As the father of a daughter, I found President Obama's phone call to Sandra Fluke on Friday to be an act of singular grace and compassion. "He encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women," she told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell minutes after their conversation. All politics aside, as a human being, President Obama is a class act.
As the grandfather of a granddaughter who I hope will one day study at a university or college -- I realize that this probably makes me a "snob" in Rick Santorum's eyes -- I applaud Georgetown University President John DeGioia's email to the Georgetown community commending Ms. Fluke's demeanor during her testimony on contraceptive coverage to members of Congress. "She was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction," wrote President DeGioia. "She provided a model of civil discourse."
As a husband, father and grandfather, I suspect I am far from alone in being deeply grateful to President Obama for telling Ms. Fluke that her parents should be proud of her, and to President DeGioia for slamming "Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels" for responding to Ms. Fluke's testimony "with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student."
Parents who send their children to university or college hope that the institution in question will watch over them and protect them if need be. President DeGioia came through with flying colors.
Most Americans want our president to be on the side of the weak when they are attacked. This includes our wives, our daughters, our granddaughters, our sisters, and all women who are vilified by sexist bullies in the public arena. Here, too, President Obama made us proud.
Limbaugh's belated and sham apology for calling Ms. Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" in no way ends this matter since it was clearly motivated not by any genuine remorse -- I doubt whether he is even familiar with the concept -- but by the sight of his radio show's sponsors heading for the doors.
My real problem is not with the despicable Limbaugh but with all those who circled the wagons around him, or who just put some ever so minimal daylight between themselves and Limbaugh, but only in the mildest, least confrontational terms.
Newt Gingrich, as usual, exploited the occasion to castigate President Obama for reaching out to Ms. Fluke. Mitt Romney's observation that Limbaugh's odious remarks are "not the language I would have used" constitutes at most the mildest of reprimands. House Speaker John Boehner called Limbaugh's comments about Ms. Fluke "inappropriate." A bit stronger, but not by much. Santorum said that Limbaugh was "being absurd," but that "an entertainer can be absurd."
Unsuccessful 2010 California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina was one of the very few prominent Republicans to have the guts to actually denounce Limbaugh's language as "insulting" and "incendiary."
But then, we shouldn't really be surprised. I don't remember anyone in the Republican leadership taking Limbaugh on when he urged the president to "take his daughter to the airport and have a TSA grope her."
Conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker got it exactly right when she called Limbaugh "the great uniter in this divisive political season" who "united decent people of all stripes and persuasions with his vile remarks."
This is the very same Limbaugh who in 1993 cruelly mocked then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton on his television show by holding up her picture while asking his viewers whether they knew that there was "a White House dog."
It's also the same Limbaugh who called First Lady Michelle Obama "uppity," and brayed that she "does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue"; who has said that "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society"; who asked whether Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi "go to the same Botox guy"; who believes that "women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud;" and who once told a female African-American caller to "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
The fact that Limbaugh, in New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's words, "has become the puppet master of the Republican Party by stirring bloodlust" should give us all pause. That any public official or candidate for public office should be so afraid of antagonizing him and getting in his cross-hairs as to refuse to repudiate his repeated affronts to basic decency is appalling.
Now would be a good time for Republicans who do not want to be identified with or tarred by Limbaugh's bile to at long last openly and unambiguously distance themselves from the grotesquerie Al Franken famously called a "Big Fat Idiot."
The economy will be hotly debated in this year's election campaign, as will jobs, healthcare, taxes, foreign policy priorities, and a whole host of other serious issues confronting our country. That is as it should be.
Still, it would behoove every one of us, Republican, Democrat, or independent, liberal, moderate or conservative, and most especially those of us who are husbands, fathers of daughters, grandfathers of granddaughters, or who have women as friends and colleagues whom we respect, to also ask ourselves one simple question before we cast our votes for anyone: Has he, or she for that matter, been willing to stand up to the likes of Rush Limbaugh?
Menachem Z. Rosensaft teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse.
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