Profiles in cowardice

    Before we bid goodbye to the latest tawdry outburst from de facto Republican chairman Rush Limbaugh, let’s give due recognition to the wimps who quake in his wake.

    Conservative columnist George Will called them out yesterday on ABC News: “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”Naturally, Republican leaders have expended the bare minimum of words on the Sandra Fluke episode, hunkering in their bunkers for several days while Limbaugh treated her the way a junkyard dog gnaws meat. I’m referring to the presidential candidates and the Speaker of the House.As you undoubtedly know by now, Limbaugh didn’t like it when Fluke, a Georgetown Law student, had the temerity to exercise her free speech rights as a citizen and speak favorably about birth control at a congressional hearing. He decreed last week that Fluke is “a slut” and “a prostitute,” someone who’s apparently “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.”Of course, Rush is Rush; he has been a tumor on the body politic for so long that it’s barely worth the time and effort to factually rebut him. Anyone who has followed this story already knows that he lied about her testimony and had somehow convinced himself that women take birth control for sex the way men use Viagra.Even his Saturday apology – a business decision aimed at reversing an exodus of advertisers – was predicated on a lie. He said he was sorry for his “insulting word choices,” but insisted that he had been driven to excess by Fluke’s decision to discuss “personal sexual recreation activities before members of Congress” – somehow overlooking the serious issue at hand. Fluke went to bat for a Georgetown classmate who had been forced to pay out of pocket for birth control medication that she needed to help control her ovarian cysts.But, Rush being Rush, he really doesn’t know any better. The real culprits are the Republican leaders who should.As conservative commentator Rod Dreher remarked the other day, Republicans politicians are “eager to kiss his ring and to treat his radio broadcast as ex cathedra pronouncements.” That’s because, most the time, Rush’s unleashed id is a valuable party resource, amplifying the basic conservative message. But it would be nice, every once in a while, to see the ring-kissers rise from their knees and stand tall for common decency.Like now, for instance. Heck, it would even be in their political interest to do so. They have been hemorrhaging support from women voters in recent weeks – thanks especially to Rick Santorum’s theocratic lectures and the horrible optics of crusading against birth control – and there’s no way you can win a general election if you wind up on the losing side of that gender chasm. (Conservative commentator David Frum tweeted on Saturday: “We had two young women at a dinner party tonight. Both Republican-oriented. Both lost to GOP by events of past week. Thanks, Rush.”)  So the party bigwigs would be smart to condemn Limbaugh without qualification. But has that happened? Of course not. Why not? Because they’re too scared. For instance, when Mitt Romney finally addressed the Fluke episode, he said: “It’s not the language I would have used.”Here was Newt Gingrich yesterday, in response to a press question about Limbaugh: “I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media…!” The standard Newt tactic, dodging a question by lashing out at the questioner. Later, he said that Limbaugh’s apology was “appropriate,” and then he changed the subject.Here was Rick Santorum: “(Rush) is being absurd. But that’s, you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And – and he’s taking the absurd, you know, the absurd – absurd, you know, sort of, you know, point of view here as to how – how far do you go? And, look, he’s in a very different business than I am.”Here was House Speaker John Boehner, hiding behind a spokesman: “The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate.”But none of those profiles in cowardice came close to nailing the real issue: Limbaugh’s debasement of democracy itself. An enlightened, proactive Republican leader would have said something like this: “Reasonable people may disagree with Sandra Fluke’s perspective on contraception. I certainly do. But, like any citizen, Ms. Fluke was exercising her First Amendment rights. She was asking to be heard, and, like any citizen, she deserved to be treated with respect. She did not deserve to be viciously ridiculed and caricatured. Such behavior is an assault on all we hold dear. It further coarsens our public discourse. It is an assault on freedom itself.”   Yeah, I know, dream on. Romney and the rest of them don’t have the stones to stand up to Limbaugh. They prefer to pet their junkyard dog, lest he bite them. So I guess we’ll have to look to the private sector for some inspiration. At last count, seven Limbaugh advertisers have said no to continued affiliation with his show. The tremulous Republicans might want to study this weekend statement from David Friend, the CEO of Carbonite, an online backup company:”No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”Might we ever hear such frank talk from a Republican politician? No way. As Santorum would say, those advertisers are in a very different business than he is.——-My Sunday newspaper column offered a freeze frame of the Republican presidential race, and the reasons why independent swing voters have been fleeing to Obama.——-I did another Live Chat today, mostly about Limbaugh and Super Tuesday. Limbaugh fans played the false equivalence game.

    ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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