I like to think of Sandra Fluke’s contretemps with the madly admired Rush Limbaugh as, well, a fluke. She objected to his joke about her being “a slut” and “a prostitute,” and, hesto presto, the part-time Georgetown University law student struck pay dirt. You object to my characterization of her as “part-time”? How could she be a full-time law student and still be appearing before Congress explicating the plight of coeds with $3,000 contraceptive bills or others suffering the heartbreak of being rejected publicly at the pharmacy for insurance coverage of a birth control pill? Then there was all the other media attention that came from Rush’s little joke. Yes, I see it as a fluke, defined by the Dictionary of American Slang as “a fortuitous accident.” Was not Ms. Fluke felicitously named years ago, before anyone ever thought of talk radio?
Surely Ms. Fluke will now become an outspoken advocate for contraception, fighting the good fight for free birth control five decades after the development of the pill. Could anyone have imagined the birth control pill’s ability to engender controversy 52 years after it became a staple of American life? Surely Ms. Fluke will branch out, defending all kinds of gynecological innovations that trouble some, say, Catholics, Southern Baptists or secular humanists who are skeptical of Obamacare. Perhaps she will become a champion of the manly condom. Of course, she will pronounce on abortion whatever her religious convictions. She will become a latter-day Gloria Steinem. But my guess is her season of splendors will be short-lived. I mean, who is going to get exercised over birth control or other gynecological innovations in the 21st century? Once the election is over and the Democrats have no need to corral the women who fall for this claptrap, Ms. Fluke will be back at law school immersed in the mysteries of contract law. Her moment of fame really was a fluke.
Yet it did open my eyes, and probably Rush’s, too. Every few days for more than two decades, he has been hazarding a reckless joke and seeing how it plays. I have, too. Now, however, an audacious woman, Kirsten Powers, has shown us the rancor and absence of standards that diminish our public discourse. She says she is a liberal, and I shall take her at her word, but she seems to me to be a very old-fashioned liberal, one who does not flinch at the evidence.
Writing for the Daily Beast, Ms. Powers has come up with a lot of foul-mouthed media personalities far fouler than Rush. I was not aware of their existence, and I doubt Rush was. They lack wit and humor, and they have no ideas, just irritable one-liners. In fact, after the desperate pursuit of an idea, they settle for scurrility. Thus, the physically disfigured Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a “dumb t—” and a “c—.” He jokes about Rick Santorum’s wife using a sex device, nothing about the immensely more humorous spectacle of his use of such devices or even a dirty book. Ms. Powers quotes some slug by the name of Ed Schultz as saying Sarah Palin set off a “bimbo alert” and calling Laura Ingraham, can you believe it, a “right-wing slut”? Then there is Keith Olbermann wishing that right-wing columnist S.E. Cupp had been aborted by her parents and describing Michelle Malkin as a “mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick.” How very literary.
This is the quality of mind that holds forth on liberal cable television. No one there objects to the gutter talk, which is hurled at conservative women. No sponsors threaten to pull their advertisements. That probably should not surprise me. I have been arguing for months that liberalism is dead. Here is proof that it is brain dead.
Yet I cannot believe that this election is going to turn on the question of whether the federal government is going to pay for birth control procedures that have been around for 52 years. The Democrats are aiming at the moron vote, and let them have it. The real question here is religious liberty and the matter of choice. Should churches and individuals have to pay for medical procedures they do not approve of? Democrats, in the party of the straitjacket, say yes. Republicans, in the party of choice and of personal freedom, say no.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of the forthcoming “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson).