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Ian I. Mitroff Headshot

The War of Words: Are Certain People and Words So Reprehensible Such That They Should Be Ostracized?

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The recent "reprehensible outburst" -- if that's what it really deserves to be called -- by Rush Limbaugh towards Sandra Fluke has predictably set off a War of Words between conservatives and liberals.

Liberals, among whom I enthusiastically count myself, are completely -- and in my view, rightly -- disgusted not only by Rush Limbaugh's choice of words, but his general behavior and demeanor.

Limbaugh's latest flap is merely the latest in a long line of sickening attacks. Though I am somewhat shocked by Limbaugh's reprehensible and unjustified assault on Sandra Fluke, I am not really surprised by it. Coming from someone who has made his entire career by continually being way over the top, there is virtually nothing he won't say to get attention. He has certainly gotten it this time.

In the last few days, I have heard my liberal friends say on more than one occasion: "Limbaugh has shown himself to be just plain 'evil.'" I couldn't agree more. Certain actions are so far beyond the pale of normal decency that they and the person who committed them deserve to be labeled "evil."

Limbaugh's so-called apologies have just made things worse. It's not just the case that his initial choice of words was "poor" -- which they were of course -- but he totally misses the point. His whole argument and demeanor with regard to contraception and sex are so terribly flawed that he is beyond redemption.

In response to the "liberal" attacks on their hero, conservatives have gone wild. They have dredged up the times when comedian Bill Maher has uttered equally disgusting words, in this case towards Sarah Palin. Maher not only called Palin a "tw%t," but even worse a "c$nt." And, Maher has fared no better in his defense saying that he doesn't have sponsors to worry about because he is on HBO. As though this makes his case totally different from and better than Limbaugh's.

While I certainly have no love or respect for Sarah Palin -- I find her so ignorant of human affairs that I question her basic intelligence -- for once I find myself agreeing with conservatives, something that surprises and pains me to no end.

While I do not believe in banning words and speech of any kind, I find myself just as offended by Bill Maher. Maher is no less arrogant, narcissistic and self-righteous than Limbaugh. Because he is a comedian, he believes that it somehow gives him the right to use contemptible language. After all, "Can't you take a joke?" is the typical justification for such behavior. When it's not vicious and truly funny, yes I can take a joke.

If it's completely unacceptable for Limbaugh to use words like "prostitute" and "slut" in referring to someone he doesn't agree with, then why is it not just as unacceptable for Maher? Why shouldn't liberals be just as outraged?

It's not that I believe in a simple-minded consistency in politics and human affairs, but that anyone who uses the most reprehensible language towards women need to be roundly condemned no matter what their political affiliation. Not to do so is hypocrisy of the highest order.

What I wrote previously with respect to Rush Limbaugh applies equally to Bill Maher. "In the end, Rush is his own worse enemy. His is also one of our culture's worst enemies as well. As much as Rush assaulted Sandra Fluke -- the innocent woman he so wrongly and viciously attacked -- and women in general, the real tragedy is the continual assault of what is left of decency."

Ian I. Mitroff is a crisis expert and an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley. His most recent book is Swans, Swine, and Swindlers: Coping with the Growing Threat of Mega Crises and Mega Messes, Stanford, 2011. He is the co-author of the forthcoming book with Murat Alpaslan, A Prefect Mess: Why Everything Is A Mess And How To Cope With It, University of Pennsylvania Press.