So Rush Limbaugh calls a Georgetown law student a slut and a prostitute for having the audacity to talk about birth control, and when pressed to respond Mitt Romney simply says, “It’s not the language I would have used.” Very cool. Very principled! Nothing about how maybe it’s not appropriate to hurl sexualized insults at someone just because she talks about reproductive health care in public (or, let’s be optimistic, it’s not appropriate to hurl sexualized insults at someone at all). Nothing about how male politicians can talk about birth control all day long — hell, they can appear on commercials for drugs that induce erections — and no one shames them for their sex lives. Rush has been married four times and has no children. Newt Gingrich — who finds Obama’s supportive phone call to Sandra Fluke “opportunistic” — has also been married several times and has cheated on his wives, which I would guess most people think is slightly more morally dubious than a 30-year-old woman uttering the phrase “contraception.”
Nope, just “It’s not the language I would have used.” Which implies that although Romney wouldn’t have called Fluke a slut, he agrees with the sentiment behind it.
There’s a lot to be said about the language here and how this all played out, and we can get into meta feminist discussions about how “slut” and “prostitute” shouldn’t be insults. But the world isn’t a feminist blog. So while the right response is obviously not, “But she’s not a slut or a prostitute!,” it’s still pretty damn fair to go after Rush on this one and demand that his sponsors quit enabling his bigotry. He hasn’t actually apologized (yes yes I realize it’s being reported that he has, but read his actual words and tell me that’s anywhere in the universe of a real apology), and there’s no reason to believe that someone who has made an entire career out of misogyny and racism would issue an actual apology.
And it’s fair game to look at the way politicians have responded to this thing. I’m honestly not super concerned about any particular politician’s lack of response — demands that anyone running for or holding office “condemn” something that some guy said on the radio doesn’t seem like a great use of time or political capital to me — but when they do choose to respond it says a lot about their views and their character. Obama made a personal phone call to Fluke to assure her that she’s doing a good job and to encourage her to keep her head up (I’m not a huge fan of how many of the middle-aged men who have commented on this — Obama, at least one of the company CEOs who pulled ads from Limbaugh’s program — have made comments about their own daughters and/or Fluke’s parents, pretty firmly situating her as a child in need of protection rather than as a 30-year-old woman, but that’s another post and I’m at least satisfied that these dudes’ hearts are in the right place). Romney didn’t criticize Limbaugh at all; he just doesn’t approve of being uncouth enough to use the word “slut.” Santorum’s comments on the issue are being billed as “he called Limbaugh absurd,” which sounds like a criticism, but what he really said is, “”He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am.” Which I read as a two-sentence-long shoulder-shrug (also, homeboy, you are in the business of making sure that Limbaugh’s absurd views become the law of the land. So you are even more absurd! And more dangerous!). And Gingrich thinks it’s beneath him to comment on it when there are “real” political issues to contend with, but took the time to criticize Obama for reaching out to Fluke.
Says a lot, yeah?