The 2012 theme of International Women’s Day is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” But when you look at what’s been playing in politics the last week or so in the U.S., you’d be smart to add a subheading to the theme that warns girls and women to “always stand tall and be prepared to defend yourself.”
I’ve been writing about the politics of sex since 1996, my book on 20 years of history and the Hillary Effect part of this work, with a focus on media. Nothing illustrates the subject better than Rush Limbaugh deciding to target and intimidate Sandra Fluke, while partisans attempt to give him an out on the scandal by serving up Bill Maher.
No sooner had the clamor over Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” and “prostitute” smear of Sandra Fluke started than the partisan talking points began, starting with Limbaugh himself.
Bill Maher was brought up as an example of someone on the left who is equally guilty of sexism, with his donation of $1 million to the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action providing a convenient connection to Pres. Obama. That gave the Limbaugh and others all they needed to dredge up something Maher said this time last year.
What did Maher get for his $1 million? Access to David Axelrod, which is fueling the right even more:
While slamming Mitt Romney for not standing up to the “strident voices” on his side, a top Obama advisor is planning to spend some quality time with one on his own, The Daily has learned. David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior campaign strategist, is scheduled to appear on Bill Maher’s late-night talk show within the next few weeks, according to Kelley Carville, an HBO spokesman. – Obama adviser slams Romney for Limbaugh while planning to go on Maher
Maher booking Axelrod puts a whole new meaning to Pres. Obama’s reversal to support Super PACS and what $1 million can buy, especially after Obama complained about PAC civility.
Bill Maher called Sarah Palin the “c” word in his stand-up act, you know, where people pay to come hear him push the envelope on politics, sex and anything else in the news, the hallmark of his cultural and political comedy. It wasn’t on public airwaves and Armed Forces Radio. Maher’s jokes often trend towards sexism when he’s covering a woman he dislikes or whose politics run astray of his and anyone taking in his shows knows it.
God forbid we should have a conversation focused on the subject at hand, the defamation of a female citizen speaking to Congress by Rush Limbaugh, before taking the issue wide to men in media and entertainment who use sexism in their work to describe and insult women as a path to making their point.
But after Limbaugh called Maher out, Sarah Palin decided to chime in. It was predictable and launched for maximum political affect. From Politico
“I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to apologize and retract what it is that he said in exercising his First Amendment rights and never is that the same applied to the leftist radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women, about the defenseless,” Palin told CNN in an interview from Wasilla, Alaska.
“So I think that’s the definition of hypocrisy, and that’s my two cents for you,” she added.
At least Sarah Palin’s got the price right. Political partisanship of this type is only worth two cents. If you juxtapose this against HBO’s “Game Change” debut this Saturday, Sarah Palin offering cover for Rush Limbaugh reveals just how far she’s fallen.
Maher also called Michele Bachmann one of the “two bimbos” in the Republican race on his HBO “Real Time” show, if Palin would have run for president.
It’s sexist, but it, nor calling Palin the “c” word, had anything to do with Fluke being targeted or the policy she was discussing that revolved around the contraceptive mandate, which is crushing Republicans. That’s why Maher was brought up, to help cauterize the political pain and plummeting popularity the Republican war on women has caused the right by hoisting up a false equivalency.
A critical point in all this is that Rush Limbaugh and the medium he spawned has helped the Republican Party win elections. As George Will said on “This Week”, Republicans are also actually scared of Limbaugh. Mitt Romney certainly proved he is.
As for Maher, no one in the Democratic establishment is scared of him and nothing he can do would intimidate a congressional witness, because he doesn’t have Limbaugh’s clout. He’s a comedian, not a media representative of a political party.
Bill Maher has now defended Rush Limbaugh:
Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout
Of course he would, because he believes Limbaugh apologized. It’s immaterial to Maher that Limbaugh’s patter is regularly misogynistic, whether it’s “feminazi”, my favorite of his, or “reporterette”, even “info-babe”. Limbaugh just this week turned his sights on another professional woman, this time author Tracie McMillan, calling her an “authorette” and a “babe”.
That Maher hates a “sponsor pullout” campaign could be because it cuts too close to home for him, after he got fired from ABC over the comments he made after 9/11. But his defense at Limbaugh’s attack, “I don’t have sponsors. I’m on HBO” while true doesn’t make calling any woman the “c” word for shock value defensible.
To anyone who makes a living with words, especially extemporaneously, the thought of misspeaking and losing your livelihood because of it is understandably chilling. Maher’s felt that first hand. I’ve dabbled in radio, done theater, so I understand.
But it wasn’t just “slut” and “prostitute” that was the problem. Sexism can also be about power, using it to demean a woman who isn’t on equal footing of the person delivering it. It was Limbaugh using his power to intimidate and humiliate a private female citizen over a policy subject that is killing Republicans in hopes of discrediting what she was saying.
People quick to take up the Maher comparison, which set up Palin’s false equivalency defense for Rush, simply provided cover so he could get away with it.
Hey, but if you want to have a discussion on the similarities between Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher on their sexist proclivities, separate from the Fluke intimidation incident, talking about both men’s delight in characterizing women sexually to demean them or imply it’s all they are, it’s a good topic for discussion.
Conflating Limbaugh with Maher, however, created a situation where the intimidation of a woman was lost in favor of partisan gamesmanship, adding another chapter to the Republican war on women.
It proved that even when a woman is targeted by one of the leaders of the Republican Party in media, fan politics kicks in and partisan blinders are donned at her expense. It’s all about having your side win, which undoubtedly brings in political performers like Sarah Palin to ratchet up the rhetoric a notch, distracting the discussion away from the initial offense by Limbaugh.
The good news in all this is that even though partisans tried to hijack the discussion, at least it rose to the top of media priorities and also hit the economics of Rush Limbaugh’s machine, something that Maher doesn’t come close to possessing.
Bill Maher’s right to be worried. Repercussions for a bad joke is nothing compared to the chilling affect political correctness has on comedy.
Or as Rush Limbaugh has said on his show, “civility is censorship.”
We’ll see how all this plays out when Maher headlines an Alabama Democratic fundraiser later in March, which was reported by the Daily Caller.
Denying Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher their avenues of sexism would kill their personas. They’re simply not the men they are without it.
Both Limbaugh and Bill Maher have been put on the defensive, because sexism is losing it’s acceptance and now acts more like a boomerang. It’s much more successful when it’s prurient, like in porn, and in the 21st century it will become the only place it can survive in America.
Vintage ad graphic via BuzzFeed.