He can’t help it

Even when he’s pretending to apologize, Rush Limbaugh keeps on lying. It wasn’t Sandra Fluke who decided to make her sexual activity a matter of public discourse; she has given no hint at all about what she does in bed, and her testimony was about the health needs – not the “recreational sex,” in Limbaugh’s disgusting phrase – of others. Limbaugh and his supporters are simply projecting their own sexual obsessions on to their opponents.

Even when he can’t stand the heat and has to pretend to apologize, Rush Limbaugh can’t – or won’t – stop lying.

Today he said he was sorry for having called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for telling Congress that women needed access to contraception.  But even as he did so, Limbaugh repeated the central lie in his original rants:  that Fluke had somehow made her sexual activity a matter of public discourse.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

But in fact Fluke did no such thing.  Fluke’s testimony never mentions her own situation at all. Nor does it mention, even by implication or euphemism, anyone’s sexual activity.  It’s most memorable anecdote is the one about a woman – a lesbian, who doesn’t have to worry about getting pregnant unless she’s raped – who lost an ovary because her health plan wouldn’t cover the birth-control pills she needed to control her ovarian cysts; the plan administrators refused to believe that she needed them for what she in fact needed them for. Their terror – actually, the terror of the Catholic Church – that someone, somewhere, might be getting laid, did this woman irreparable damage. That’s what Fluke’s testimony was about.  It was only Limbaugh who chose to fixate on the sexual aspect.

He reminds me of the story about the old man who, on a Thematic Apperception Test, is shown a picture of a grassy hillside and tells a story about the orgy that went on there the previous night, is shown a picture of a cave mouth and tells a story about a woman who is being kept as a sex slave inside it, and continues in this vein until the tester tells him he seems to be obsessed with sex. “I’m a sex maniac?” he replies. “So who’s got the collection of dirty pictures?”

What should be astounding, but isn’t, is how many of the people discussing this affair have accepted Limbaugh’s false premise that Sandra Fluke brought up the subject of sex, and therefore can’t complain if her sexuality became the matter of coarse jest. She didn’t; old Limp-dick did. But the sort of people who plan to vote for Mitt Romney this fall are so immune to reality that they’re happy to join in Limbaugh’s projection of his own preoccupation with sex onto their common political opponents.

Since it’s usually in bad taste to mock the recently dead – even those who, while alive, themselves mocked the recently dead – I’ve been trying to come up with something not harsh to say about the late Andrew Breitbart, in place of a slightly awkward silence. The always-eloquent Ta-Nehisi Coates did so deftly, reciting the story of Breitbart victim Shirley Sherrod and noting that while it was right and proper to be sorry about Breitbart’s early death, one should be even sorrier about the way Breitbart lived his life: as a professional slanderer.

Limbaugh’s latest should remind us of another reason to sincerely mourn Breitbart’s passing: in taking him so early, the Angel of Death missed an even greater opportunity to cleanse our public discourse of the filth that now befouls it.







Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

24 thoughts on “He can’t help it”

  1. When the news appeared yesterday that Limbaugh had “apologized,” I figured that he had gotten a call from Eric Cantor saying, “Rush, do me a big favor. I am on Meet the Press tomorrow, and if they ask me about you, I need to be able do say, ‘Rush has apologized.’ I really appreciate your helping me out, buddy,”

    So this morning in Meet the Press, sure enough, Cantor says, “Rush has apologized.” That was the whole purpose of the exercise, to get the Sunday talk show Republicans a chance to say that it was high time to move on.

    At least George Will had one response to John Boehner’s calling Limbaugh’s remarks “inappropriate.” He said that using your salad fork for your entrée is inappropriate. Then he went on to say that the “Left” never polices its own when they say equally outrageous things. No specifics, of course, and no one pressed him for any.

  2. For an independent like me, the current situation is thoroughly depressing. There are several issues on which I don’t see eye to eye with the Democrats, but the Republicans are currently more or less unelectable (it’s not just the recent “we are the party of misogynists and proud of it” kerfuffle). And there are no other choices.

    It’s almost enough to make me want to apply for a British passport so that I have a third choice. Oh wait. That would be the party of Nick Clegg. Nevermind.

    1. For an independent like me, the current situation is thoroughly depressing.

      Lifelong independent here. Thus it always has been and shall be, but there are several other choices. Picking a winner, like betting on a horse, is not the point of voting. Letting your preferences be known is. One reason we have such a dysfunctional “two-party” system is that so many people have become convinced that “there are no other choices” that it becomes a self-proving axiom.

      Of course, no matter how many parties we have to choose from, the familiar problems remain, like the corrupting influence of power and the observation that those most attracted to the power of high office are often among the least trustworthy to hold it. Such is life.

    2. This is to both Katja and Freeman:

      Unless you live in a state that permits independents to vote in primaries, you are giving up your more influential vote and your opportunity to influence platforms.

      Join the Republicans if you like (and can stand it — they moved their tent away from me long since), or join the Democrats. But join some party.

      1. Reasonable advice. One can still vote independently even if one has “officially” joined a party. In my case there’s no need — if you’re registered independent you pick your ballot when you show up to vote at the primaries in my state.

  3. Of course, Limbaugh’s comments were rude, obnoxious and despicable. But to say that his statement regarding the policy issue that was contained in his apology misses the point is mistaken. Yes, Fluke’s testimony largely focused on women who take birth control for reasons other than protection against pregnancy. But, o be realistic, the vast majority of birth control users are taking it to avoid pregnancy, not for other health-related reasons. Limbaugh raises a legitimate question–should the insured be required to fund, through higher premiums, this particular coverage? The merits of this issue have, unfortunately, been lost in the uproar over Limbaugh.

    1. i agree that it is silly to be so cautious as to deny the validity and importance of defending the right of women to be able to control their fertility either as a single woman avoiding pregnancy or as a married woman trying to limit the size of her family. as important as regulating one’s periods and preventing endometriosis might be, anything less than a full-throated defense of womens’ right to a full and satisfying sex-life with a reduced fear of pregnancy is to kowtow to excessively controlling patriarchal attitudes on the part of the right wing. the relevance of ms. fluke’s testimony is in showing how allowing a religiously affiliated business like georgetown university to had a “conscience” exemption works to the detriment of students whose tuition in part pays for the health coverage at issue.

      as for the question you seem to have gleaned from mr. limbaugh, on the whole providing contraceptive coverage reduces premiums because the expenses related to contraception are much less than the expenses relating to pregnancy. as to how you found that question amongst the adolescent misapprehensions and misconceptions he voiced during his verbal assault on ms. fluke i have no idea.

      1. i wish you had a preview button.

        in the last sentence of my first paragraph, change “had” to “have.”

    2. Yeah, but that’s the fault of nobody except Limbaugh and the Republicans.

      And, frankly, it’s not a policy issue that we want to waste much time on (unless your goal is to improve the chances of Democrats to be elected in November, in which case you may want to give Republicans all the rope that they need to hang themselves). One way or another, the effect on healthcare costs is pretty pretty small. And de facto, most group policies already include coverage of contraceptives (I’ve had coverage for pretty much all of my adult life). Heck, 28 states already mandate that any prescription plan include contraceptive coverage as a matter of law [1].

      It seems to be good public policy, but even if not, contraceptive coverage probably wouldn’t make the top 100 issues that Congress should concern itself with.

      [1] This, incidentally, is likely how the regulation was created in the first place. The PPACA requires the Secratary of HHS to model the regulation after current typical employer policies. The current employer policies overwhelmingly cover contraceptives (by overwhelming I mean about nine out of ten).

    3. An interesting data point here is the situation in England. In England, prescriptions for contraceptives are free of prescription charges, but only if they are actually intended for contraceptive use. If you need contraceptives for purely medical reasons, then you have the pay a prescription charge (which, I think, is GBP 7.40) [1]. That would indicate that the British government thinks that either they save money that way or that at the very least the public health benefits (reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies) outweigh the cost.

      (In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, prescription charges have been abolished entirely.)

      [1] Obviously, there are a a number of exemptions for low income patients and such.

    4. Did you even listen to his comments are you just going by the reaction that it received?

      1. Not sure who you are talking here. As to me, yes, I’ve read a transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s apology (also of his original remarks and followups). I generally prefer to go to the primary sources rather than relying on reported summaries or paraphrased versions where possible.

        The one thing that is apparent from it is that he either still has not read or listened to Sandra Fluke’s testimony or chose to ignore it. In general, he also does not seem to have a deep grasp of the policy issues involved.

        I suspect that Sandra Fluke is getting an apology (of sorts) now primarily because his show has started losing advertisers.

    5. Hold on a second. When exactly did Limbaugh raise a question as to what insurers should cover? It seems to me that Fluke raised the issue, that important preventative care was being denied because people object to the possibility that birth control could be used to prevent pregnancy rather than cysts, and Limbaugh raises a tirade about birth control (in this case he implies condoms as contraception rather than hormonal pills) being used to prevent pregnancy. So you seem to have it exactly backwards.

  4. Yes, that would be an interesting question, if covering contraception cost money rather than – as it does in the actual universe – saving money by preventing expensive pregnancies. But in the real world, the problem doesn’t arise. And if it did, how would that differ from any other health coverage relating to chosen behavior? Answer: because it involves sex, and some people want their unhealthy obsession with other people’s sex lives reflected in health care policy.

    1. Exactly. I’ve seen this point raised many times over the last several days on many forums, and I’ve yet to see a Rush apologist even attempt to address it. Has anyone noticed that the insurance industry actually affected by this issue are 1) big, rich, and powerful enough to lobby the issue for themselves and 2) not bothered enough about being FORCED to save money that they send in their armies of lobbyists to stop it? All that noise is coming from the anti-Obama crowd, and it’s all just that — noise. It’s like that old Monty Python skit, The Argument Clinic — they just take contrary positions on everything no matter what and argue their positions with nonsense.

  5. Reason #7 for voting for Obama: The beer tastes better.

    Just as the coupling of fat and rage ending up dropping Breitbart cold, one wonders if the physiology and psychopathology of Rush Limbaugh can handle another 4 years of Mr. Obama. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

  6. I didn’t know the private Breitbart and I don’t really care about him or his family or his friends. How much time do you spend grieving each day over the dead people on the obituary page of your paper?

    The public Breitbart, on the other hand, was a noxious, evil man who should have been made to pay for the malicious destruction of lives and institutions that he caused. It’s a good thing that the public Breitbart is gone.

  7. Wow, there’s a lot of hate going on around here on this site nowadays. Not a friendly place to be.

  8. I know that the simplest theory isn’t always the right one. But there is a very simple theory that completely explains Limbaugh’s behavior here, and in all the other stunts he’s pulled every few months going back to the early 1990s. He’s doing it–every part of it–for the attention.

    And that includes the “apology.” Saying nothing and smugly changing the subject would have allowed the news cycle to reach a natural conclusion. A genuine-seeming apology (can you even imagine such a thing?) would have made headlines, for sure, but it would drastically erode his millions-strong audience, who have been listening to him say essentially the same thing about women every week for decades. But the patently insincere “apology” means that everyone has to debate it, denounce it, defend it, all over again. All eyes on Rush for another 48 hours.

    Remember, he can afford to lose a few advertisers. He’s got two or three times what Mitt Romney has in the bank–he could afford to lose them all! He isn’t going to lose a minute’s sleep over John Boehner being mad at him, or Republicans pushing him out into the cold. (For one thing, it won’t happen, and for another, he’s never shown any interest in directly influencing policy–just in complaining about it.) And nothing will scare away the dittoheads at this point. What keeps him showing up to work every day? Pure, hyperconcentrated narcissism of the most nakedly pathological variety.

    Remember, this is a man with plenty of experience chasing highs. He smokes, he drinks, he’s a drug addict, and he not only (ahem, allegedly) pursues the kind of sex you can only safely buy in a few countries in the world, but when he’s caught with circumstantial evidence that he did, in fact, go to the DR for the thing single American men go to the DR for, he brags about the “great time” he had there. (Implicitly admitting to using child prostitutes is a pretty good attention-getting device.) Ask anyone with even one of those addictions and they’ll tell you that your life becomes all about chasing that rush, even if it’s easy to get. Limbaugh goes to the studio to get high. Does anyone really think we won’t be doing this all over again in 3-6 months?

    Republicans are (rightfully) afraid of him because they have absolutely no way to control him, and it couldn’t possibly matter less to him whether he helps or hurts them politically. If anything, massive “Democrat Party” majorities make his job easier: his audience pays even closer attention if they’re scared.

    He doesn’t lie because he “can’t help it.” He lies because that’s an essential tool in provoking the kind of outrage he desperately needs to provoke. That’s what he can’t help. Maybe it’s a distinction without a difference, but it makes him a lot easier for me to stomach, personally.

  9. Matt: Good analysis, but I tried thinking about it your way and it didn’t help me — I still can’t stomach the dude.

    Bux: You got a good point, but I found this amusing, so here goes: (sorry) (lifted from a commenter at another blog, who lifted it from elsewhere)

    Hey Rush, here’s a personal attack for you: You’re an apogenous, bovaristic, coprolalial, dasypygal, excerebrose, facinorous, gnathonic, hircine, ithyphallic, jumentous, kyphotic, labrose, mephitic, napiform, oligophrenial, papuliferous, quisquilian, rebarbative, saponaceous, thersitical, unguinous, ventripotent, wlatsome, xylocephalous, yirning zoophyte.

  10. Jeez, Mark. Yes, Limbaugh is repulsive and yes he (along with much of the current American right in general) is projecting his own emotional problems onto other people and then blaming them for them. It’s an incredibly painful and ugly spectacle even before considering the damage it does to the country as a whole.

    But still the last line is a bit much.

  11. Mark: “Limbaugh’s latest should remind us of another reason to sincerely mourn Breitbart’s passing: in taking him so early, the Angel of Death missed an even greater opportunity to cleanse our public discourse of the filth that now befouls it.”

    This makes the huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge assumption that Breitbart would have done this. Considering the large numbers of pundits, media personalities, politicians and political operatives who spent long careers working their way downward, this is not a justified assumption.

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