Let’s talk about sex. And let’s talk about Rush Limbaugh. And as unlikely as it seems, given his less than impressive visage and far beyond ample physique, and his problematic personality, now we have to yoke the two together. The man that any casual observer would probably call a bombastic, nasty, sarcastic fat slob, out to pick a fight – actually what his listeners may like about him – has now raised the issue of proper sex – who should have it, when, and with whom, and how often, and under what circumstances – and who should not have it all. He has told America what’s proper.
And much of America recoiled when he called the Georgetown Law student a slut and prostitute for saying the regulations that require all but church health plans to cover contraception – birth control pills – were useful and necessary. What was that about? Why does that concern him? He’s been married four times. He has no children. One can only imagine his sex life – given his near-conviction on felony drug charges and his being busted trying to smuggle Viagra that wasn’t his back home from that wild Caribbean vacation in lands where the babes are very young. But he was outraged that this young woman thought birth control pills should be part of any healthcare plan. Somehow that became this young woman wanting someone else to pay for her wild sex life, and he would have none of it. She shouldn’t be having sex anyway – if she couldn’t pay for the pills. And even if should could, she shouldn’t.
So much has been written about this little more needs be said. He got lots of things wrong about who was paying for the benefit – it wasn’t the government at all – and about how birth control pills work – you don’t have to take more and more pills the more you have sex, so the high cost is just our entirely profit-driven pharmaceutical industry, not wild wantonness. But it didn’t matter. He is the informal voice of the Republican Party – the man who delivers the outraged angry voters on Election Day. And he put the word out. This was not, as all Republican congressmen had said, about religious freedom – forcing Catholic universities and hospitals and thrift shops to offer their employees the standard healthcare plans, plans that included contraception coverage. This was about people who should not be having sex, well, having sex, and asking others to pay them for it. It wasn’t about the new federal regulations defining the basics of what defines a healthcare plan being Obama’s War on Religion. This was about sex-crazed hussies asking taxpayers to foot the bill for their thrice-daily romps with any Tom, Dick or Harry who was handy.
And the Republican Party was stuck. No one criticizes Rush – he delivers the masses. But he hijacked the War on Religion message – for three full days he made fun of the slut and had everyone talking about sex, and about contraception, and about women’s health issues in general. Was birth control even healthcare? Wasn’t it just a way of turning all of America’s young women into sluts? Wasn’t that what Obama really wanted? Doesn’t that make Obama a pimp? It went on and on.
Yes, there was an apology. Limbaugh apologized for his word choice. But he didn’t apologize for his ideas. And as almost all American women use birth control at one time or another, the ideas became the problem. He was saying they’re all sluts, one way or another – every damned one of them. And they didn’t like that much at all. And as all Republicans maintained a careful silence, what was Obama’s War on Religion became the Republicans’ War on Women. On Fox News there was a good deal of talk about how all this was a very clever and extraordinarily subtle plot by Obama to destroy Mitt Romney – but it’s hard to imagine how Obama found the time to work out all the secret interlocking details, and how he got Daryl Issa to refuse to let the young lady testify to his committee on the matter, because she wasn’t a member of the clergy. Was Issa in on this too?
No, they did this to themselves, and Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers dropped him – one after the other, an effect massively magnified by Facebook and Twitter and all the rest. And the Rush Limbaugh Show runs on the Armed Forces Network, which is also one of the show’s advertising sponsors – so Carl Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chair, said he hoped the military drops it on their own volition. VoteVets has a petition calling for the show to be pulled – but that’s unlikely, as the military may not want to take sides in this spat. But then Goodwill told this to Politico:
A PSA [Public Service Announcement] about Goodwill was aired on a DC-area station that airs the Rush Limbaugh Show and was done without our permission, knowledge or consent. We asked them to remove it because this was done without our prior approval.
Not many will advertise with him now. See John Aravosis – 56 percent of Limbaugh’s WABC ads were unpaid PSAs yesterday, versus zero the day before – showing Limbaugh is giving out freebies now. That’s not a compelling business model, and on NPR, Robert Siegel talks to Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, about how all this works:
SIEGEL: Well, I want you to first describe his business model to us. That is, I gather Limbaugh gives his program to the stations and then he sells national advertising and local stations sell local availabilities in it?
HARRISON: Basically it’s called the cash and barter method. Cash is a method in which the stations pay the syndicator cash for the show and they can do what they want with it. Barter is a method where the network keeps a certain number of commercials for themselves to sell and the station keeps some of what they call inventory for them to sell locally. And in the case of Limbaugh, it’s both cash and barter. Most of the stations pay to have him and give up a certain amount of inventory for the national commercials.
SIEGEL: Do we have any idea how much all this amounts to in revenue for whatever the Limbaugh corporate entity is?
HARRISON: Well, I don’t know for sure. I don’t think anybody but their accountant knows.
But his accountant will be unhappy if you can’t sell ads either way and just give away the slots. But Limbaugh has said his advertising base is so huge that even if he were to lose, say, twenty-eight of his sponsors, it would be like losing a couple of French fries from the container when they’re handed to you at the drive-thru. That’s an interesting metaphor. Limbaugh understands the world through the lens of pleasurable gluttony.
And Media Matters pointed out here the “dead air” problem now:
Rush Limbaugh closed the first hour of his radio show on his flagship station, WABC, with 1:03 of dead air Monday…. Similarly, during the commercial break that led into the show, there was 2:38 of dead air.
And the transcripts of the previous shows that created this whole mess are disappearing, as researched by the Atlantic’s Elspeth Reeve:
RushLimbaugh.com appears to have removed parts of his radio transcripts from February 29 and March 1 in which he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and demanded a sex tape as a thank you to taxpayers for subsidizing her birth control. The links to “Butts Sisters Are Safe from Newt and Rick” and “Left Freaks out over My Fluke Remarks” now show blank stretches of white space.
Ed Kilgore comments:
White noise, white space… Not looking real good for the Great White Chief of right-wing radio.
That was unkind. But at least he didn’t reference Moby Dick – the Great White Whale – the Big Dick – all of which would have been even less kind. So disregard the last sentence. Read William Saletan instead.
William Saletan is a fairly conservative fellow at times, a foe of all abortions and such, but he has some interesting questions for Rush Limbaugh – like what’s the problem with contraceptive insurance: socialism or promiscuity? And he points out that Limbaugh in his apology said his objection was to socialism, and it wasn’t about sex at all as here is Limbaugh’s apology:
It is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. … If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom.
But that doesn’t square with what Limbaugh said during his Flukefest. “I will buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want,” he joked Thursday. Later that day, Limbaugh repeated: “I’d buy all these women aspirins, put ’em between their knees, like Andrea Mitchell does.” On Friday, he reminded his listeners: “I offered to pay for aspirins.”
Limbaugh was jesting, but the undercurrent seemed real. Does he object to paying for pills, or just for pills that facilitate sex?
No one knows, and there is the matter of how much sex is too much sex:
Fluke said birth control could cost a student more than $3,000 during law school. From this, Limbaugh somehow inferred that “she and her coed classmates are having sex nearly three times a day for three years straight, apparently.” In truth, Limbaugh has no idea how often Fluke has sex. But I can tell you exactly how many times Limbaugh used the phrase “so much sex” during his three days of attacking Fluke. The number is 23, and it rises above 30 if you include related phrases such as “sex-crazed coeds,” “sex-addict frequency,” “having sex so often,” “having sex so damn much,” “repeated, never-ending, as-often-as-she-wants-it sex,” and “sex anytime, as many times and as often as they want, with as many partners as they want.” If frequency reflects obsession, Limbaugh is obsessed with sexual frequency. Which raises the question: How much sex, in his view, is too much?
Ah, but is Limbaugh the man to ask? He may have odd views on that matter, and also on the matter of whether birth control pills necessarily and invariably lead to repeated, never-ending, as-often-as-she-wants-it sex:
Limbaugh accused Fluke of asking the public “to pay for the things that make it possible for her to have sex.” He called this “thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars to satisfy the sexual habits of female law students,” and he rejected the idea of subsidizing such “personal sexual desires and habits.” Referring to a woman who sought contraception, Limbaugh scoffed, “Here’s a woman exercising no self-control.”
Is that what contraception is? Or is it, as many users and proponents see it, a way of taking responsibility for sex? Isn’t it possible to have sex without contraception? Don’t people do this every day, even when they don’t want to cause a pregnancy? Wouldn’t it be better if they took precautions? When people use birth control, are they doing so to indulge their desires, or to exercise a kind of self-control? Is there a moral difference between birth-control pills and, say, Viagra – the drug Limbaugh apparently took on a trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago?
And what consequences should a woman face for having sex?
Twice on Thursday, Limbaugh criticized the idea of a “woman [who] wants unlimited, no-responsibility, no-consequences sex.” On Friday, he faulted people who want “sex without consequence” and “behavior that people want to engage in with no consequences.”
What exactly did he mean? Does he think pregnancy is the proper consequence of sex? Does he think it’s wrong to block that consequence? Rick Santorum thinks so. Does Limbaugh agree?
And then there is the question of what any of this has to do with basic healthcare and legitimate medical needs:
Twice, Limbaugh mocked the notion that women need birth control to avoid a “killer disease.” His tone was jocular, but he was essentially repeating an argument made by Catholic bishops: that pregnancy isn’t a disease, and therefore, contraception isn’t health care and shouldn’t be covered by universal health insurance. “This is a matter of personal choice. It’s an elective activity,” Limbaugh protested. “They want to create a welfare entitlement program where we provide birth control pills, because pregnancy’s an illness.” He also compared contraception to Botox, joking that “Botox-filled” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had probably told Fluke: “Have you heard what Botox costs? I can relate!” Does Limbaugh think contraception is as frivolous as Botox? If not, how seriously does he regard it?
And then there are the guys:
“Where are the guys here? Do they not have a role?” Limbaugh asked. “There are men involved, and that would mean there’s some responsibility on the part of the men. Do they not have condoms? … What about these deadbeat boyfriends? … Where’s their responsibility?”
Saletan thinks these are all important questions, and he’s glad Limbaugh raised them – even if Limbaugh, to many of us, seems someone who had no interest at all in thinking about such things. He asserts positions – he doesn’t exactly logically argue any of those positions. Assertion is not argument – it’s just quarreling. And yes, most people quarrel because they never learned to argue.
But Saletan seems pleased that thanks to Rush such questions must now come up, and adds this:
You raised good questions, Rush. You’re on the air three hours a day. Let’s hear your answers.
Saletan should be prepared for a long wait. He’s asking the wrong guy.
But then Saletan offers some of his own answers in The Aspirin Strategy – “What happens to college sex when you stop subsidizing birth control? Rush Limbaugh won’t like the answer.”
This reviews the latest studies on the matter, and it comes down to this:
Limbaugh has no idea how often Fluke has sex, and none of us knows what went through her mind as she thought about the cost of birth control. But there’s evidence that many college women in her position have done what Limbaugh suggested. Faced with a contraceptive price hike in 2007, they cut back on sex. And yet, the rate of accidental pregnancy among college women didn’t decline. In fact, among those who were financially stressed, the rate increased, apparently because many of them responded to the higher cost of birth-control pills by shifting to cheaper, riskier methods, or to unprotected sex. From a conservative standpoint, the Limbaugh policy – less sex and no contraceptive subsidies – was at best a wash, and arguably a net loss.
The women had less sex, just as Limbaugh says is right and proper for young women, but unplanned pregnancies shot up, and of course there were more abortions. If the objective is that young women have little or no sex at all, you do is move in that direction, slightly, when the cost of contraception becomes prohibitive, and you get significantly more unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Which do you want?
If all you care about is reducing sex on campus or making students shoulder the cost, withdrawing birth-control coverage will probably serve your ends. The question is whether you also care about the consequences.
Saletan wants Limbaugh to think about this. Good luck with that. No one wants to even think about this anymore:
All twelve female Democratic senators wrote a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday asking him to halt movement on House legislation aimed at rolling back the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
The letter, obtained by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, reflects an effort to force House Republicans to publicly concede defeat in the contraception wars – the battle was effectively over when the Blunt amendment was struck down in the Senate last week.
And there’s this:
Gloria Allred has sent a letter to Denise Nieman, the County Prosecutor in West Palm Beach, Florida, on behalf of the Women’s Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, asking for an investigation into whether Rush Limbaugh violated Florida defamation law when he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Allred cites Section 836.04 of Florida Statute, which says that “whoever speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.”
“Mr. Limbaugh has publicly acknowledged that his reference to Ms. Fluke as a ‘slut’ and ‘prostitute’ were baseless and false,” Allred writes. “In view of the fact that Mr. Limbaugh resides in your county and allegedly made the false statements concerning Ms. Fluke in your county as well, this letter is directed to your office.”
Ha! Use the chastity thing against him. Irony is cool.
But there’s also talking about Rush Limbaugh and sex together in the first place. That is even more deeply ironic. And it’s also pretty creepy. Just how did this become the talk if the nation?