Ordinarily, I love me some David Weigel. This prolific Slate scribe is not only one of the most insightful reporters covering the G.O.P. and its right wing, but also a terrific writer. Oh, yeah, and I like the guy. (Okay, Weigel suck-up complete.) But his post today on the backlash against Rush Limbaugh’s hateful and misogynist comments about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law School student who testified before Congress in favor of the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate has me scratching my head:
But let’s be clear about what this is. Limbaugh is a private citizen who has not endorsed any Republican candidate. (The closest he’s come is praise for Santorum, which the candidate quotes on his campaign lit.) There is not a pressing public interest here. There’s only the advantage that Democrats have carved out, by moving the discussion on birth control from the conscience exemption to the existential reasons why conservatives might want to limit birth control. The complex is winning this one.
Let’s start with: “There is not a pressing public interest here.”
Call me crazy, but I consider health care for women “a pressing public interest” — and not just for the majority of the public who happen to be women. I also find the legitimization of hateful rhetoric to be “a pressing public interest.”
If you somehow managed to miss the frenzy attending Limbaugh’s disgusting diatribe, the shorthand version goes like this: on the Wednesday edition of the Rush Limbaugh Show, the morally erect bloviator described Ms. Fluke as “a slut” and “a prostitute,” equating the mandatory provision of no-copay coverage of prescription contraception by employer-provided health insurance plans with having taxpayers “pay for [Fluke] to have sex.” (Never mind the fact that taxpayers don’t pay a dime for the contraception provision; insurance companies do.)
With each ensuing day, Limbaugh doubled down, demanding that Fluke and other women who receive their contraception via the mandate should — well let me let Rush tell you in his own words:
So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
Media Matters, natch, has the full compendium of noxiousness here.
Limbaugh’s vicious attack prompted President Barack Obama, in a deft political move, to call Fluke, as Brother Kilgore blogged, to tell her she was courageous.
Weigel’s issue is with what he calls the “Democratic media complex” for capitalizing on Limbaugh’s hatefulness, knowing that this is a weak spot for Republican politicians, who are famously loath to play any role but ditto-head in relation to the right-wing radio host, who has millions of listeners. By making the call to Fluke and confirming that bit of news to The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, Weigel writes, Obama “turned this into the sort of thing reporters are comfortable asking Republicans about.”
Is there some reason that Republicans shouldn’t be asked for comment about remarks by a Big Deal Radio host who seeks to advance their anti-birth-control policy by using hate speech?
And Weigel bemoans the fact that the mobilization of petition-crazed feminists, progressives and, yes, Democrats, has already cost Limbaugh advertisers, such as the makers of the SleepNumber bed. All for something that is “not a pressing public interest.”
The bottom line, Weigel concedes, is that Democrats, with Limbaugh’s inadvertent help, have now succeeded in turning the discussion of the contraception mandate from one about religious freedom (which, I’m sorry, was always a trumped-up complaint) to one about women’s health.
And that, I’d say, is as it should be. Limbaugh’s misogyny is hardly beside the point of the right-wing Republican push-back on the birth-control mandate; it is the point. Limbaugh simply gave voice, in the crudest of terms, to the true nature of the Republican position, which is a ferocious bid to rob women of whatever power they have.