Going Numb

Bill Maher’s New York Times op-ed suggesting a moratorium on outrage was predictable, funny, and ultimately wrong-headed–kind of like Maher himself on more than one occasion.

Sure, a lot of offense-taking is excessive and passive-aggressive, and a lot of outrage is phony and calculated. Without question, those of us who dislike Rush Limbaugh can just ignore him, and we’ll all survive the ravings of racists and mysoginists and homophobes, not to mention people who say offensive things out of stupidity or carelessness rather than malice.

But the cure for poorly calibrated assessments of offensive public statements is not to suspend calibration altogether, and laugh it all off as part of living-and-let-living in a free society. Rush Limbaugh’s sliming of Sandra Fluke required “taking offense” not because he’s an obnoxious bully with an atavistic world-view, but because he exercises real political power in a way that affects real life and–if it were up to him–freedom itself. I don’t want to “silence” him, but I sure would like to see him neutered as a force to be reckoned with in American politics and government.

It is entirely possible to exhibit a sense of perspective–and yes, fairness–about these things without reducing all political and social expression to falsely equivalent mush. And we ought to be able to discard excessive sensitivity without just going numb.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.