Sunday, March 11, 2012

Was Rush Limbaugh Right To Call Sandra Fluke a Prostitute?


There has been a firestorm in recent weeks surrounding Rush Limbaugh and a young woman named Sandra Fluke. Last week Ms. Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, appeared before a house congressional committee expressing her conviction that the university, which happens to be Catholic, should provide her and others like herself free contraception as part of their health care plan. The reason, she argued, was that she had seen and heard many personal testimonies of women who had suffered greatly on account of the lack of coverage. Included in the list of those who are in desperate need of coverage are individuals with serious medical conditions (like polycystic ovarian syndrome), as well as those who simply want to be able to regulate their "reproductive health" (code for abortion, contraception, and sterlization). Perceiving a political motivation on the part of Ms. Fluke, Rush Limbaugh weighed in (no pun intended). However, in doing so he used what most would call incendiary and offensive language, accusing her of being a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she wanted a Catholic institution (as well as patrons of the school) to foot the bill for, among other things, the recreational habits of law students.

Full disclosure: I am not a huge Rush Limbaugh fan- in part because I am not a huge fan of listening to any predictable partisan rhetoric. At any rate, that's beside the point, for it doesn't alter the lingering question. Was Limbaugh right to call Sandra Fluke a prostitute? The simple answer is no, yes, and maybe.

Lest I be accused of being too Jesuitical, here is what I mean. Depending on what the observing party deems to be most morally imperative, therein lies your answer. For the person who says "no" to this question, there might be several reasons for their reaction. First, they might simply agree with her cause and want to further justify it by creating a villain. Secondly, they might be put off because they believe that there is a distinction between the words "right" and "justified". In other words, just because there is perhaps some justification for the comments he made does not mean that he should have made them. And lastly, one might object because they have a natural dislike for any kind of noisome distasteful rhetoric.

As for the person that says "yes" to the Limbaugh rant, there are also a number of reasons for their approval. First, one might agree with him because they are partisan and looking for any good reason to dislike the left. Secondly, they might ultimately agree based strictly on definitional grounds. Let's call a spade a spade. After all, if a woman is being subsidized for her manifold extra-curricular activities, is that not in a certain sense a form of prostitution? And lastly, one might object because they believe that it is preposterous that private institutions should be forced to provide services they deem to be immoral. As for those who would respond "maybe", they may do so because they agree on some level with what he said, but question the lack of prudence, charity, and subtlety in his statement. They might also say "maybe" because they realize that sometimes in order to be heard one must be a little provocative. For this man the determining factor is whether or not this particular occasion calls for such a provocation?

Personally, I can sympathize with all three positions. What I cannot sympathize with is the shallow nature of the discourse that has gone on as a result of this conflagration. Rush Limbaugh did apologize for his statements, especially for his unfortunate choice of words. And I commend him for recognizing that truth without charity quite often renders the message utterly inaudible. Yet in all of this debate about mea culpas and how sternly political candidates should denounce such rhetoric, what has resulted is not merely the shaming of Rush Limbaugh, but the subsequent canonization of a woman and her message simply because someone happened to denigrate her. It does not follow that someone is a saint because they are treated harshly. Moreover, just because someone contracts AIDS does not immediately make them a model of righteousness. Nor is a poor man saintly simply because he is the victim of poverty (though his lowly status may make him a better candidate than the rich man). A saint is a saint because their lives are a picture of virtue, and a moral position is either right or wrong, not because someone has made a derogatory statement about it, but because it is either right or wrong! Say what you will about the logic of Rush, but at least there is a logic to criticize, for those Fluke apologists, there is no real critique of Limbaugh's statement, only the overly sentimental protestations of a group willing to declare that something is wrong simply because it is rude.                                                              


  1. I feel that the 1st Amendment gives everyone the right to truely say what they want reagardless of offending someone else. So, Yes, Rush had the RIGHT to call that over aged law student what he did...

  2. The First Amendment does not mean that people who are offended by speech can't take action against it by bringing economic pressure to bear, Jmac61. As an example, I give you the Catholic League. (I'm not sure what her age has to do with the issue one way or the other: she's 30 years old and in her third year of law school. The average age of beginning law school students nationwide is about 25, so when she started she was only two years older than average - not a huge difference. She's hardly reprising Rodney Dangerfield's _Back to School_ role.)

    The reason that Limbaugh was unjustified in his attack is quite simply that Fluke's testimony did not focus on the use of the Pill for use as birth control. If anything, it brought attention to a fact you refer to in your post, MITW, but which has gotten little acknowledgement from opponents of the HHS mandate - the Pill is used for a variety of reasons, including polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, irregular periods, and even acne. Limbaugh ignored that, however, and cast aspersions on Fluke's sexual morality - something he has no clue about. He wasn't being simply "rude" - he ignored the meaning of her testimony, provided his own, and then extrapolated what he imagines to be her sex life from it.

    By the way, it's also a little odd that someone who uses Viagra, as Limbaugh does, would object to insurance companies paying for someone's sexual activities; after all, his prescription for them is almost certainly covered by his insurance policy. So add gross hypocrisy to Limbaugh's tab.

    And saying that Limbaugh apologized is playing a little loose with the English language. He specifically apologized for his word choice. Not for drawing conclusions about her sex life from thin air, not for misconstruing her testimony, but his word choice. It's not really much of an apology.

  3. M. Dilworth:

    Because you think that Rush Limbaugh's insurance company (if he even uses one -- why would he?) might pay for his Viagra does not make him a hypocrite, for two reasons:

    1. You conclude from pure speculation that he is a hypocrite.

    2. Viagra is not a contraceptive -- its purpose is to restore the function of the reproductive organ, is it not? The purpose of contraception is to debilitate it. So, it would be perfectly reasonable, and not hypocritical, to favor the former and oppose the latter.

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