by Bruce S. Thornton
Rush Limbaugh has got the progressives pitching a fit over some remarks on his radio show about a Georgetown University law student named Sandra Fluke. Fluke had made the preposterous claim, while addressing House Democrats over President Obama’s rule forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, that the cost of birth control was prohibitive for Georgetown law students. Limbaugh responded by calling Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who is “having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception; she wants you and me – the taxpayers – to pay her.”
Progressive dudgeon hit the stratosphere. Democrat Representative Louise Slaughter wrote a letter that decried Limbaugh’s “sexually charged, patently offensive, and obscene language” and “atrocious and hurtful words.” MSNB’s Jonathan Capehart called the comments “hateful” and “rude,” and said they were “low” even for Limbaugh. Democrat “strategist” Krystal Ball (sic) called Limbaugh “despicable,” “disgusting,” and a “loathsome individual.” The Washington Post’s Jamila Bey called the remarks “hate speech” and claimed they “crossed into the realm of sexual harassment.” The president of Georgetown said the remarks were “misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”
And in the midst of crisis in the Middle East and the ticking entitlement time bomb, President Obama found time personally to call Fluke and deplore Limbaugh’s “inappropriate personal attacks.” Following the loss of some advertisers, Limbaugh apologized for what he called his “attempt to be humorous.”
I’m not interested in Limbaugh’s comments or whether or not they are “appropriate.” When you enter the political kitchen, as Fluke did, you should be ready to get scorched. As always, more interesting is the reaction to the comments. And that reaction once again reveals the monstrous hypocrisy of progressives. The folks who proclaim their sensitivity, nuanced thinking, therapeutic concern for the tender sensibilities of others, and open-mindedness have always been the most vicious, bigoted, narrow-minded, crude, dogmatic, conformist people on the planet. Take everybody’s exhibit number one, the HBO blowhard Bill Maher, who’s on record calling Sarah Palin a “c—t” and inviting Jon Huntsman to “suck my d—k.” I don’t remember the President calling Palin or Hunstman to regret “that our political discourse has become debased,” as his flack Jay Carney put it. Nor is anyone demanding that Obama-supporting superpac Priorities USA Action should return the million bucks Maher gave it. Why should they? Remember when Obama called the Tea Party folks “tea-baggers,” a vulgar sexual term? “Appropriate” and “debased” are in the eye of the progressive beholder, and depend on the ideology of whoever is being attacked.
Of course, in the progressive hysteria we are also subjected to the “chilling free speech” charge, as when Fluke on the Today Show Friday said that Limbaugh’s comments were an “attempt to silence me.” She apparently doesn’t think that her threat to sue Limbaugh — the left’s favorite WMD when it comes to destroying free speech — might be an attempt to silence him. In fact, rather than “silencing” her, Limbaugh’s comments have given an obscure law student the biggest platform on the planet, at the same time Limbaugh’s apology suggests that it is his free speech that’s been “chilled.” And are the media so dumb that they don’t see the absurdity of a guest on the Today Showclaiming to its 5.6 million viewers that someone tried to “silence” her?
More important than occasioning a display of progressive hypocrisy is Fluke’s claim that law students at a prestigious private school can’t afford birth control. If Fluke could produce one of her colleagues who doesn’t have an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod, a high-speed internet connection, or cable television; who doesn’t spend $20 a week at Starbucks, or has to eat ramen every night, or never takes a vacation, never eats out, never goes to bars or concerts; or who has parents on welfare who can’t contribute to her education, or works part-time at a burger joint, or has any other characteristics of someone so poor she can’t budget for birth control pills, then maybe she’d have a point. But even then, condoms are available for free at numerous clinics and even at some retail stores. And God forbid we should suggest that the young lady just say no.
The cost of birth control, though, is just a smokescreen. More pernicious is the assumption that, as Fluke puts it, “This is about women’s health.” In other words, unplanned pregnancy is a disease, something that like breast cancer just sort of happens to a woman, and for which she bears no responsibility. That’s how House minority leader Nancy Pelosi sees it. Speaking of the failed Senate amendment to allow religious organizations not to fund contraception, Pelosi said that the measure was “part of the Republican agenda of disrespecting women’s health issues [by] allowing employers to cut … basic health services for women, like contraception, mammograms, prenatal and cervical-cancer screenings.”
Since pregnancy is a disease, then, someone else should pay the premium for insuring against the consequences of a woman’s risky, careless behavior. She shouldn’t even be responsible for grabbing some free condoms at the clinic and taking care of the risk herself.
Look even closer, and we see the real progressive agenda at work: increasing the power and reach of the federal government and its bureaucratic minions by discrediting and marginalizing any other source of authority over our behavior, especially institutions of moral authority such as churches. That way the government can aggrandize its power by relieving people of the responsibility for their choices through palliating their damaging consequences while making others pay for them. Tocqueville noticed 150 years ago this tendency of centralized power to expand by infantilizing the citizenry. Centralized governments, Tocqueville remarked, act as “if they thought themselves responsible for the actions and private conditions of their subjects, as if they had undertaken to guide and to instruct each of them in the various incidents of life and to secure their happiness quite independently of their own consent.” Moreover, this insidious paternalism corrupts the people, who “invoke its assistance in all their necessities,” and who “fix their eyes upon the administration as their mentor and their guide.” But all for a price: the diminishment of our freedom and autonomy, both of which require accepting the burdensome and sometimes painful responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
Our modern progressives, however, have added a new twist to this process. Removing sexual behavior from the strictures of traditional authority, and then taking responsibility for the consequences of careless sex like pregnancy, make state-subsidized sexual pleasure a seemingly cost-free distraction from the erosion of freedom and autonomy, as Aldous Huxley foresaw in Brave New World. Sexual freedom now trumps political freedom, and sexual pleasure is the honey that sweetens the bitter poison of diminished freedom. Hence the progressive’s elevation of contraception and abortion into “rights,” which puts the necessary discussion of the obvious destructive consequences of sexual promiscuity out of bounds. But these “rights” have nothing to do with “women’s health” and everything to do with the progressive government’s aim of consolidating and increasing its power at the expense of other authorities, like churches, that might have something to say about the personally and socially destructive price of those “rights.” That’s the real significance of the uproar Rush Limbaugh caused: not his crudity or insensitivity, but calling attention to the centrality of sexual libertinism to the progressive agenda of increasing government power at the expense of individual freedom.
by Bruce S. Thornton