Nearly two weeks after Rush Limbaugh ignited a public firestorm by bullying Sandra Fluke over national airwaves for three days running, calls to advertisers and radio syndicates to have Rush taken off the air have only grown louder. Many in the mainstream media seemed taken aback by such a strong public response, shocked that so powerful a figure could be shaken to his very foundations by public outrage. Some, including Bill Maher who has born the brunt of republican attacks for his own off-color jokes targeting some women, have even defended Rush.
What the media seems to be missing is context, the deeply abusive nature of Rush Limbaugh’s public bullying, and the dreadful harm the slut shaming of a defenseless law student inflicts on us all. Nor does the media seem to fully realize how what Rush says and does is directly linked to the political activities of republicans in Congress and the ongoing conservative war on women’s health and reproductive freedoms.
Scared of Rush
As recently as two weeks ago, republican leader John Boehner admitted at a Congressional press conference that republicans, members of the most powerful government in the world, were scared of Rush Limbaugh — a powerful political radio pundit who sometimes hides behind the title ‘entertainer.’ The big man, issued an honorary position in Congress in the 1990s, wields vast political power through his 15 million radio viewers and his incessant calls for political action. He has been at the forefront of many republican political campaigns over the breadth of his reign as EIB pundit and, at every turn, he has challenged liberal power-brokers. In many ways, Rush is the hand that wields conservative power in Washington and this is done through the scope of his far-reaching radio show.
Gagging Sandra Fluke
Then came Sandra Fluke, the woman who was supposed to testify.
Back in late February, the republicans had doubled down on their war on women’s reproductive freedoms. As recently as mid-month, they had waged a disastrous campaign to defund Planned Parenthood. Republican attacks were spear-headed by the Susan G. Komen Foundation which had become a political arm of the republican attack through the actions of its right-wing CEO.
But this action back-fired. Massive internet and media campaigns were waged against Komen for their denial of Planned Parenthood funding. The result was that Komen lost many of its major donors and top execs at the foundation threatened to resign unless the policy was changed.
Failing this avenue of attack, republicans opened a new front, attempting to legislatively deny health care coverage for women’s contraception and reproductive services. In a political insult that is likely to resonate for decades to come, House Republicans called an all-male committee before a Congressional panel to discuss the reasons for rolling back women’s reproductive freedoms. Democrats attempted to call their own witness — Sandra Fluke. But, citing an arbitrary rule, republicans refused to allow her to speak.
This all male panel was a stark and blatant symbol of who was making these critical decisions about women’s reproductive freedoms — old white men. But added to this insult was the fact that even a single female voice was denied testimony. So, for days, Sandra Fluke was the woman who wasn’t allowed to speak.
Speech Draws Bullying
But women and liberals in Congress would not be completely silenced. A few days after the all-male panel testified, Sandra Fluke was called to speak in Congress by democrats who believed it was wrong to only hear one point of view. Ms. Fluke testified eloquently, passionately and openly — describing how valuable contraction and reproductive services were to women of her age. She provided a poignant personal narrative that drew a sharp contrast between the political posturing on the right and the real lives of ever-day Americans. And she made a strong intellectual and compassionate argument for continuing women’s freedoms and not to return to a narrow age of institutional bigotry.
Almost immediately, her testimony drew attacks from the right. They accused her of lying. They attacked her character. And they began to openly call her a slut for wanting access to contraception.
Rush Leads the Attack
Among the most loud in this slut-shaming was Rush Limbaugh. For three days straight, Rush used his massive radio infrastructure as a platform from which to attack Sandra Fluke. He repeatedly called her a slut, a whore, and a prostitute. He baldly stated that she must want contraception because she was having so much sex. He demanded that Sandra post sex videos on the internet in exchange for access to contraception.
Not only was Rush engaging in a most ugly form of character assassination against Sandra Fluke. He was also exploiting the notion of her femininity, rabidly engaging in the most lewd and obscene of sexual fantasies on the airwaves. His show made her the object of a vicious political pornography.
But the most egregious element of this assault was due to the nature of Sandra Fluke herself. She was not a political figure — a persona with the power or platform from which to defend herself from Rush’s abuse and character assassination. She had no individual power to repel or even respond to this level of media assault. She was one of the rest of us, thrust into her obligatory 15 minutes of fame on a slide lined with right-wing razors. And they were tearing her apart.
Women and People Who Love Women Rise Up
Witnessing this terrible abuse, the modern equivalent of an unjust public torture and execution, many people were no longer able to remain silent. For years, bearing the assaults of Rush and other right-wing ideologues, women, feminists, and their supporters rose up. A call for a Rush advertiser boycott rang out, was picked up, and went viral. Thousands of bloggers, hundreds of thousands of social networkers, the Occupy movement, and many, many more all began independent campaigns targeting Rush’s radio advertisers.
And their message was this: you can attack the powerful, those who are strong enough to defend themselves. But if you attack one of us, one of the meek, one of the powerless, one of those who deserve our care, our love, our compassion, then we will rise up. If you do this, we will do everything we can to remove you from power and responsibility. If you cannot exercise your power with decency and kindness, then you will suffer revolt and loss of power.
They say the meek shall inherit… Then do no harm to the meek…