who has listened to Rush Limbaugh for five minutes in
the past 20 years or so knows who he is and what he is:
a bloviating bully who is fond of making racist and sexist
commentary and insisting, now and then, that he is just
having fun and that he is mostly an entertainer.
all these years of pretending to make cogent political
commentary, he finally has enraged enough people to make
his advertisers take notice. This time, he has enraged
women and not just women, but women in the party that
is most closely aligned with his daily diatribes, the
he attacked a young woman who finally was able to testify
before a congressional committee (headed by a Republican)
about the right of women to have birth control included
in their package of health insurance benefits.
Fluke testified before a congressional committee on the
importance of providing birth control in health insurance
coverage, citing her own and other women’s situation at
Georgetown Law Center. Limbaugh, on his daily show, inveighed
against Fluke and her position on contraceptives, calling
her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for asking for coverage.
response was immediate. The shock jock apparently was
shocked himself at the response that his comments generated.
He might have expected that women, in general, would be
offended, but this was a subject that hit home with everyone
to the left of himself, which is just about most Americans.
As he found, contraception is not an issue of left or
right, but an issue of grave concern to all women, regardless
of politics. A few days later, he made an “apology” worthy
of a bully who was caught and forced to admit wrongdoing
by the principal in front of the rest of the kids in the
didn’t cut it. Women are still enraged and have organized
boycotts against any advertisers who still support Limbaugh’s
program. No matter the outcome during this short period
of time, the boycotts probably will have a long-lasting
effect, and it may be enough to move him in the direction
of the late, unlamented Glenn Beck, who is now serving
time in a backwater of broadcast anonymity. They all have
had their time in the spotlight (much more than their
allotted 15 minutes of fame), and they have been enriched
beyond their wildest dreams by their toxic presence on
the people seem to be more enraged at his pseudo-apology,
in which he, like so many others before him who have been
forced into an apology for one thing or another, appear
to be sorrier for the response to his comments and epithets
than for the content of his low remarks.
to put what the Oxycontin-abusing, endless talker does
for three hours, five days a week, in context, we should
look at the descent of what passes as civil discourse
in the country, in general. It’s hard to say whether he
is a causative factor or just a symptom of a sick discourse
that casts a pall over the land. It is in everything,
however, from politics, to entertainment, to newspapers
(what’s left of them), to sports, and especially, to what
is on both radio and television.
Limbaugh treated Fluke is typical of how the establishment
keeps women in line, how it keeps minorities in line,
how it keeps the working class and most of the middle
class in line…a daily pounding in the public sphere and
on the floor of the congressional houses and in the state
houses. Republicans have made an art of this and the Democrats
have yet to find their spine to counter the all-out assault
on what has come to be known as the “99 percent.”
recent years, however, politics has been used as the jumping
off point for the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Bill O’Reilly,
Sean Hannity, Michael Savage (he was born Michael Alan
Weiner), and others like them. The country is full of
campaigns and politics as practiced in Congress and in
the state legislatures have descended to the depths of
the discourse of these people. In the current era, there
was Lee Atwater, a young, brash, and some have said, ruthless
political operative. He worked for Republican candidates,
including Senator Strom Thurmond, and was described by
someone he worked with, Ed Rollins, a GOP consultant and
advisor, as “Ollie North in civilian clothes,” in that
he would do anything to achieve his ends.
was little that Atwater would not do to win for his candidates
and he operated on the same “principles” when he was chairman
of the Republican National Committee. And there was Karl
Rove, who also would stop at nothing to achieve his political
goals, topping off his public career by being top advisor
to George W. Bush, during his presidency (“Bush’s Brain,”
he was nicknamed). He was among the Bush Administration’s
top people involved in the outing of a CIA operative,
Valerie Plame, a serious crime, if it had ever been prosecuted.
have the example also of the election of Saxby Chambliss,
a Republican, who won the U.S. Senate seat of Max Cleland,
a Democrat, after a campaign in which Chambliss ran an
ad that depicted Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, declaring
that Cleland was not tough enough on war and national
security. Cleland had lost both legs and one arm in Vietnam,
while Chambliss received a draft deferment for a knee
problem that he received playing football.
near total absence of civility among lawmakers at every
level of government has left the American people and their
environment virtually without anyone to speak for them.
In the recent Republican debates, there has been nothing
of substance to solve the real and profound problems of
American society uttered among all of the competitors
for the GOP presidential nomination.
effect, they deny there are problems by ignoring them
and deal in nothing but generalities. Most of the “debate”
involves cutting taxes for the rich, eliminating most
social programs, and getting rid of “entitlements,” such
as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (they already
have eliminated “welfare as we know it,” during the administration
of Bill Clinton). Schools, from kindergarten to university,
are on the block. Apparently, we can do without them,
as has been intimated by Rick Santorum, the candidate
in second place for the GOP nomination. And, forget dealing
with climate change and manmade causes of global warming.
To Republicans and some Democrats, it’s not happening.
That way, they don’t have to deal with it.
say that the nation’s lawmakers are gridlocked on all
of the important issues of the day is the grossest of
understatements. Republicans are there to oppose the Democrats
and, when they do speak, it is just to say, “Cut taxes
and cut services and programs, and cut the budget.” Democrats
just don’t seem to know how to break through the impasse.
are out there about the lack of cooperation or collegiality.
One of them is that, in a time of constant campaign mode,
the lawmakers are back in their home districts raising
money or campaigning. They don’t even know each other,
much less socialize with each other, even minimally.
of the lack of any social relationships among these privileged,
it is easy to refuse to work with the opposition at any
level and it is easy to be hostile to them, in public,
at least. The deep pockets of corporations and the wealthy
have a strong part to play in the dysfunction of our legislators,
at most levels of government, and we will see more of
that in the presidential campaign, the first in which
unlimited money from Corporate America and the rich can
flow to the (mostly Republican) candidates.
mean-spirited mouthings of a Limbaugh, pounded into the
minds of gullible Americans for three hours every day,
are to be expected in a political atmosphere like this
one. He is doing the bidding of his masters in the GOP
and those farther to the right and he does his part to
keep women, minorities, and workers in their places (amazingly,
many workers believe everything he says). That’s why they
pay him scores of millions of dollars each year. He keeps
the fires of hate burning brightly and his “apology” to
Fluke should not make a difference to those who are fighting
back with the only weapon they have, an advertiser boycott.
what some of Atwater’s GOP colleagues said about his end-of-life
recanting of what he had done to so many people over the
years, we’ll just take him at his word. Here is an excerpt
of what he wrote in a 1991 Life magazine article
about it: “The ‘80s were about acquiring - acquiring wealth,
power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power,
and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want
and still feel empty.
power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my
family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with
friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye
with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught
up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn
on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the
‘90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual
vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of
not expect the same out of Limbaugh or Rove, Mitt Romney
or Senator Mitch McConnell, or any like them, in politics
or entertainment or any other sphere of American life.
It doesn’t matter. Rather, Atwater’s
“tumor of the soul” of American society will have to be
excised by the people, in a massive display of intelligence
and good will.
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became
a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early
1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in
New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click
to contact Mr. Funiciello.