Of Limbaugh & Maher

English: Rush Limbaugh at CPAC in February 2009.

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When American radio personality Rush Limbaugh accused Sandra Fluke of being a slut and a prostitute, it created quite a stir. Folks on the left were suitably outraged and responded with both condemnations and attempts to exploit the situation to raise funds for political purposes. Some folks on the right also condemned Limbaugh’s behavior (or at least his semantics) and others pointed out that the left often seems to give a free pass to the apparently misogynist statements made by liberal celebrities, such as comedian Bill Maher.

I have seen Maher’s TV show and listened to Limbaugh’s radio program. While they certainly appeal to a specific audience, I found both of them to be fairly uninteresting and somewhat less than entertaining. Both men do, however, excel at being nasty to their opponents and both seem adept in expressions of misogyny. After all, while Limbaugh called Fluke a slut and a prostitute, Maher called Sarah Palin a “dumb twat.”Given that Maher and Limbaugh can be seen as two peas in a pod (although one is the left pea and the other the right pea), it is hardly shocking that Maher has come to Limbaugh’s defense as criticism mounts and sponsors have begun to dump Limbaugh. While there are many issues to address here, my main concern is with the ethical matters in regards to the claim that liberals like Maher often get a free pass while Limbaugh is being savaged.

It is, of course, worth considering the possibility that although the two men are being treated differently, the difference is fair. Making this claim stick would require showing a morally relevant difference between the two.

One approach that has been taken by some folks is to point out that Maher has gone  after the likes of Palin and Bachmann with his seemingly misogynistic comments while Limbaugh went after a young law school student. This approach does have some merit. After all, Palin is a public political figure and such attacks are part of the political game. In contrast, Fluke is just a young law student and hence attacking her is a different matter. To use an analogy, Palin is like an armed combatant who is a legitimate target and Fluke is like a civilian who happened to enter the combat zone. As such, attacking Palin is acceptable while going after Fluke is not.

One obvious reply is that if being in the public arena justifies such attacks, then Fluke made herself into a combatant. Metaphorically speaking, she took up arms and charged into battle-thus making her a legitimate target. However, there still seems something dubious about accepting that women who enter the public arena are thus fair game for being called “sluts” or “twats.” This takes me to the second reply.

Another obvious reply is that even though Palin is a public figure and hence fair game for harsh criticism, this hardly justifies calling her a twat. Going back to the war analogy, the mere fact that someone is a legitimate target does not entail that anything can be done to them without it being wrong. Intuitively, using misogynistic terms like “twat” and “slut” to attack women seems to be wrong. As such, if Limbaugh is in the wrong here, so are folks like Maher.

A second approach is to claim that liberals cannot be sexists using the same sort of logic that people use when they say that minorities cannot be racists or women cannot be sexists.

On the one hand, it could be argued that this is true. After all, someone who really is a liberal would seem to hold liberal views regarding women and sexism is hardly liberal.

On the other hand, this could be seen as being a bit like saying that a person cannot be a liar because they are honest. But, of course, the person might not be honest. Likewise, although liberals like Maher claim to be liberals, perhaps they are not.  After all, calling women “twats” hardly seems like enlightened liberalism. There is also the possibility that just as when we say someone is honest we do not mean that they never lie when we say that someone is liberal we do not mean that they are liberal about everything. As such, someone like Maher could be liberal in some areas and not so much in others (such as when it comes to saying hateful things about women he dislikes).

As a final point on the liberal matter, there is also the tradition of folks who love humanity but who are not so keen about actual humans. As such, a person who holds to liberal ideas in theory might not apply them to specific individuals. So, a person might profess to the liberal values of equality and be opposed, in theory, to sexism and yet not practice those values. As such, it seems quite possible for alleged liberals to be sexist. Thus, trying to defend Maher and his ilk by appealing to their liberalism does not work. In fact, this sort of appeal makes them seem worse-they appear to be failing to live up to ideals that they are supposed to hold as good liberals.

A third approach is to argue that while both men said seemingly misogynistic things about specific women, Limbaugh’s attack can be seen as a general attack on women while Maher was expressing his dislike of particular women. In the case of Limbaugh’s remarks, the implication seems to clearly be that any woman who argues for having health insurance cover contraception is a slut and a prostitute. In the case of Maher, he seems to simply be using misogynistic terms like “twat” to express his dislike of particular women. He does not, however, present a general attack that claims all women are dumb twats-just, for example, Sarah Palin.

Thus, Limbaugh could be seen as presenting what might be regarded as a misogynist position while Maher is only using misogynistic language. While this might seem like a rather fine distinction, it does have the potential to be a morally relevant difference in that Mahers might be less bad than Limbaugh in terms of what they say about women. That is, Maher is being mean to specific women he dislikes and using hateful language whereas Limbaugh is not only attacking a specific woman but also engaging in a much broader attack on women (or at least a large subset of woman). That said, some might see Maher as also attacking a subset of women, namely conservative women that Maher’s dislikes.

While I do see something of a distinction here, this does not seem to warrant giving Maher a free pass while Limbaugh is being attacked. After all, Maher is still in the wrong for using such terms.

A final approach, and one that seems to have the most merit, is to argue that there is a relevant distinction between the two men in regards to their role. While Limbaugh and Maher are both media personalities, Maher presents himself as a comedian while Limbaugh presents himself as a commentator. As such, it could be contended that the role of a comedian differs from that of a commentator in ways that warrant the difference in treatment.

On the face of it, this does have some appeal. After all, when comedic shows such as South Park include insulting material, they are often given a pass on the grounds that this sort of thing is a legitimate part of comedy. To use another example, when stand up comedians include sexist and racist remarks as part of their acts, this is typically just considered part of comedy (with some notable exceptions, of course) and not taken as racism or sexism.

One reason for this, obviously enough, is that the comedians often employ racist and sexist language to lampoon racism and sexism. That is, they are laughing at/parodying  these things rather than being racist or sexist.  In the case of Maher calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” it does not seem that he is using comedy to criticize sexism against women. Rather, he seems to simply be calling her a “dumb twat.” As such, another reason is needed.

Comedy, as the saying goes, is not pretty. Aristotle, in his Poetics, regards the ludicrous as a subdivision of the ugly. As he saw it, comedy  involves “an imitation of characters of a lower type” and “consists in some defect or ugliness.” Given this view of comedy, it could be argued that comics can thus be excused for ugliness and acting as “characters of a lower type.” Thus, since Maher is acting as a comedian, then he can be excused for such behavior-he is just acting within the legitimate parameters of comedy. In contrast. Limbaugh is not acting as a comedian and hence subject to criticism that Maher legitimately avoids.

That said, there seem to be some points worth considering. The first is that  while Maher is a comedian, this does not give him a free pass across the board-only in the limited context of comedy. As such, if he is acting as a commentator (like Limbaugh) then his comic cloak does not protect him.

The second point is that the comic pass is not all encompassing. Aristotle notes that while the comic character is of the lower, it is ” not in the full sense of the word bad.” He also adds that the ugliness of comedy “is not painful or destructive. ” As such, a comedian can thus exceed the bounds of comedy (as has happened in other cases, such as Michael Richard’s infamous rant) and cross over into evil. While this can be a matter that involves some degree of subjectivity, it seems quite reasonable to regard calling Sarah Palin a “dumb twat” as going beyond comedy and into what is painful or destructive. As such, Maher cannot cloak himself in comedy to avoid the criticism he is due.

A third point is that Limbaugh can also claim to be a comedian-a very good case could be made that he is playing a role and is a parody of what he professes to be. Of course, this would almost certainly not get him that free pass, for the same reason Maher’s remarks are not covered by his comedic cloak.

In light of the above discussion it seems clear that if Limbaugh should be taken to task for his “slut” comments, Maher should also be criticized on moral grounds for his misogynistic remarks. The fact that Maher has largely enjoyed a free pass shows a problem well worth considering: the wink and laugh all to often given to misogyny coming from the left.

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  1. Well said, being a bore and bigot is not correlated to your political outlook, that is unless you pander your opinions to a popular audience of borish bigots.

  2. That should be boor and boorish! 🙂

  3. A few points, although they may not affect your conclusion…

    “Fluke is just a young law student” – Yes, but this is not the full context. She is a student. She’s also an activist with public advocacy activity in this area. This public advocacy extends well before Limbaugh made his remarks.

    “any woman who argues for having health insurance cover contraception” – This also drops context. Fluke misrepresented costs by an order of magnitude, and she argued for putting government force behind her wish. We can reasonably expect that in Limbaugh’s mind, Fluke had fired the first salvo in using disingenuous arguments in support of a fascistic act.

    Fluke could have taken a different approach. She could have advocated that insurance customers approach insurance companies with a request for birth control coverage. Had she taken this approach, Limbaugh would not have had reason to care.

    I’m not sure it matters what Maher or Rush call themselves. With both, the majority of their show is commentary with sporadic attempts at comedy. I’m inclined to judge them as they act. In both cases, that verbal spew reduced my interest in whatever else they have to say.

  4. Obvious answer: There is a difference between slander and vulgar abuse.

    Now maybe you object to both slander AND vulgar abuse. That’s fine. There’s still a difference in that they’re literally different things that operate in different ways and carry different social results and legal penalties.

  5. In my flavour of English, ‘twat’ is just a general purpose insult which carries no sexist overtones. I can’t see anything wrong with calling Palin a ‘dumb twat’ (which is surely a fairly unremarkable description of reality), whereas calling her ‘a dumb bitch’ would be wrong.

  6. I don’t find it likely that maher was given anything like a free pass. More likely his comments were simply overlooked. Limbaugh is often described as being the ‘Voice of the Republican Party,’ and similar things, and every one of his comments recieves scrutiny from his opponents; not that they need to pay very close attention to catch him saying saying something controversial. Ask someone what they think of the hateful, misogynistic things that Bill Maher has been saying and, whatever their political views, rather than apologise for him, they will probably say: “Who?”

    Bill Maher also doesn’t claim to speak for a political party or cause, that I am aware of (which again might be ignorance on my part on account of of his lacking notoriety), so there’s nothing to be gained by publicly denouncing him.

  7. If a female commenter called Maher a “stupid dick” would anybody suggest this carried a ‘sexist overtone’ or constituted an expression of misandry?

  8. Of course, the real reason this happened is because the contraception issue was threatening to hurt the President, and Limbaugh’s awful remarks presented an opportunity to twist the debate back around to how Republicans hate women, and away from how Obama hates religion, which was the dominant theme to that point.
    There might BE something to the idea that comments from the left are treated differently from comments on the right, but there’s tons of examples of that- Limbaugh is treated by the left as ‘that horrible man who says those awful things’, without seeing the irony of what’s written every day in their favorite blogs.

  9. According to Eric Partridge’s “Dictionary of Historical Slang” The word Twat or Twait refers to the female genitalia, MidC. (17-20). I remember as a child being forbidden to use the word especially to my mother. It may over time have lost its vulgar connotations somewhat In UK but it is unusual to hear a female described as such; certainly it is often directed at men. Similarly the word C**t is rarely used to describe a woman, but often applied to men. It used to be illegal in England to print this word and may still be for all I know, so I take the precaution of of not writing it in full. Notwithstanding I on occasions, have uttered the word as descriptive of another male.
    In conversation with a well known philosopher during my first week as an undergraduate I showed him a set book written by another well know philosopher. I was surprised, and thought it rather bad taste, and perhaps unprofessional, when he described the writer of the book as an Utter Prick.

  10. I don’t like Maher or Limbaugh, but it seems to me that their playing different games with their words and the differences are important.

    The most important difference is that Limbaugh was being literal. He meant that she was an actual slut. He referred to her as a prostitute, and went on, at length, about how much sex she “must” be having and how he didn’t want to pay for it.

    There’s not an easy way to defend the claim that Maher was being literal with his use of the word, “twat.” He was certainly being literal with his use of the word, “dumb,” though, in as much as he doesn’t think she’s very intelligent. It seems obvious that “twat” was just a tagged on pejorative, and almost certainly intended to be a funny pejorative, at that.

  11. Ryan: Hate of women vs hate of religion?

    What a way of twisting what is completely unaceptable, which is: the significant amount of hate that comes from certain public figures. Whatever your position is on the issues, certain types of speech are completly unacceptable. And personally I see the debate as how can we provide contraception services to women without infringing on religous convictions. And I believe that was the aim of the compromise offered by President Obama

  12. Like a previous poster alluded, I can almost promise you that the average American would have to look twat up in the dictionary to realize what made it a gender-ed insult, and that is key to why it barely makes a stir US side. It’s used synonymous and interchangeably with idiot, so Maher gained a pass by virtue of the fact that almost no one state-side knows what twat actually refers to, while it may make a stir in the UK.

  13. Marie,

    In the UK people may be more likely to know what the word “twat” strictly refers to but it causes no stir to use it. It’s used in much the same way as ‘twit’ is and its *not* counted as a swear word as far as broadcasting regulations go.

    Our now Prime Minister, David Cameron made a remark on a Christian Radio breakfast show a few years ago about the dangers of Twitter being that ‘too many twits might make a twat’. The show received no complaints from listeners about it (or indeed about his comment that people were ‘pissed off’ with members of parliament). The left-leaning Guardian newspaper made a story out of it but nobody actually cared.

  14. Perhaps “twat” is a word to be avoided, but for many of us it just means “fool” or “nutter” or “loon” and has little sexual connotation (despite originally being a term for the female genitals).

    E.g. google for the expression “mad old terrorist twat” to see a famous example in pop culture circles of the use of the word by comics writer Grant Morrison. This example has often been discussed with no mention of any sexual meaning or misogynist overtone (Morrison is frequently criticised for being wrong or obtuse, but never, as far as I know, for being misogynist).

    It was only during the recent Elevatorgate dispute that I, for one, became aware that anybody understands Morrison’s (or Maher’s) usage of “twat” as having sexist implications similar to using “cunt” as an insult.

    Again, perhaps people who object to “twat” as an insult are right, and it may not be a good idea to use the word, but different (regional? idiolectical?) perceptions of the word might well explain why Maher’s usage of “twat” to mean “nutter” or “fool” or “loon” did not cause widespread outrage. By contrast, there’s no doubt that the word “slut” means something like “sexually promiscuous woman” and carries a heavy load of moral condemnation. It is not a general term of disparagement that can be applied to anyone who is cast as being foolish or stupid or crazy or something similar.

    So by all means call for the word “twat” to be abandoned as an insult, but there’s no hypocrisy involved in hearing Maher as saying something that did not express any hatred of women or condemnation of any kind of reasonable behaviour by women, but as simply calling Palin foolish or stupid or crazy. That was probably all that he intended, just as it was pretty plainly what Grant Morrison intended in the example I gave.

    By contrast, Rush Limbaugh really did intend to disparage ordinary, reasonable sexual behaviour by sexually active women as morally despicable. The two cases are not alike.

  15. Juan, I don’t disagree with you that the comments are unacceptable. I’m saying that the reason Limbaugh and Maher were treated differently isn’t because of liberal bias (this time), but because there was a political motivation to making a big deal out of Limbaugh’s comment.
    Also, comparing Maher’s comment to Limbaugh’s comment is pointless because this bias is endemic. Liberal commentators, bloggers, and journalists say horribly denigrating things about political figures they don’t like CONSTANTLY and it gets a pass.
    Finally, making the conversation about some specific example just invites people to make excuses. Regard Russell’s dissection of the word ‘twat’. It might be useful, except that Russell doesn’t know (or doesn’t wish to bring up) the fact that Maher has insulted Palin (and her family) in dozens of different horrible ways over the past couple years, and hasn’t been called out on ANY OF THEM. Boiling this conversation to debate over whether the word ‘twat’ is better or worse than the word ‘slut’ is just silly. Making it about Limbaugh vs Maher is silly for an analogous reason.

  16. It might be useful, except that Russell doesn’t know (or doesn’t wish to bring up) the fact that Maher has insulted Palin (and her family) in dozens of different horrible ways over the past couple years, and hasn’t been called out on ANY OF THEM.


    I don’t think the bit in parenthesis about Russell is called for, do you? Slipping in the suggestion that Russell ‘doesn’t wish to bring up’ inconvenient facts is unwarranted. In any case, the facts you allude to aren’t obviously pertinent. How often Maher has made ‘horrible’ and insulting remarks about Palin or her family isn’t to the point. We’re not talking about insults generally – only remarks that are sexist or misogynistic. You may wish to have a different conversation but the rest of us are responding to the topic of Mike’s post and the examples he gives. With regard to Maher – it’s not a matter of making “excuses” but of pointing out apparently significant distinctions between the two cases that Mike chose to mention.

  17. From what I have read and seen of Sarah Palin I Have formed the opinion that on the world stage of politics she would be no more than an inept charlatan. However, if I were a comedian, that expression, be it right or wrong, would not get a laugh. “Dumb Twat” will get a laugh. I refer back to my example of one professor of philosophy describing another as an “Utter Prick”. Whilst I did not approve of the description, nevertheless I found it amusing and still do, which is probably why I remember it. Unfortunately abusive and vulgar remarks often make more impact than more measured and articulate descriptions.
    On reflection I suppose I am only stating the bleeding obvious.

  18. Dennis Sceviour

    Mike writes, “Folks on the left were suitably outraged and responded with both condemnations and attempts to exploit the situation to raise funds for political purposes.”

    Sarah Palin has fired back about the “contributions” Maher has made to the Obama campaign. She is not so dumb, and we may hear a lot more from Sarah Palin.

  19. Martin,

    True-boors can be on the left and the right. They often seem to get some significant mindshare, though.

  20. McGroaty,

    The specifics of Fluke are certainly relevant to discussing the entire matter fully. However, even if Fluke is an activist it still seems unwarranted to call her a slut. Now, if he had said “I believe that Ms. Fluke might be presenting from a biased position, given that she has a history of activism in this areas…so we should asses her claim carefully”, then I’d have problem with him.

    The average cost of contraception is indeed a point of factual dispute. After all, Walmart offers a generic pill at $9 a month while some medicines are far more expensive (plus there is the cost of seeing a doctor). While the cost she presents is on the high end (which can be taken as deceptive), a legitimate response would be to say “Ms. Fluke’s figures are misleading because…” rather than calling her a prostitute.

    While Fluke could have done things differently, it seems unfair to blame her for Rush’s reply. After all, just because she said things that might provoke him, it would be absurd to claim that she was asking for it…

  21. Dan,

    In the States it generally has a different sort of meaning, specific to women. But maybe Maher is using it in the more general sense. In which case he’s merely being mean and not sexist.

  22. Mike,

    Good points. Rush, as you noted, is taken very seriously by Republicans and is often seen as being at least a major voice of the party (though he holds no official post). Maher, on contrast, is just a liberal guy with a show who lacks the fame of Rush. Thus, as you note, it is not that he has a pass-it is that most people have no idea what he said.

    Maher did recently give $1 million to the superpac that is dedicated to Obama, so he has become a political player. Some folks have called on Obama to refuse the money-but, of course, Obama cannot coordinate with the superpac.

  23. Jim,

    I’m a bit split on that. I’ve heard people call women “dickheads” and people call men “c@ntheads”, so perhaps reference to sexual organs is now sex-neutral and people just use the terms to insult rather than as sexist tools. But, if the context was suitable, I’d be inclined to say it was a bit sexist.

  24. Don,

    Good points. I do think that there is a place in comedy for the very ugly, but there does seem to be a vague boundary where a person crosses over from edgy comedy to hate.

  25. Dennis,

    One wag once said that “Sarah is dumb all the way to the bank.”

  26. As somebody who is on the left politically, I have often liked some of Maher’s commentary and comedy. However, I have been critical when he brought in misogynistic barbs against Palin or Bachman. Why not just call them stupid, dim-wits etc. without adding a sexist term? So basically I didn’t give him a pass, nor do I pay for HBO to watch him.

    Maher’s commentary can actually be insightful at times. I listen to Rush on occasion and find that not only is is commentary peppered with sexism and racism, but baldfaced lies and distortions. So in the end that is the key difference for me, Maher’s sexism tarnishes an otherwise valuable comedic commentary, while Rush is downright malicious.

  27. Jim,

    Maybe it was unwarranted. But I see somebody devoting four paragraphs to an explanation of why calling somebody a twat and calling somebody a slut are completely different things, and I’m going to suspect the person is arguing tactically instead of fairly. If we were talking about your mother that such terms were hurled at, I don’t think you’d see these fine grades of difference.
    You say it isn’t relevant to bring up Maher’s long history of insulting Palin, and yet this discussion is full of people trying to analyze the kinds of people Rush and Maher are, their beliefs and their roles in society. I’m merely doing the same thing- you can’t fairly examine the meaning of what Maher said without looking at how he’s treated conservative women in the past. You can’t talk about whether or not there’s a double standard without considering that the *apparent* double standard is long-standing and endemic. For example- the argument that this was a simple fluke, or based entirely on the popularity difference between the two personalities seems quite credible if you insist on only comparing this particular instance between these particular personalities. However, if you believe that there’s a very, very long list of cases of Maher and others getting away with saying things that a conservative could never get away with, that explanation becomes a lot harder to buy. That all seems relevant to me.

  28. In the US “twat” is sexist. Let’s just be clear about that.
    I think that it should be noted that Rush either does not fully understand how the pill works or he is being purposely deceptive. A woman does not need more birth control pills because of the amount of sex she is having. That arguement works for condom use. Either way Rush carries a big stick and has many followers (ditto-heads). In my mind I think that what we have in Rush is just par for the course and his remarks are just in keeping with his role. He went on a three day tirade about this woman and now we cannot stop talking about him. Mission accomplished. If he had not said something so cruel and uninformed or willfully deceptive I would have thought that something was wrong with him. He knows exactly what he is doing and he should not apologize because, to the conservative, that would be a position of weakness and that is just not his style. We should all know that going in.

  29. Ryan,

    There is no ‘maybe’ about it.

    Russell would have given exactly the same response if it had been Maher who had said ‘slut’ and Limbaugh who had said ‘twat’. Don’t assume people here are arguing ‘tactically instead of fairly’ – assume they are arguing in good faith. It’s a pity you come to discussions with the assumption that people here argue ‘unfairly’.

    If you’d find something wrong with what Russell said in his four paragraphs argue against it on its own terms. And if you think there are further facts that people should consider by all means bring them up. Don’t throw in insinuations of biased ‘non-reporting’ of supposedly relevant facts that Russell, as an Australian, would have no particular reason to know about. And do try to take into account the fact, demonstrated by all of the preceding comments that ‘twat’ means different things to different English speakers (it is used and viewed very differently in Austraila and the UK). What may genuinely seem a very significant difference to Russell may seem a much less important difference to you – you might have taken that into account before you assumed Russell was only making ‘excuses’ because Maher is an atheist or a liberal or whatever.

    As I say, Maher’s history of insulting Palin generally is not pertinent – it is irrelevant how often he has insulted her in a non-sexist way. But a prior history on Maher’s part of making sexist or misogynistic remarks is indeed relevant to the general discussion. And I can quite easily believe that he may have said things in the past that would be deemed ‘sexist’ by US liberals and that he wasn’t ‘called out’ for it when they would have gone after a ‘conservative’ figure.

    I can absolutely believe you about there being a double-standard in the US media on this and other issues. I know enough about your television media to know it is highly ‘political’ and biased. But try not to think every commenter you meet here is that way.

  30. Jim,

    If Rush was the one using ‘twat’, then the argument would be that it’s an inherently misogynistic term because it references female genitalia, and if Maher used ‘slut’, the argument would be that it’s not misogynistic, because it references promiscuity instead of gender; if Russell didn’t make that argument, somebody else would. Hell, if I wanted to, I could site all sorts of modern examples of the terms ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ being used to reference males in an attempt to show that the term isn’t sexist anymore and hasn’t been for probably a decade.

    I won’t do that, because it’s clearly pedantic. That’s the inherent problem in this kind of conversation is that you can find a justification for anything if you want to- that IS my criticism of Russell’s argument in it’s own terms. Two commentators said horrible things about politically active women. Hell, I don’t even see why the fact that the targets were women is particularly interesting- but I suppose you’d say I was ‘not discussing the matter at hand’ if I went down that road.

  31. Ryan, Jim;

    I believe there is a difference in philosophy/science and what we currently see as politics. In philosophy/science we seek to discover the truth and we honestly present different points of view to arrive to that. Our “tactics” serve the objective, and they are evaluated as such. Are the facts accurate? Do they reflect the events? Are the explanations logical/reasonable?

    Current politics seems to have forgotten its aim to serve the common good to fullfill a different aim:How can I advance the interests of my group?
    Therefore, these tactics do not care about accuracy of facts or of reasonable explanations. In this context it is logical to be suspicious, because the other person must be doing what I do trying to advance his own interest or ideas in detriment to mines. Unfortunately, that is the way the majority of people see political activity; they see it as a war or conflict between two sides.

    This way of doing things is hurting us a lot. Personally, even though in the US I can be considered a liberal, many times I can see and agree with the conservative point of view. If we were able to bracket a lot of the nonsense around and focus on specific issues the results of our debates would be very different.

    Finally I want to comment on two issues: one is the topic of the article Limbaugh vs Maher and the other is the alleged media bias.

    I am not certain that the comparison between Limbaugh and Maher is fair. To be honest I would like to compare Maher with Imus. Imus was a conservative that had a show every morning. I disagree with him but I liked him. He did a lot of good work for children with cancer. His show was similar to Maher in the sense that his comedy pushed the envelope many times. Unfortunately, one time he made an unacceptable racial remark and lost his show. He sincerely apologized but the public opinion particularly from the left was inflexible.

    In my opinion, this case is very different than Russ Limbaugh. He usually spreads hate in his show. His comments are not funny and not intended to be funny; they are plain inflammatory. His behaviour is similar to Glenn Beck’s, and in that context he should be treated differently.

    Regarding the alleged media bias, let me share some facts. Ed Schultz, a liberal commentator
    from the mostly liberal network msnbc, once made a sexist and derogatory remark about Laura Ingharam, a conservative commentator. After Ed’s apology, MSNBC suspended Ed for a full week without pay. For me that is an example of how every network should proceed.

    The conservative point of view is more than well represented in the networks of the USA, and for me it is unacceptable that whenever a conservative commentator makes a hateful remark they cry “media bias”. Perhaps they should take example from MSNBC and suspend the commentator. Indeed that is very much needed and will help us all.

  32. Ryan,

    Look, Russell gave an honest response based on his understanding of the word ‘twat’ – one shared by many other commenters here. Now perhaps we’re not sufficiently aware of how the term is typically used or viewed in the US (though Russell is no stranger to talking to Americans). But to many of us the word ‘twat’ simply is not normally taken as either a sexist or a seriously offensive comment. It just is not taken that way in the UK for example and we all, Russell included, expressed our views honestly on the basis of how we understood the term to operate.

    Now I’m happy to assume that by the standards of the relevant culture – that of the US liberal – it is viewed as sexist to call Palin a ‘dumb twat’ (it doesn’t matter if ‘slut’ is typically viewed as worse or not). And I’m happy to accept your take on things – one apparently shared by Mike – that US liberals have failed to speak out about what they themselves deem to be sexist remarks when those remarks have been made by other US liberals. I’m also happy to accept that this business with Limbaugh will be being played on by the some sections in the US for political purposes.

    We do disagree about the abilities of those who would engage in partisan sophistry if there were a political ‘switch-around’ of this particular case -“’slut’ is not really sexist” simply wouldn’t fly here or anywhere else where there was any sign of native wit. But that’s not the real issue. You think our conversation has an “inherent problem” because “you can find a justification for anything if you want to.” You’ve turned up in a community and simply taken it for granted that we twist our arguments to suit ‘political’ expediency. I can understand if your experience of the US media and other sites has made you see hypocrisy and double standards everywhere. But don’t turn up here and start accusing individuals and other commenters generally of bad faith if you want to take a seat here. Assuming good faith is non-negotiable and you don’t get to play the “you’re only saying that because you’re an x” card at the grown-up’s table.

  33. I still don’t get it, and would like some clarification. Context matters when it comes to understanding the language a person is using. Limbaugh went on, at length, with great precision as to how and why he sees Fluke as a literal slut. I don’t see how this is all that mysogynistic, but at the very least it’s accuracy is not based upon a preponderance of evidence. He was using the word literally, and his aim was to convince people of what he was saying. It seems like all of the context makes this clear, no matter what country your from, or how the word is typically used in your vernacular.

    Maher called Palin a “twat,” which, taken literally means that he thinks she is actually just big feminine genitals. Or it means that he thinks she’s stupid. Again, I think the context makes it clear. And just because Palin is a woman, and “twat,” in a literal sense refers to female genitals, does not make the comment mysogynistic.

    If I call someone a dick, this does not make me a man hater. Rush Limbaugh is a huge twat, and a dick, and Bill Maher is too, much of the time. These statements do not mean that I hate women or men. It means I’m standing in judgment of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher, and nothing else. This conversation seems so confused to me, and I really would like clarification.

  34. And I got too many “y”s in my misogyny. Ugh.

  35. Also, I feel like I might have come off as uncharitable. When I say that “this conversation seems so confused to me,” I want to imply that the confusion is mine, and not necessarily yours. You might all really be on to something with the misogyny thing, but I am, nevertheless, confused. My choice of wording didn’t make this clear at all, and I’m sorry. Thanks for your time, anyone.

  36. Limbaugh went on, at length, with great precision as to how and why h sees Fluke as a literal slut. I don’t see how this is all that mysogynistic, but at the very least it’s accuracy is not based upon a preponderance of evidence.

    Michael F,

    Sorry but what type of evidence do you think would give Limbaurgh warrant to call a woman a slut? Do you think he went wrong by failing to back up his claims with solid evidence about the number of sexual partners Fluke had had? Could he have made his case for Fluke being a ‘literal slut’ by revealing damning evidence to show how quickly she chooses to have sex after meeting a partner? Would a dossier on how short her skirts can be do? What evidence makes calling a woman a ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘scrubber’, ‘tart’, ‘trollop’, ‘hussy’, or what have you ‘accurate’?

    Are you are unaware of how hurtful- indeed psychologically harmful – ‘slut’ type ‘shaming’ talk is to young women growing up? Do you see no double standard at play in how woman are judged on account of how closely their behaviour matches up to some Victorian norm of feminine virtue? Do you see nothing wrong with judging a woman’s value as a person on account of what she chooses to do with her body? Is there nothing about the fact that we have a long list of derogatory words for women who don’t meet these Victorian norms and only a small number ‘praiseworthy’ words for men – gigolo, stud – who make many ‘conquests’ that makes you stop to think for a moment?

    All I can suggest is that you go away and do some thinking about why some people might be rather surprised that you don’t see how spending several days on national radio explaining why you think a woman is a ‘literal slut’ is ‘all that mysogynistic’.

  37. I think this whole “sexism” thing has gotten blown way out of proportion. It doesn’t really matter if someone calls a woman a whore or calls a man a dickwad, does it? The point is to insult the person. It’s the insulting that should be considered wrong — not stupid nit-picky crap like what words were used. I’ve, in a fit of anger, called a woman a “bitch” before. I don’t believe that makes me a sexist in any way.

    Surely, all of the world’s problems must have suddenly disappeared overnight, if this is what people are choosing to complain about now.

  38. I apologize. My entire post was a little too off the cuff, and I believe I might have been misunderstood because of it.

    I’m not trying to defend Limbaugh at all. I think the man is horrible. I’m very liberal with my ideas in regards to sex and what kind of clothes a woman wears, and indeed, what kind of sexual relations she enjoys and how often are of no concern to me. I think the taboos we have surrounding sex acts are nothing but pernicious.

    My only point, if one was to be found there at all, is that a person could find another, whether male or female, to be a slut, without hating men or women. A person can find another person to be a dick without hating men or women. This persons judgment might be inaccurate regardless, but this inaccuracy doesn’t make them misogynistic or misandristic (sp?).

    Again, I apologize for seeming crass, or even unaware of the plight of all those people who have ever been insulted. It was not my intention.

  39. Sheldon,

    Good points. If Rush’s commentary lacks value and Maher merely taints his commentary, then Maher would have one (or more) up on Rush.

  40. Ziggy,

    As you note, people do pick their words in order to do damage and will tend to go with whatever they regard as the most hateful. However, Rush makes it rather clear that he is not just using “slut” because he wants to insult Fluke-he picks that word because his point is that he claims she wants to be paid to have lots of sex. As such, he could make the same sort of remark even without using “slut.”

  41. I’m posting again at the risk of annoying everyone, because Jim’s response to me has baffled me so much. And I want to clarify my position because I value this blog site so much and don’t want the other people who frequent this site to have the wrong impression of me.

    Jim’s response has baffled me because I view Rush Limbaugh as a horrible person, and I view his rant about Fluke as being misinformed to a stupendous degree, and obviously very insulting. When I compared Rush’s literal use of the word “slut” to Maher’s use of the word “twat,” I was doing so to help illustrate why Rush was very much in the wrong and Maher could be given a pass. In absolutely no way was I trying to defend Limbaugh. Really. And after rereading my original post many times, I’m still confused as to why Jim seems to have taken it that way. But I realize that I’m the only one who can know my mind and understand my intentions in those cases where I’m not making myself clear with the words I’ve typed. If everyone else understood me in the same way Jim has, I hope this helps clarify my position some.

    @Jim – When I said that “at the very least, his accuracy was not based upon a preponderance of evidence,” I was understating the issue. I recognize that hyperbole and understatement can lose it’s weight in type because of the lack of inflection. Rush seems so obviously wrong to me, so obviously wrongheaded in general, that I thought this understatement would also be an obvious rhetorical ploy on my part. In no way was I trying to endorse insulting women because they use contraception. And I understand that certain words carry different weight with different people, but I don’t see how my flippant attitude towards the word slut justifies the condescension towards me in the second paragraph of your reply…nor the prescription to “go away and do some thinking.” Especially after how much you talk about charity on this blog site. I know you just asked me if I was “unaware of how hurtful” shaming of an individual can be, but I can’t find anything in my post that could imply that I was unaware of this, and therefore don’t know what prompted that question on your part.

  42. “I’ve, in a fit of anger, called a woman a “bitch” before. I don’t believe that makes me a sexist in any way.

    Surely, all of the world’s problems must have suddenly disappeared overnight, if this is what people are choosing to complain about now.”


    I disagree with you, and I think it is a big deal.

    A lot of times we look into the past and see slavery, genocide, religious persecution, the relegation of women, etc and we ask ourselves in astonishment, How did this happen? Why? How could humanity have done this?

    Even though the studies are vast and complex; in general they all agree that a major component is dehumanizing the person or target of the attack. They are bad; they have no rights; they deserve our hate.

    Limbaugh comments pointed that Fluke did not have the right to opinion because “She was a slut and wanted to be paid to have sex”. I consider that comment dehumanizing; sex is part of our nature and is a private matter with no bearing on my political positions. It attacked a fundamental right; the right to express your opinion. In addition, Limbaugh is a public figure with a radio talk show followed by millions; there is an added level of responsability there. And more inflammatory, despite trying an apology, he continues with this line of attack in his programs nowadays. Apparently his initial comments were not enough to make his point.

    I do not want a world where before expressing your opinion you would have to show any credentials on a private or natural matter-sex, race, religion-, and certainly I consider a serious offense to disqualify a person’s opinion based on these grounds.

    Certainly, this is very different to call “slut’ or “dick” to someone in a moment of anger

  43. Michael,

    Sorry, I’ve clearly taken what you said in a way you never meant. I should have read what you said more charitably. I’ve also known you from this site for some while – you’ve been nothing but polite, open-minded and reasonable – and I could have thought about that too before I lambasted you.

    I can be a bit unstable and fly off the handle at times and I’m genuinely sorry you got the brunt of it.

    I picked up on your talk of whether Fluke was a ‘literal slut’ and the suggestion that Limbaugh was making a claim that was only wrong because it didn’t match the evidence. I took it rather like you were comparing it to ‘prostitute’. Obviously there are circumstances in which it is accurate to say that x is in fact a prostitute. (And if you say somebody is a prostitute when they aren’t it is generally taken as slander.)

    And I guess what I went off on one about is what I took to be the suggestion that there were circumstances under which calling a woman a ‘slut’ would be ‘accurate’ and warranted. It seems to me that talk of women being ‘sluts’ is something we really do need to see the back of – that there are absolutely no circumstances under which we should be calling women ‘sluts’, that the whole culture that fosters that type of talk amongst women and men about women is thoroughly rotten.

    As I said, I’m sorry, I’ve obviously taken you in some way that I never should have. I should have been both more charitable and more temperate in what I said.


  44. Michael,

    Perhaps you take ‘slut’ to be, like ‘tart’, a word that literally means ‘prostitute’? So a ‘literal slut’ is a woman who is in fact paid for sex. That might explain some of the confusion. I’ve never understood the word that way myself. But if I put ‘tart’ in place of ‘slut’ I can better understand what I think might have been meant.

    I’m not sure what you meant to say exactly but I’m sure that’s my problem and that there was no nastiness or ignorance on your part.

  45. Thanks, Jim. And this isn’t the first time I’ve frustrated someone when I didn’t mean to. I’ve obviously got a thing or two (or a billion) to learn about communicating my position effectively.

    So, to clarify some more: “I picked up on your talk of whether Fluke was a ‘literal slut’”. I didn’t mean to talk about whether or not she actually was literally a slut, but, instead, was trying to point out that Limbaugh was being literal, and that this was in contrast to Maher being metaphorical. Again, this is what I believe to be worth condemning in regards to Limbaugh (among other things not all that related).

    As far as what I take ‘slut’ to mean, I’ve always just understood it as akin to ‘promiscuous.’ I recognize that, historically, this is been a pejorative typically reserved for women, but I’ve used it and heard it used by others to refer to men. I even believe that I’ve been, at certain times, rather slutty/promiscuous. I also recognize that some people might view this as bad, but I don’t. I think that as long as they are responsible and respectful, a person should find as much pleasure with as many other people as is reasonable for them, and they’ll get nothing from me other than a fervent wish that all concerned parties had fun. Maybe I’ll even endeavor to procure my own invitation.

    Another position that I hold that can frustrate others is that I don’t think any word should be stricken from use. Words aren’t and can’t be bad. Only attitudes, as expressed through certain contexts. Words certainly have a context in regards to their history, and some of those histories are rotten and horrible, but a person who is artful with words can drop that history in a heartbeat if her audience is truly concerned with picking up on the immediate context. I just cannot believe that Brooks’ use of racial slurs in Blazing Saddles makes him a racist. I can’t believe that Maher’s use of ‘twat’ makes him a misogynist. And I can’t believe that Limbaugh’s use of the word ‘slut’ makes him a misogynist, either. But in the case of Limbaugh, I think that there is plenty of reason to think that he is, in fact, a misogynist and many other horrible things.

    Again, I apologize for any confusion or frustration that my inability to communicate effectively has caused. I don’t have a huge problem with frustrating people with my ideas, but I’d rather not frustrate them due to miscommunication.

  46. Thanks Michael,

    It’s probably got a lot less to do with your communication skills than it has to do with me not having had a cigarette since yesterday afternoon. I really am genuinely sorry about that.

    I do see what you’re getting at now yes.

    And now that I understand, it all seems perfectly reasonable of course.

    It’s hard for me to picture ‘slut’ being ‘de-gendered’ and getting its sting taken out. To me it is a nasty word used to express a nasty sentiment directed at women. Obviously I can get rather angry about people adopting that particular attitude towards women. But the word isn’t the problem only the attitude that tends to accompany it yes. Hopefully attitudes will change, what happens to the word hardly matters but perhaps liberated young people can ‘reclaim’ it.

    Sexual promiscuity is fine with me. All power to your elbow, arse and whatever else you’re using. I wouldn’t recommend drugs and group sex but I’m glad if young people are still doing these things without the need for me to recommend it. Nowadays I drink tea, potter in the garden and get grumpy if I haven’t had my dinner. But I was young once.

    I do say ‘c–t’ on occasion but generally only in male company. I imagine that’s sexist but I have trouble keeping up to date with these things. It’s not a word to over-use. Perhaps one day it will cease to be seen as a profanity, but what people will have left to say when they hit their thumb with a hammer I don’t know.

    Again, many apologies, and thank you for being so graciously polite about me being such a twit.

  47. Oh for 20th century dry wit. 😥

    He should have said she was ‘all right, but not for the whole night’

    Sadly today, even wit lacks finesse and intellectual content.

  48. Miret, I can’t agree with your distinction between Maher and Limbaugh at all. It just sounds to me like when a liberal is being hateful towards a conservative, you find it funny, and when the reverse is occurring, you see it for what it is. I think you’re right that Limbaugh is trying to stir up hatred for his political opponents. Honestly, as long as that hatred isn’t based on race or gender or something, I don’t see much of a problem with this, and I don’t see much of a problem with what Maher does either.

    I see a BIG problem with us all pretending that there’s some sort of ‘crisis’ when a political commentator says something mean about the opposition, when I also strongly suspect we quietly chuckle at the very same things when they happen in a political context we favor.


    Sorry for categorically prejudging you guys. You speculated about my past experiences that are bringing this about. I’m a fourth-year philosophy student in an extremely liberal department that has an emphasis on political science. When an example of a ‘bad guy’ is needed is always Bush or Limbaugh, when an example of a ‘good guy’ is needed, it’s always Obama or Marx. I’m constantly under the gun here for being a conservative, and the students are just as bad as the faculty. I recently had a friend subjected to a 2-week lecture series on Mao, that talked purely about how great he was, and books, and didn’t even mention what happened when Mao got in control of China. My friend literally had never heard of the “Great Leap Forward” or the Thousand Flowers Campaign or the famine or anything…and that’s two weeks on Mao without a mention. This is my only experience with academic philosophy.
    That said, there was no reason to carry my assumptions over to this place and you people. Sorry.

  49. Ryan;

    “Miret, I can’t agree with your distinction between Maher and Limbaugh at all. It just sounds to me like when a liberal is being hateful towards a conservative, you find it funny, and when the reverse is occurring, you see it for what it is.”

    It appears that you have a very selective reading of my opinion. I compare Maher with Imus, and I stated a situation where I believe Imus was unfairly treated. In addition I agreed with the sanction of MSNBC against Ed Schultz. For me hate speech is hate speech, I do not care where it comes from. I value different opinions but please base it on the actual content of the opinion, not in a selective read.

    “I think you’re right that Limbaugh is trying to stir up hatred for his political opponents. Honestly, as long as that hatred isn’t based on race or gender or something, I don’t see much of a problem with this, and I don’t see much of a problem with what Maher does either.”

    I disagree again; I believe hate speech is a problem for a society. Hate speech is the begining of not very good things, and unless you like wars, discrimination, slavery, etc I believe it is an imperative to stand up against hate speech. Since the free speech is a inalianble right-which I completely agree- our only defense is to publically stand up against it.

    I have my ideas but I also believe that they are just ideas, and I can be wrong/not clear and different opinions are very valuable to me.

    Finally, interesting linking liberals with communism, is that another “tactic”?

  50. Hi Ryan,

    I appreciate you saying that.

    I very much doubt you will ever give yourself as much cause to apologise here as I do. I have a very long history of making apologies, and not without good cause. I may have rather ‘over-laboured’ a point in your case and indeed been too quick to dismiss the suggestion that ‘slut’ can be viewed as not being ‘gender-specific’. Across generations and continents there can be some ‘talking past’ each other – different words can have rather different meanings to different people.

    Regarding your friend’s class, I suppose, in a setting of political philosophy, one could talk about Maoism ‘in the abstract’ – and restrict oneself to talking about Mao purely in terms of his role in the development of Marxist ideas. The course may have been concerned with the development of Marxist theory rather than of history. It seems understandable to me for political philosophers or political theorists to talk about Marxism and its development as a political ideology in a way that is somewhat divorced from, say, the acts of terror carried out by Stalin. Political philosophy can be divorced from reality that way. I merely speculate, but perhaps your friend’s experience is more reflective of the ‘abstract’ nature of the course rather than some politically biased agenda?

    Of course you may well feel that such things shouldn’t be taught without drawing reference to certain historical realities. In that regard, I suppose a wider audience might strongly feel that a course on fascism as a political doctrine and its ‘intellectual history’ (such as it is) should make some mention of the horrific results of its adoption. Drawing reference to that might be one way you might make (what might be part of) your point. What I would certainly say is that something seems to have gone wrong in terms of general education if an individual ends up knowing all about the ideas of Lenin and Mao but nothing about the terrible things done in Russia and China. With regard to Marx – who would have been horrified by what monsters such as Stalin did – he was an important and perceptive philosopher even if he got many things very badly wrong. It seems reasonable to me to admire him but I don’t think knowledge of his ideas should go around unaccompanied by knowledge of history. Whether it’s the philosophy department’s job to teach that is a rather different matter though. It seems a fair topic of discussion.

    UK academics – especially in the arts and humanities – are generally quite left-leaning. And I suspect US ‘arts’ academic may be more ‘liberal’ generally too. As they are teaching young adults not children I don’t think it is necessarily wrong for them to express something about their own opinions. But it does sound to me as if your experience has been that their bias has shown through rather more directly. And I sympathise if you feel your viewpoint has been unfairly dismissed or your teachers have shown a truly unfair bias. I don’t imagine it’s easy to feel you are in a minority that is constantly under the gun – but I suppose it is better if you are developing your own ideas against strong challenges rather than walking along with the sheep.

  51. Miret- You can get on your soapbox about the dangers of Hate Speech all you want, but as long as you’re doing it while trying to tell me Limbaugh is an example of it and Maher isn’t, you can peddle it elsewhere, cause I ain’t buying it.

    To all,

    Really, this hypocrisy is the core of the problem- The left, for better or for worse, has appointed themselves as being in charge of what is and is not appropriate speech. I have no problem with this- it’s just their job to cry ‘that’s offensive’! Eh, someone had to do it.

    But if you’re honest with yourself, you lefties are humans. You get a visceral thrill out of seeing your prejudices confirmed through the denigration of your ideological foes, the same as the rest of us. Deny it if you like, I won’t believe you- I cite Maher, the Daily Show, Keith Olberman and a host of other examples as my evidence.

    This conflict between what you loudly say is right and what you enjoy in your private moments on the blogosphere and in front of the TV leads to rationalizations of all stripes- the desire to say that when YOU do it, it’s ok.

    Personally, I think the way out is just to admit that insulting The Opposition (whoever that is) is good entertainment and get over ourselves. But as long as you guys are making a big huge fuss over ‘cheapening the dialog’ and ‘hate speech’, you kind of have to at least make the ATTEMPT to not be just as guilty of it yourselves.


    I don’t take the ‘slut is not gender specific’ thing too seriously, I was citing it as an example of a pedantic argument somebody could make to rationalize insulting behavior. God only knows if somebody takes it seriously or not, but I am convinced they will *say* it, is the thing.

    As far as the Mao thing- you have a point, and it’s a point other people have made when I’ve related this story. My counter point is, I’ve had Rousseau taught in three different courses, and none of them failed to mention the French Revolution. I think people naturally realize context is important unless they have a vested interest in hiding the context.
    Besides that, I know the professor, and I have at least a couple other stories in this vein about him, so I really do think it’s deliberate bias on his part. But you’re probably onto something- nobody I’ve told the story to has reacted with the same level of outrage as I did.

    As far as professors teaching their own opinions. I don’t mind that…in fact, I think I’m getting a better education through adversity than the students are who are just hearing what confirms their predispositions. But it’s stressful when you get a midterm that says “Support or Criticize the following position using our class readings…” and there were ZERO class readings criticizing the position, which is what you feel is correct.

  52. Ryan;

    Perhaps what for you is soapbox for another person has been part of their lifes. Do you know if I experience hate speech and a result of that I saw a lot of crimes perpetrated by political reasons by the right and the left? For me it is not soapbox.

    Again you YOU seem to have a very selective reading of what I said: I clearly censured a liberal commentator for a clear gender base insult to a conservative commentor and I defended a conservative talk show host in a similar line.

    Regarding Maher. I did not heard his comments and I did not have clarity in the emotianl connotations of “twat”. It was the first time I heard that word. However, Maher has said things in the past that deserve my censure for example when he attacked/made fun of Sarah Palin’s discapacited son. He should have received the same treatment that Ed did.

    However, in my opinion there is a difference between Maher and Limbaugh as there is/was a difference between Imus and Limbaugh. A difference that can be compared to a difference between first degree murder and negligent homicide. They are both crimes but deserve different action. Limbaugh intends hate, promotes hate for political reasons. Maher, Imus and a lot of commentators both in left and right may say/use sometimes inflammatory comments or push the envelope, and in the context of free speech that for me is different. In Bill Maher’s show the conservative point of view is/was represented: Bill O’Reilly, Dave Brooks and many other conservatives were there.

    “But if you’re honest with yourself, you lefties are humans. You get a visceral thrill out of seeing your prejudices confirmed through the denigration of your ideological foes, the same as the rest of us.”

    Wow is that the way you feel yourself? Because I do not get a visceral thrill by denigrating my ideological foes. In fact, when I discuss politics I do not see the person in front of me as a foe. I see a person with a different point of view. For me a political/philosophical discussion is not akin to war but to a partnership where people with different ideas try to resolve them/discuss them.

  53. While I do enjoy humor involving my ideological foes, I also enjoy humor involving folks I might agree with-assuming the humor is well done. That is, I like humor. True, honesty does compel me to admit that a clever and witty barb about someone whose views I regard as pernicious or wrong makes me laugh rather more than a comparable barb against my own views. In sum, parodies and such can be good fun.

    However (as I argued in my post), I believe that there are legitimate boundaries to comedy and that these should not be crossed. One reason is that it is, to steal from Aristotle, lacking in artistry and a blemish on the art of comedy. A second reason is that it is harmful to engage in such behavior-both for the comedian and for the audience (as per Plato).

    In my own case, I’ve been known to be a bit mocking and sarcastic. However, I do endeavor to operate within the bounds of civility and would request that people call me out should I do otherwise.

  54. Mike, I don’t exactly disagree with anything you said, but…
    1.) Part of me feels like it’s futile to try to oppose such things. Opposing hateful political speech might be like opposing masturbation.
    2.) While I agree that hateful political speech like Limbaughs and Maher’s are destructive in the sense that they aren’t going to make any progress towards consensus or understanding…maybe it’s ok for their to be speech that isn’t aimed at making any progress. Just blowing off steam might be a worthwhile goal of some political speech.
    On the other hand, political rhetoric on both sides seems to be getting more and more heated over the past few decades, almost dangerously so, and I think the internet, and how we become accustomed to referring to and thinking about the opposition is a big part of the reason why. So I just don’t know.

  55. Ryan, I haven’t engaged you directly on this point, so I’m curious what your thoughts are.

    I feel like I have about as many reasons to dislike the political left in my country as I do the political right (U.S. born and raised). I feel much more libertarian, but even guys like Ron Paul don’t really ‘do it’ for me, if you know what I’m saying. I preface my question with this biography to explain, in a sense, why I don’t feel like my views towards Limbaugh are just because of my own ideological bent.

    It seems like you’re trying to make the point that if I view Limbaugh’s attack on Fluke as wrong, then I must regard Maher’s attack on Palin as wrong for all the same reasons, but I’ve already tried to point out why they’re not analogous. It is presumptuous and totally misinformed to think that because a woman is on the pill, that they are slutty, having sex here, there, and everywhere. It just does not make sense. And, if I understand the context surrounding it, he’s also saying something normative about it. He seems to be implying that being promiscuous is bad.

    Maher (and again, I don’t like Maher, and I don’t view him as on my side) called a lady politician stupid. We might disagree with Maher on this point, but it wouldn’t be tough to point to evidence supporting the conclusion that Palin is far from being known for her wit and intelligence. We might be looking at all the wrong evidence, and maybe she is really, really smart, and Maher just doesn’t get it. But this really doesn’t seem to be the same as saying something like, “Oh, you’re on the pill? Well, aren’t you just the slut? How do you make the time to go to class when you’re so busy having sex all over the place?”

    And I’ve tried, to some success, to make the point that it doesn’t really matter that they used the word ‘slut’ or ‘twat’ or ‘cunt.’ It’s the meaning they’re trying to get across that matters.

  56. Michael F,

    Politically, I don’t really know what I am. Some sort of municipal communitarian, like de Tocqueville spoke so highly of in Democracy in America, I suppose.

    So anyway, the first thing I have to do is correct you on Limbaugh’s point. He wasn’t saying she was promiscuous at all. He called her a slut, then quickly corrected himself and called her a prostitute- his point was not that she was promiscuous, but that her asking the Government to subsidize her sex life was analogous to prostitution. Here’s a link to the comment, in fact. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzM23Xrhrus

    He goes on to say something to the effect of ‘she’s having so much sex that she can’t afford the contraception,’ which makes me wonder what method of contraception he had in mind that becomes more expensive the more sex you have (maybe diaphrams or something, not that anybody still uses those), but he certainly doesn’t mention the pill. And besides, even there the point is intact- if you can’t afford contraception, you can always NOT HAVE SEX.

    So, I guess we have to stop there, because you’re trying to compare Limbaugh’s and Maher’s comments, and your understanding of what Limbaugh said isn’t even in the same ballpark as what it seems to be to me.

    I guess what I can say, though, is this. Using the same reasoning you use to defend Maher’s comment, I could say that if we DID have some evidence that Fluke had several sexual partners in a relatively short period of time, it would then be ok to start calling her a ‘slut’ on TV. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your angle seems to entail that.

  57. Ryan,

    On the one hand, opposing such speech does seem futile-after all, people will no doubt just keep on doing it. On the other hand, it does seem worthwhile to offer a counterpoint to such speech. After all, by analogy ignorance will always be around, but it makes sense to try to teach people.

  58. Mike,
    Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess I am reminded of the ‘yuck factor’ game that’s on the TPM website, if you’re familiar. I question whether people *really believe* inflammatory speech like this is immoral, or if they are just having an emotional reaction to speech they don’t like, and confusing it with a moral position. I guess I’d count myself in the second group – I do find myself thinking “This needs to stop!” when I experience inflammatory speech against my interests, but if I balance it with inflammatory speech in line with my interests…I find I really don’t have a problem with this.
    The one problem area I DO see is when people who hear such speech do more than laugh or get catharsis from it. It seems these days people take humorous, pejorative portrayals of the ‘other side’ as fact. There are people who live their lives as though their political opponents really don’t deserve to breathe the same air as them.

  59. Ryan, this might be an instance of being so revolted by my opponent (Limbaugh) that I’m ascribing things to him that might not be there. He seemed to try and back up the prostitute allegation with the idea that we’re paying her to have sex. And he doesn’t seem (to me, anyways) to be doing this in the style of an impartial documentary. He seems to be attaching normative claims to these words. He seems to make the assumption that being a slut/prostitute are bad things. I’ve listened to the link you provided, along with a few others, and it seems obvious that Limbaugh is trying to defame her character. It seems that there are ways to deal with the argument over whether or not insurance provided by private companies to their employees should include things like contraception without these attacks on the character of an individual based solely on their desire to use contraception.

    Maher called a woman politician running for one of the highest offices a dumb twat. Most certainly, by ‘twat,’ he meant a stupid person, so he was being a little redundant. But when it comes to the Veep, character and intelligence should matter.

    As far as what my angle entails, if evidence suggests that a person is an actual prostitute, then I can’t see anything wrong with reporting on that fact, if, indeed, that fact is relevant to whatever is being discussed. This view of mine might rub some people wrong, but as I’ve already stated, prostitution is not something that I see as morally reprehensible. But, again, it would need to be relevant, and it’s not clear to me that Limbaugh’s accusation helped any argument he was trying to make. It was just to defame. If we want the VP to make good decisions, we should also hope that they are not ‘dumb twats.’ It seems, at the very least, relevant.

    I am also trying to deal with the difficulty of being biased by my political bents, but because I dislike both of these characters, and both sides of our bipartisan political landscape, I’m having a hard time locating where my biases might be coming from.

  60. Maher is a horse ass.

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