, the result might well be a thrice-divorced 61-year-old man taking to the airwaves to call a young female law student a "prostitute" and a "slut." It would be too much -- too unrealistic -- if the same man was once detained after a guys weekend in the Dominican Republic with a bottle of Viagra, and if he went on to compare the female law student to a Nazi and suggest that she post a sex tape online.

And yet, Rush Limbaugh labeled as a "slut" and "prostitute" this young woman:



He really said that she should post a sex tape online. I wish I could show you a picture of her father and mother. I wish I had video of the moment when a friend or co-worker said to them, "Hey, did you hear Rush Limbaugh talking about your daughter?" I wish I could show you her grandfather's face when he found out. I'd like it if they all had a chance to confront the host about his comments. He'd blush deep red with shame. He'd hate what he's become.  

It hardly matters whether you agree with Sandra Fluke, or if you think she is advocating on behalf of suboptimal policy, as I do. There is no excuse for Limbaugh's behavior, and nothing redeeming in it. His words aren't merely illogical. It isn't just that he seems to misunderstand that birth-control pills cost the same whether someone has sex once per month or twice every single day. The problem isn't just that he misrepresented the fullness of her testimony. Beyond all that, he has once again shown himself to be coarse, vulgar, bullying, callous, and needlessly cruel.     

This is hardly the first time. Defending himself during a 2010 controversy, Limbaugh said, "If you read all the way through the story, you'll find that they are livid at me, even though I've called nobody a 'bitch,' I called nobody a 'whore,' I called nobody a 'slut.'" 

Guess that excuse won't work anymore. 

There's his sexist quip that NASCAR's Danica Patrick should be expected to crash because she's "a woman driver." In the course of running through various anal-rape jokes Limbaugh has made over the years, Gabriel Winant harkens back to a clip in which an apparent rape victim describes a finger being inserted into her rectum while Limbaugh laughs at it. John K. Wilson, who wrote a book about Limbaugh, digs up another example of his commentary on women:

My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed. I have learned this. I accept it for what it is. Many people in my position would think my cat's coming to me because she loves me. Well, she likes me, and she is attached, but she comes to me when she wants to be fed. And after I feed her -- guess what -- she's off to wherever she wants to be in the house, until the next time she gets hungry. She's smart enough to know she can't feed herself. She's actually a very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn't have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat's taught me more about women than anything my whole life. But we put voices in their mouths.
I run through this history -- there are more examples -- so that Limbaugh apologists cannot portray these latest remarks as an aberration. They are not. This is what the man is like. He is nevertheless invited to the White House by Republican presidents, praised by conservative magazines, given honorary titles by conservative think tanks and defended by conservative bloggers.

What confounds me most about it is that Rich Lowry and Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon, Glenn Kessler of The Claremont Review of Books, Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute, Edwin J. Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, fellow talk-radio host Bill Bennett -- none of these people would ever dream of going before a national audience and calling a female law student half their age a slut and a prostitute. None of them would ever dream of joking that if she wants her health insurance to cover birth control she should put a sex tape on the Internet. If a deranged gunman held a loved one hostage and forced them to make those remarks, as if of their own volition, they'd feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed doing it. Yet when Limbaugh says these things -- when he said other things as indefensible in the past -- he remained and remains a frequently celebrated, seldom criticized figure within the conservative movement. The Dittoheads are kept happy, but discredit is brought upon the movement. No leader of the conservative movement is willing to defend Limbaugh on the merits. They just stay mum. 

It's embarrassing.
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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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