It is not surprising that Rush Limbaugh apologized for having called professional feminist activist Sandra Fluke a "slut." It was the right thing to do, as Rush obviously realized, for two reasons: First, it is wrong any time a conservative contributes to the coarsening of our discourse and culture; second, because Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi to their willing accomplices in the media were eager to use the controversy to further a misleading narrative, falsely accusing Republicans of seeking to deprive women of contraception. Before the matter is put behind us one and for all, just a few observations are in order:
(1) In falling to their fainting couches over the word "slut," the hypocrisy of the Democrats knows no bounds. This isn't just because they remained silent when an even uglier word was used by their ally, Bill Maher (who has now given $1 million to an Obama SuperPac) , or when a mainstream entertainment figure like David Letterman makes Sarah Palin's underage daughter the subject of a sex joke. Their hypocrisy lies in ignoring the fact that, in employing the word "slut" in public discourse, Rush Limbaugh is simply living in the cultural world the left has done much to construct.
As my book, "Prude," points out, the word "slut" has lost most of its stigma in many circles -- with the enthusiastic approbation (or at least the complicity) of the left. A 2001 headline in Salon urged, "Be a Slut! Be a Slut! Be a Slut!" Similarly, avant garde fashion guru Tom Ford once asked a gossip columnist, "What's wrong with sluts? . . . Why do we think being a slut's bad? Sluttiness is just a lot of freedom." In fact, under the cultural tutelage of many on the left, even young girls now use the term as a marker of friendship and familiarity -- a trend observed with apparent enthusiasm in a 2006 piece in The New York Times.
Many conservatives have long deplored the coarsening of the culture and language; in response, the left has routinely sought to portray cultural conservatives as "prudes" -- preachy, uptight and no fun. So any time Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, David Letterman and the rest of the avant garde left gets serious about rejoining the cause of upholding more traditional standards in our culture and discourse -- wherein, for example, men simply don't use derogatory terms to demean any woman in public -- they'll be welcome.
Until they apply their newfound standards uniformly, however, their outrage is obviously nothing more than crass political opportunism -- and part of a sort of asymmetic warfare the left routinely wages on the right. Liberals use conservatives' standards as a way to attack and shame them when they fall short; liberals' unwillingness to proclaim the importance of such standards allows them conveniently to ignore everything from sexual harassment in the Oval Office to crass written attacks on female conservatives. (Update: Kirsten Powers catalogs a truly nauseating collection of left-wing media misogyny that's gone conveniently unrebuked by everyone from NOW to Nancy Pelosi to the President.)
(2) The hysterical denunciation that greeted Rush's misstep shouldn't have been a surprise. The bitterest hatred of the left is reserved for those whom, they feel, effectively appropriate their behavior or tactics in any way -- whether it's the Tea Party (engaging in public group "dissent"), Sarah Palin (using female empowerment to espouse conservative values), or Andrew Breitbart (employing a form of "street theater" to publicize facts embarrassing to the left). Apparently, it's all right for Barack Obama to demonize for fundraising purposes two private citizens, the Koch brothers, for exercising their First Amendment rights -- but it's intolerable bullying for Rush Limbaugh, an unelected talk show host (and self-described entertainer) to employ the same tactic with a professional feminist.
(3) Anyone who subscribes to government intrusion into the health care system had better realize that nothing in life comes free. Spreading (or socializing) health care costs gives government -- and everyone subsidizing one's care -- a certain rationale for regulating (or commenting on) behaviors that will cost it (or them) money. The skyrocketing health care cost of obesity has become the rationale for increased government oversight and regulation of food.
When it comes to abortifacients and contraceptives, if other American individuals or entities are going to be forced by the government to violate their religious principles and subsidize goods that facilitate behavior they believe is wrong, it’s entirely predictable that they will speak out about the behaviors they are being forced to facilitate. Those who want others to be forced to subsidize their abortifacients or contraception -- goods that can facilitate abortion or promiscuity – should realize that they may have to get used to hearing their behavior criticized by those who are paying for it against their will.