I wasn’t going to say anything about the most recent Rush Limbaugh controversy, mostly because I haven’t cursed on here in over five years and I’m not sure that there is a way to properly respond to Limbaugh’s slurs without resorting to profanity to prove the point. If Limbaugh wants to argue that Sandra Fluke, because she posits that health plans should pay for birth control, is a “slut,” the temptation to use other nasty words to describe Limbaugh, mostly amalgamations of body parts with a four-letter synonym for intercourse, is very difficult to avoid. (What would Limbaugh say of a man who testified before Congress that health plans should pay for Viagra and Cialis and other “male enhancement” medications? Oh wait, no one has to because health plans already pay for those things. Is there a better example of the entrenched, institutionalized sexism in this country than the scorn women get for going on the pill while we’re all expected to chip in so guys can get all the erections they want?) Let me end this paragraph before I use even more words that’ll have spambots flooding to post here.
However, when news came out this afternoon that President Obama called Fluke, I was reminded of a couple of weeks ago when Republicans, especially the current crop of candidates for their party’s presidential nomination, came down hard on Obama for apologizing for the burning of copies of the Qu’ran at our military’s Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. One of the arguments these Republicans made (to try to cover the anti-Islamic sentiment that so clearly fuel these kinds of arguments) was that it’s not the President’s responsibility to apologize for the actions of others. As the president pointed out, though, our troops were getting killed because of these actions, and he was pretty much the most authoritative figure who could come out and say, “This was wrong and this does not represent what America stands for.” As the commander-in-chief, the lives of our military personnel are his responsibility, and if the president apologizing for what was unquestionably a horrible act saves the life of even one American, who is anyone to complain?
We can discuss what responsibilities a president should assume in greater depth later, but for now I want to write about responsibility in general, because it’s one of those things that really gets to the root of my political philosophies and beliefs. As children we’re all told that responsibility comes with power, but it seems like one of the guiding tenets behind modern American conservatism is that responsibility is for the weak, and that once you get power you can do whatever you want with it, and if anyone gets hurt by what you do then that’s their problem, not yours. Yes, the huge overreachers like Ken Lay get punished just to maintain a veneer of justice, but you can still cause a whole lot of hurt to a lot of people in this country and still have right-wingers defending you in the name of “progress.”
This is another one of those aspects of modern American conservatism that doesn’t derive naturally from basic conservative philosophy — caring for the less fortunate is not in direct opposition to small government — but essentially became welded onto the right-wing of this country thanks to the Reagan Revolution. After the “malaise” of Carter, Reagan basically told the nation, “Screw all that stuff about sacrifice in the name of the country’s good. You can do whatever you want and everything will be taken care of, as long as you let me give my rich friends a huge tax cut.” We were told we could have our cake and eat it too, then encouraged to eat all the cake we wanted, and in the end we wound up broke and with the economic and social equivalent of Type 2 Diabetes.
In its current state, this strain of American conservatism typified by Rush Limbaugh and his soundalikes is precisely like a spoiled ten-year-old who bullies all the other kids (the non-rich/non-privileged) out of their cookies (tax cuts/government spending). When he can’t get enough cookies, he whines to his rich parents (allies in government/business/mass media) for more, and his parents pay for more cookies just for him, even if it means less money for the other kids. The thing is, a lot of those kids are hypoglycemic, and they are suffering and even dying because we’re giving the spoiled brat all the cookies he wants, even after he’s gotten diabetes and the cookies are doing him (and everyone else) far more harm than good, and yet he continues to cry out “I want cookies!” and we’re all still expected to do what we can to get him more cookies, and derided as stupid or even un-American if we say or do otherwise.
In a market economy, wealth is a tremendous source of power, and all sources of power can be used to do great good or even greater harm. I still identify as a capitalist because I believe the profit motivation encourages greater innovation and advancement than the alternatives, but that doesn’t mean that capitalism doesn’t come with its own set of problems, and those problems have become more and more apparent in America these past forty years as the income gap has widened exponentially and so many other indicators and anecdotes point to how much the lower, working, and even middle classes continue to suffer while the rich just get richer and richer, and more importantly spend more and more energy to keep getting richer no matter how much harm their thirst for wealth causes. A lot of the problems at the root of this most basic problem would be easily solvable if more of the rich and powered interests, in both the public and private sectors, would use their wealth (and thus their power) more responsibly and accept marginally higher tax rates so that those who aren’t as privileged can weather tough times and be protected from those who use their power irresponsibly, and yet despite all the evidence that helping the rich get richer at the expense of the lower classes isn’t doing anyone but the irresponsibly selfish rich any good, that continues to be the drumbeat of Limbaugh and the far right.
What makes this worse is that President Obama and congressional Democrats, even if they aren’t giving the spoiled brat as many cookies as he wants, are still basically coddling him. Through things like extending the Bush 43 tax cuts and offering so many concessions in the health care bill, Democrats basically fed the brat at the expense of those who needed a deeper payroll tax cut and the government assistance programmes that increased tax revenue could have brought in, and as a result our ecoonomy hasn’t rebounded like it has after previous recessions. Even if Obama gets reelected in November he’ll probably win fewer electoral votes than he got in 2008, and between that and likely losing control of the Senate, Democrats will use that as an excuse to capitulate more and more.
To return to Rush Limbaugh and the issue of responsibility, even more than his massive wealth, his massive media presence and his large, loyal listener base give him a great deal of power, and Limbaugh seems to almost relish being irresponsible with it. We can debate how wrong-headed his philosophies and opinions are, but there is a gulf of difference between arguing that health care plans shouldn’t cover birth control and calling a woman a slut on national radio. Even with the comparatively puny audience of my blog, when I write here I am still assuming power in writing these words, which is why, despite my outrage at Limbaugh, I’m not engaging in a similar kind of name-calling against him that, petty and unproductive as it may be, would get my anger out in a more satisfying way than writing a more reasoned and subdued entry as this one. By taking part in this dialogue I am assuming responsibility to use my words to make our discourse better and more intelligent, not coarser and worse. (Even now I’m wondering if the “spoiled boy and his cookies” analogy I used earlier should stay in because it could be seen as a veiled reference to Limbaugh’s weight issues.)
Unfortunately, even as I read about companies pulling their advertising from Limbaugh’s show in response to his slur, I know it won’t do any good. For every company that pulls its commercials from Limbaugh’s show there are probably four or five that are foaming at the mouth to buy that commercial time. Even the wave of boycotts that slammed Glenn Beck a couple of years ago didn’t do much to damage his stature; he may not have the megaphone of Fox News in his hand like he once did, but there’s no denying that he continues to be an influential force in our national politics, mostly because there are still companies out there that will pay Beck to spread his message since Beck’s message essentially leads to them getting more tax cuts and fewer government regulations.
I don’t know if President Obama apologized for Rush Limbaugh and his irresponsible choice of words in his phone call to Sandra Fluke earlier today, but it wouldn’t have been out of place. Then again, apologizing for Limbaugh and all the hateful and insensitive things he says would be a full-time job. Unfortunately it’s not one that any company has deemed worthy of paying someone to do.