Since writing about Rush Limbaugh, my phone has been swamped.
The calls and tweets I’ve received fall into three main categories. There are a great many people who assume that if you’ve ticked off Mr. Limbaugh, even by making an inaccurate statement, you must have done something right. Others are irate, seem to dislike women as a group, and are fond of Anglo-Saxon monosyllables.
There is a third category who say. “Well, that was fine. But when are you going to take down Bill Maher?”
This requires me to pay attention to Bill Maher, host of Real Time with Bill Maher, a heavy price for anything. But it’s a fair question.
“No it’s not! He’s a comedian!” Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s off the hook. Remember what happened to Gilbert Gottfried? Besides, everyone says that. I had no idea that literally everyone involved in the national discourse these days views himself as an entertainer and not a Serious Voice of Public Information. But it seems they all do. It’s difficult to tell from anything they say.
Karen Tumulty was right. Being a sexist jerk is not the special province of one political party. Many, many people are sexist jerks at one time or another. Women can be sexist jerks too, if we put our minds to it.
“Rush Limbaugh’s not the only sexist jerk out there!” people say. “It’s just that he happens to be on one side of the aisle.”
If I have not attacked Bill Maher, it is only because I have been trying — successfully, until just now — to pretend that Bill Maher does not exist. He’s still on the air? Dang it. This is just another occasion when people reproach me for not having HBO. I don’t even watch Game of Thrones, and everyone says that’s actively enjoyable, something I never hear about Bill.
Sometimes I think that Rush Limbaugh’s only audience is concerned liberals with notepads at the ready to transcribe his every insult. This week, I had the same suspicion of Bill Maher, with the polarity swapped.
Has he said anything lately? It strikes people as odd when you say, “Hey, I just got around to being bothered by something that happened in 2009,” when you are supposed to be supplying topical commentary.
But he might still be newsworthy. After all, he donated $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC. Nothing says, “I actively dislike civil discourse,” like “I have donated money to a super PAC.” As far as I can tell, super PACs exist to fill a void for people who were afraid that our national political discussion was too temperate and pleasant.
“I don’t like to vote in elections where both candidates have not been sullied by attack ads and anonymous pamphlets,” they say. “It feels too 1820s-y.”
Jen Rubin has called for President Obama to dissociate himself from this money. Especially given his public support for Sandra Fluke, the woman maligned by Limbaugh, to support a super PAC that accepts money earned on the backs of other, more famous women being called worse names seems like a double standard. Maher’s been derogatory and sexist and just plain awful — and worse, for one of the people who identifies as Definitely a Comedian Definitely Not a Commentator, often, unfunny. If he doesn’t have anything nice to say, then don’t take his money!
Ah, but it’s a free speech thing, others point out. Money is, after all, speech. And usually what it says is, “Take me! Spend me! What does it matter where I came from? No matter its origins, the humblest, most obscure million can stand next to a million from Sheldon Adelson.”A woman is only a woman, but a cool $1 million is cash.
And what about rights?
The First Amendment guarantees you the right to free speech. But it isn’t an obligation to say everything that pops into your head. There used to be something called politeness to prevented this. But it’s long gone. I think it was Internet-commented to death.
Still, speech that consists only of rude monosyllables isn’t free. It’s cheap. And just because someone disagrees with you does not give you a waiver to call them unprintable things, a fact that I am slowly realizing.
When the Limbaugh scandal broke, I expressed alarm — that anyone was paying attention to Rush Limbaugh. I feel similarly alarmed that anyone is listening to Bill Maher, let alone nursing grudges from the Palin era. Who has HBO for anything but Game of Thrones? I stand by this.
It would be nice if President Obama put his money where his mouth was and pointed out that if you make your money saying cruel unwarranted things about people with whom you disagree, you can’t use that money to — er, fund a committee to say cruel unwarranted things about people with whom you disagree. He’d have to phrase it better than that.
Maher has put his money where his mouth is. He’s just an entertainer, he points out, not out to push for one candidate or other. But his money has no such qualms. It’s a shame. I don’t listen to Bill Maher. I’d prefer not to hear from his money either. But that hasn't stopped anyone before.