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Posted at 06:56 PM ET, 03/02/2012

Rush Limbaugh’s sad excuse for entertainment


Stop listening. (AP Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau, Brian Jones) (Brian Jones - AP)
Rush Limbaugh said something grotesque, rude and controversial?

Why is this news? It’s not even a surprise.

What credibility does this man have? He’s a bloated windbag, a human hot air balloon. To take the trouble to deride him in polysyllables is almost more than he merits.

Why is everyone so upset when he belches forth another of his miserable pronouncements? This is his job. He has discovered that he possesses the uniquely treasured modern gift of saying exactly the worst possible thing. Once, we pilloried people for this. Occasionally, we fed them to lions. Now we give them their own talk shows.

Bloated and otiose, these windbags, these rumbling bellies, these talk radio troglodytes spew their bile in the comfort of their echoing caves. It’s marvelous for ratings.

Diplomacy, Gide said, is the art of knowing just how far to go too far. So’s talk radio.

Why are we taking the trouble to blow him up? Ignore the bully, and he goes away, right? Instead, we’re all competing to kick him in the head, in the process ensuring that his remarks are repeated and talked about and heard over and over again. Everyone from President Obama to Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has expressed some degree of chagrin at his outburst. He’s hurt his own cause, such as it is. But ratings have never been higher.

Some curt Anglo-Saxon syllables slam straight to the gut. Most of them are unprintable. One that isn’t is the one Rush Limbaugh used recently to describe a Georgetown University graduate student and contraception advocate named Sandra Fluke: Slut.

He followed it with other hateful words and suggestions, calling her a prostitute and suggesting that if taxpayers pay for her contraception, they are entitled to a video of her private life.

Which brings me back to my first question: Why are people still listening to Rush Limbaugh?

Weren’t the loofahs enough?

Is there any compelling reason to pay any attention to what this man is saying? Have we run out of real things to be indignant about? Or is it simply that we so rarely stumble across one thing that everyone can agree is beyond the pale, so everyone has to pounce?

Even Rick Santorum, not always noted for the temperate nature of his remarks, said that Limbaugh was being “absurd.”

“He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd,” he said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “He’s in a very different business than I am.”

Rush Limbaugh isn’t what I’d describe as an entertainer, unless you view growing an ulcer as a wildly diverting pastime. But Santorum has a point.

Still, the distinction strikes me as a bit facile. If I had a dime for every time someone with a massive public following weaseled out of a controversial remark with the excuse that His Only Thought Was To Entertain You, I’d be able to out-donate Sheldon Adelson. Rush Limbaugh is a strange hybrid, a “Voice,” but he’s not alone. Much of what passes for news these days is as much show business as anything.

All politics is a form of entertainment. Look on the trail, where Rick Perry makes Never Apologizing a pillar of his campaign and Rick Santorum flings red meat exuberantly from the campaign wagon.

But this time it seems personal. The word. The crudeness. This attitude has been around since cave times. He was, no doubt, the person calling the suffragettes slatterns and women of ill repute. “Own property?” he cackled, in the 18th century. “A woman? She’d better sell some of that property and buy me a daguerreotype of her ankles.” Whatever you think about the contraception debate, this sort of deranged yelling is intellectually void.

And some words demand a larger response. They are words with a unique power to silence, whose utterance is followed by a hush. There are some suggestions so grotesque that we can only shudder and demand apologies.

It’s times like this I wish the echo chamber didn’t work so well. I am glad that everyone is so indignant about this. Everyone is right to be. This is the sort of remark that once inspired old women to strike you with their purses. We can all join in the chorus.

The only way to stop the bullying is to get someone to stick up for you, then walk away. And now it’s time to walk away.

I wish we hadn’t listened in the first place.

By  |  06:56 PM ET, 03/02/2012

 
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