The Rush Limbaugh Effect

Maybe I should be writing today about Super Tuesday and the fight among Republican candidates for their party’s nomination. But there’s perhaps an even more important fight of national significance, one that involves Rush Limbaugh. People’s response to Limbaugh’s recent hateful comments is a victory for decency and for standing up to bullies, tyrants, and foul-mouthed, corrosive behavior in public life. We need more of this. Without Limbaugh’s outlandish comments about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, he might have helped shape the outcome of Super Tuesday. But, for now, he has other matters troubling him. Limbaugh stepped knee-deep into the debate over contraception and religious institutions when he lashed out at Fluke after she appeared before a Democratic panel to give her views on the matter.

Once Limbaugh heard Fluke’s comments, he pounced on her, full bore. He called her a “slut” and “prostitute.” He added, “She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns?” And there’s also this, “if we are going to pay for your (Fluke’s) contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." Really?

Under pressure, Limbaugh issued a lame apology, saying that “my choice of words was not the best.” So, I take it that his intent was okay, as was his bullying of Fluke? His dangerous and reckless use of his national platform to pummel and over-run people is fair game? His abuse of his power is to be commended? It’s okay to denigrate and demonize women?

Three of the Republican candidates for president gave Limbaugh a pass on his comments. Rick Santorum said, “He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business.” Or, here’s Newt Gingrich, who blamed the media for focusing more on Limbaugh’s words than President Obama’s recent apology to Afghanistan; I suppose such a switch-a-roo makes everything equal. Or, Mitt Romney who said this: "I’ll just say it’s not the language I would have used.” That’s it, Mitt? What language would you have used?

The only Republican presidential candidate who had a clear statement was Ron Paul, who, after hearing Limbaugh’s apology, said: “I don’t think he’s very apologetic, I think he’s doing it because people were taking their advertisements off his program.”

Which gets me to my main point: I’ve been saying for years now that good people need to stand by good leaders, especially when they come under fire, and especially if they disagree on key issues. We need people to vouch for the good values and good standing of leaders who otherwise often get blown out of the water by bullies like Limbaugh, bullies who feel no or little sense of accountability for what they say and do and the ramifications of their actions.

But, in the Limbaugh case, many people did step forward, stand up, and say, “Enough is enough, you’ve crossed the line!” Surely, Limbaugh is neither the first nor the last who will do so. But there’s no time like the present to stand up. And so, more than 20 of his advertisers pulled their support of his program; listenership has dropped off; some individuals, like Ron Paul, have spoken out, knowing full well he runs real risks in being so visible on this issue.

The Limbaugh Effect is this: we are proving to ourselves that we can fight back against actions that are corrosive and unduly divisive in public life. That people of goodwill can band together. That in our highly acrimonious public square, where at times it feels that anything goes, there are limits.

So, today, amid the tumult and pain that Limbaugh has caused, I celebrate. We stood up.