03/06/2012 01:13 pm ET Updated May 06, 2012

Long Time Coming: Why Rush Limbaugh Must Go

Rush Limbaugh must go. Not because he's conservative. Not because he roots for Democrats to fail. Not because he supports attacks on women's health, worker's rights and voting rights. Not because he's an absurdist entertainer. Limbaugh must go because he has spent years viciously sliming the private lives and personal characteristics of public policy advocates. Enough is enough.

For years, Republicans have condoned his "FemiNazi" comments and racist remarks. The free market allowed shock jocks to flourish, and millions of listeners apparently enjoyed the rant.

Conservatives and companies condoned Rush Limbaugh's politics of personal destruction when it came to smearing elected officials. Fair game they said, even when crass and crude. That's just the way it is.

Conservatives and companies condoned Rush Limbaugh because they needed his help to support their agenda, so they encouraged him to discourage anyone from speaking out on behalf of people for whom government could provide a needed service or lend a hand up. Their goal: a systematic debranding, defunding and demoralizing of center-left issues and institutions. Their means: a media machine to stifle debate or poison the waters so no one would want to jump in.

Conservatives and companies condoned Rush Limbaugh's 2006 attacks on Michael J. Fox for campaigning about stem cell research.

Conservatives and companies condoned Rush Limbaugh's 2007 attacks on 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who gave the Response to the President's Radio Address on the subject of children's healthcare (S-CHIP), imitating the voice of a child with a brain stem injury.

Conservatives and companies condoned Rush Limbaugh's 2010 attacks on Marcelas Owens, the young boy who campaigned for healthcare reform in honor of his 27-year-old mom who passed away. Among other things, Limbaugh said, "Your mom would still have died."

Conservatives condoned Rush Limbaugh's 2012 attacks on Sandra Fluke, a law student who testified about contraception coverage for young adults and was called a "slut," a "prostitute," and asked to post sex tapes -- but this time, companies didn't. Enormous public pressure on companies who condoned decades of personal attacks changes everything.

Now, as free marketeer Rush Limbaugh is finding out, the entertainment value of sliming people isn't what it used to be. Sandra Fluke was the last straw. Why Sandra Fluke and not Michael J. Fox or Graeme Frost or Marcelas Owens?

Part of this is the rise of digital media. Digital media has made even private citizens public actors. Once upon a time we ascribed a zone of civility around nonpublic officials who stepped into the limelight to advocate their causes without million-dollar staffs behind them to support their message, share it with allies, and defend against attacks. No more. Now your life is an open Facebook: anyone with a Twitter account or a starring role in a political ad or a Congressional hearing is considered fair game. So now that we're all "fair game" many of us feel an empathy toward the person being bullied because we well know we could be next.
People concerned with citizen advocacy have less stomach for the sliming because it's not hypothetical anymore -- today it's a random stranger, but tomorrow it could be me.

Second, knowing that we could be trolled, slimed, and cyberbullied (read the comments section of any blog, including this one) makes many netizens inspired to defend one another. We can build a web of solidarity and support, can lift up these advocates, helping to defend them against the personal attacks and, yes, encouraging them to keep fighting. As I write in my new book, Campaign Boot Camp 2.0: "Even your ambassadors need ambassadors. Moving beyond your base, cultivating allies and backing them up are essential steps in defining your message."

Third, digital media can move companies. Concerned consumers don't want to buy products from someone who pollutes the airwaves with vile commentary about the personal lives of public policy advocates. Netizens have turned the tide, creating thousands of tweets, Facebook shares, petitions, and blogs that crescendoed into a wave of public opposition to Rush Limbaugh and the conservatives and companies who condone his attacks. Gone are the days when Rush Limbaugh can attack Michael J. Fox, Graeme Frost, Marcelas Owens and Sandra Fluke with impunity.

Today the spotlight is -- as it should be -- on Limbaugh for his crass and vile comments -- it will shine just as brightly on the rest of us. So all those who step up to the national microphone remember: we need your values, your ideas, your passion. You can win debates and influence people without getting into the gutter. And when you do step forward, we will be there to back you up.

The next Michael J. Fox, Graeme Frost, Marcelas Owens or Sandra Fluke is out there -- and we welcome his or her participation in the public process. Yes, you'll need a thick skin, but you can also make a tremendous difference. For the sake of public discourse, for the demands of the free market, and for the value we place in citizen advocacy, Rush Limbaugh must go.