By Eric W. Rader
The United States Constitution grants every citizen the right to say what she or he believes, without fear of being censored or arrested for expressing one’s beliefs. What a person does with this right is completely up to him or her. Some people shout their beliefs at the top of their lungs in an effort to be heard, while others express themselves in more measured tones. Statements that might result in a person’s arrest in some countries are protected here, and free speech is a treasured part of our constitutional tradition in the United States.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is very popular among many Republicans and the political right-wing of this country. Since the 1990s, he has hosted a daily syndicated talk show, and his “Ditto Heads” have become legion. Limbaugh’s style is to make provocative, even outlandish, statements in an effort to generate media attention. While this may have worked for him commercially over the years, Limbaugh’s style has claimed a few casualties. Just recently, he waded into the controversy over the Obama Administration’s requirement that all health care plans provide free contraceptive care to women as a preventive health benefit. In language that can only be described as vile, the radio talk show host called Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke a “slut” because she testified before a group of Democratic congresspersons in favor of the Obama Administration’s rule. Limbaugh suggested that because this young woman sought free contraceptive care, she was essentially seeking to be paid to have sex, then he went on to ask that she post videos of herself having sex to the Internet. Not only were Limbaugh’s comments completely offensive, but they were also factually inaccurate regarding the nature of birth control and women’s decisions in this area. Limbaugh, once again, has demonstrated both arrogance and ignorance.
We in the LGBT community know a lot about words and the harm they can cause. Too many young gay and transgender people have killed themselves over the years because of hurtful and bigoted comments by their peers. Many instances of bullying go unreported, and it is impossible to know exactly how many people are suffering in silence right now because of the hateful words of ignorant people. Limbaugh is worse than school bullies, because he has a much larger megaphone from which to scream his hate.
Soon after Limbaugh’s attack on Fluke, President Obama called her on the phone and told her he thought her parents should be proud of her for taking a stand on an important issue. While a host of progressive leaders have spoken out strongly against Limbaugh’s awful comments, the reaction on the Republican side has been muted, even silent. The GOP presidential candidates offered mild criticism of Limbaugh’s words, as did House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). The almost non-existent Republican reaction to Limbaugh’s statements is inexcusable. Even the president of the Catholic institution that Ms. Fluke attends, Georgetown University, issued a strong rebuke to Limbaugh and rightly noted that his comments were misogynistic. One does not need to agree with the Obama Administration’s decision, or Ms. Fluke’s efforts to defend it, in order to see that Limbaugh’s comments were beyond the pale of respectable opinion.
The contemporary Republican Party is increasingly a fringe group of religious zealots. Maine Senator Olympia Snow, one of the last Republican moderates in Congress, announced two weeks ago that she will retire at the end of her current term next January, stating that she has grown tired of the divisive political culture in Washington, DC. The four men seeking to replace President Obama are contributing to the coarse political dialogue by running negative campaigns against each other, and also against the president. The First Amendment protects the right of all people to say what they believe, and believe what they want, without interference from the government.
Republicans today seem to think that the First Amendment gives them the right to say whatever they want, even if it isn’t true, and force all people to follow their religious values. The person whose words we should really listen to is Sandra Fluke. We should also remember who stood up for her rights, and ours, when election time rolls around this November.
It Gets Better anti-bullying campaign:
President Obama’s web page on LGBT issues and accomplishments: