Who You Calling, “Slut”?

Let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? The only reason — the only reason — Rush Limbaugh has issued what for him counts as an apology to Sandra Fluke, the law student/private citizen he called a “slut” and “a prostitute” is because his “Excellence in Broadcasting” network is shedding an alarming number of sponsors. They are pulling dollars out his bank account as a direct result of his attempt at “using absurdity to attack the absurd”, as he put it.

(And those are the national sponsors we know of. It’d be very interesting to find out how many local sponsors have bailed from his affiliate stations.

Were there no revenue impact, Rush would be re-doubling down on Ms. Fluke’s slutty, liberal, nanny-state femi-nazi character.¬† Although, having already suggested she record her sexual encounters and post them for him to watch, I don’t know where he could go next. Maybe an invitation to watch in person, from a heavy-duty Barcalounger next to her bed?

So what is different here, in this Sandra Fluke case, than all the other episodes of boorish bad taste in Limbaugh’s 20-year run as The Guiding, Enforcing Voice of the Modern Republican Party?

Is it the fact that in slandering the good name of private citizen — not a Chelsea or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi — he has not merely exceeded the bounds of his limited good taste but put himself in unequivocal legal, financial jeopardy? The fact that Sandra Fluke testified (eventually) before Congress does not make her a public figure, and there are very clear standards for slandering someone — to a radio audience reputed to reach 20 million “dittoheads” a week — who has no proportionate platform for rebuttal.

I note with great interest, and immense, unfiltered schadenfreude, that several influential women’s groups and legal advocates are strongly urging Fluke to bring a case against Limbaugh.

Go for it.

In the context of media influence I can’t think of anything more overdue in terms of application of justice, more cathartic for everyone seeking a re-balance of decorum versus cloddishness in public dialogue and more invigorating to feminists (of either sex) who have long dreamed of a way to publicly de-pants the playground bully than a high-profile law suit.

Liberals of course are notorious for seeking rational, responsible, reasonable alternatives to a culture war shit fight. But in this case, considering the power Limbaugh wields, not just over his vast audience of high-grievance, low-information voters (who ingest¬† him as a “truth teller” not a mere absurdist-entertainer) but also cowed and fearful Republican moderates, liberals owe it to the broader public to press their case. If they need money, a call for contributions to The Sandra “The Slut” Fluke Defense Against Limbaugh Boorishness Fund would, I’m quite certain, haul in a staggering sum of cash.

Limbaugh will of course prefer to settle quickly out of court. Limbaugh’s is a hot-house act. His shtick depends on never being exposed to serious, sustained cross-examination, and he sure as hell isn’t going to set a precedent with sworn testimony in open court. But even if it comes down to money alone, the pay-out to Fluke or charities of her choosing, could be both large and delicious.

The larger point here is the tactical need to probe and push for the combination of factors that will hasten the inevitable talk radio/Tea Party implosion. Limbaugh’s influence is a direct result of the former begetting the latter. Few if any of the raging ideologues voted into office in 2010 would be where they are without the 20 year expansion of Limbaugh-style talk radio and its eventual organization into the myriad Tea Party groups. The sweet, sweet pay off for Limbaugh is that he invented a “movement” that has made him even stronger.

As with almost every grievance-driven “populist” revolution, there inevitably comes a moment of gross overreach that is its undoing. Like others, I look at the Republican primary season thus far and see nothing but overreach. Basically, the four remaining candidates are engaged in a contest to see who can out-Limbaugh the other. It is a self-defeating, common sense moderate/independent shedding act that supplies all the divisive, crazy-embracing rhetoric and mechanics of its own demise.

There will of course always be a large, angry, ill-informed minority in every population that responds to theatrical demagoguery. That’s human nature. Plenty of people demand to be taken seriously without doing the work of serious thinking. But cycles of popularity and influence are also a part of human culture. What rises, falls. What once had unchallenged influence weakens and is replaced … sometimes by something worse. (Glenn Beck, anyone)?

The larger tactical point is to exploit a ripe opportunity to hasten the downfall of a prominent adversary in the hope of exploiting the interim between the end of his cycle of power and the rise of the next one.

Rush Limbaugh is a formidable, perhaps the most formidable conservative opponent on the landscape today. (I can’t help but wonder how much even someone like John Boehner would like to be rid of the constant fear of provoking Limbaugh’s wrath.) If you want to “man-up” for a serious, course-changing fight, you want to prove it against a Goliath that has already speared himself through his own tongue.

Dear Ms. Fluke: Sue his fat ass.