About a week after Rush Limbaugh's [insert negative adjective here] comments about Sandra Fluke, a law student who testified before Congress regarding the ongoing "debate" about contraception, the long-time right-wing talk-radio host's show has lost 30 sponsors as a result of public outcry and calls for advertiser boycott. As someone who has followed politics for the last 20 years, a practice that inevitably involves hearing or reading about any number of god-awful things Limbaugh has uttered over the decades, I suppose I have to wonder: what took so many of his sponsors so long? As a political liberal who has witnessed not only the sheer absurdity of many of Limbaugh's often fact-free rants, as well as the incredible power he holds over Republican office holders, it fills me with no little good cheer to see him getting his ass kicked over his misogynistic tirade against a private citizen who exercised her right to testify before Congress over a matter of personal concern to her (and her friend, who needed contraception for the treatment of ovarian cysts). But I have to admit that it's a little disarming -- scary, even -- to see the blinding speed and brutal effectiveness with which this activism took place. It feels good because I happen to be on the same side of the political (and moral) fence as the activists. But what happens next time we get targeted... again?
Or, rather, what happened the previous time? Bill Maher famously lost his television show on ABC after outcry over commentary that one of his guests made (which he agreed with) concerning the 9/11 hijackers not being cowards, given that they were willing to kill themselves in pursuit of their mission. It was this statement that famously led President George W. Bush's press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, to state that "all Americans ... need to watch what they say, watch what they do." Never mind that Maher didn't even utter the offending statement, or that it was technically correct (suicide bombers, come what may, aren't cowards in the strictest sense of the term), the post-9/11 "sensitivity" caused his comments to create a firestorm of (arguably) manufactured controversy that forced his show off the air even as ratings had gone up after the 9/11 attacks. And let's not forget any number of "controversies" that were sparked during the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2002 and 2003. Let's not forget the outcry over Natalie Maines' comments that she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas (which led to death threats and mass album-burning), or the politically motivated firing of Phil Donahue from MSNBC because his liberal ideology didn't fit with the nationalistic fervor (never mind that he had the highest-rated show on the network at the time). And that's not counting the various "scalps" that the GOP has claimed during Barack Obama's first term (Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, etc.). Yes, there is a difference between the above incidents, which allegedly had behind-the-scenes government support, and what appears to be a purely grassroots effort in feminist (and humanist) activism, but it's still almost scary how fast the fire spread.
I don't have any profound conclusions to draw from this, nor do I have any "answers." I guess what I'm saying is that, having lived through 10 years of countless liberal/progressive or just-plain-not-crazy people being targeted and/or persecuted because they said something that was deemed inflammatory, like when Michael Moore was targeted for murder purely for making an anti-war statement at the 2003 Oscars (after winning his Oscar for making an anti-gun-violence documentary), I can only take so much pleasure with the shoe being on the other foot. In this case, the outrage is correct, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But I hope those metaphorically dancing in the streets will remember when those on our side were the ones being accused of treasonous outrage and all manner of misdeeds purely based on our opinions and our speech, with life-altering consequences for many of them. What has now (finally?) happened to Rush Limbaugh feels less like a cause for celebration and more like a necessary evil, albeit one that we should take limited pleasure in.
Your turn: is anyone else disturbed by the lightning-fast reaction and the far-reaching consequences? Am I the only one getting post-9/11 "outrage Olympics" flashbacks? Or is this merely a case of social/political activism being used for such ill purpose over the last 10 year that it's taken all of the fun out of truly righteous indignation?
For more commentary of this nature, go to Mendelson's Memos.