The problem is that somehow, a sexist rant is only a sexist rant when it’s an attack on a woman in our own party. Otherwise, we call any comparison a “false equivalence” — and dream up creative ways in which conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut is not at all like liberal TV host Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a slut.
Watch and learn, aspiring parsers, as former Obama aide Bill Burton, founder of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama Super PAC to which HBO’s Bill Maher has donated $1 million, insists that Maher calling Sarah Palin what many women consider the most objectional slur is nothing like Limbaugh’s slurs against womankind.
As Burton told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “the notion that there is an equivalence between what a comedian has said over the course of his career and what the de facto leader of the Republican Party said to sexually degrade a woman who led in a political debate of our time, is crazy.”
So Maher is a comedian, and Limbaugh isn’t -- because Burton finds the one funny and the other a clown? I’m sure Limbaugh appreciates the promotion to king of all he surveys. And it is indeed shameful that not one of the Republican candidates was willing to challenge El Rushbo for calling Fluke a prostitute — for disagreeing with him about whether contraception should be covered under the Affordable Care Act.
It’s not too late for President Obama to show that Burton no longer speaks for him. Or that, unlike his GOP rivals, he applies a single standard, deploring sexism even at a cost. That call of support he made to Fluke was toll-free, but what a great message it would send if he made the more expensive call and returned Maher’s money.
Why should he? Because hate speech doesn’t tumble from the mouths of people who respect or are in any real way friends of women.
If we had, we’d know that the vile things comedian Louis C.K. has said about Palin and her family should have disqualified him from performing at this or any other year’s Radio and TV Correspondents Association dinner. He did withdraw as host one day after Greta van Susteren of Fox News called for a boycott of the June event. But has she also joined the boycott of Limbaugh, then? No.
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin has gone a step further, announcing that her Twitter aggregation site, Twitchy.com, is rushing to Rush’s defense and becoming one of his advertisers. (“Our business is fledgling and the ad revenue we generate may be small,’’ she said in a news release, “but we are grateful for the opportunity to reach Rush’s massive audience – and to show our support for his work.”)
Work that includes years of the kind of disrespectful comments that Malkin herself has endured.
Current TV’s Keith Olbermann, who has verbally assaulted Malkin in the past, apologized and said he wanted to try and do better. But in the same segment, he explained why his attacks and Rush’s are, yes, “apples to oranges.”
“I said Ms. Malkin was animated by, “mindless, morally bankrupt, knee-jerk, fascistic hatred, without which Michelle Malkin would just be a big, mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” That doesn’t imply violence against women. It implies, rather clearly, that there’s no human being inside Michelle Malkin any more, just meat.”
Anyway, Malkin does not accept what she not surprisingly sees as his non-apology, pretty much as Fluke did Limbaugh’s.
Palin, too, is selectively offended — understandably outraged by Maher’s nastiness, but unperturbed by Limbaugh’s.
Exactly like Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Jan Schakowsky, who’ve called for Rush’s head but have nothing to say about Maher, whose show I was a guest on once — and in one of the most surreal moments of my life, found myself defending Jesus in front of a studio audience.
This determination to find our political adversaries guiltier of misogyny than anyone on the home team goes back at least as far as Bill Clinton, whose long history of treating women with the respect you’d show a Kleenex was and still is a topic off-limits in polite Democratic company.
I often wonder if there’s any wrong action that wouldn’t be defended by political teammates with cries of, “At least he didn’t x, y, or z, like the other guys did.” But if there is a line partisans wouldn’t cross to defend their own, I haven’t located it.
The irony is that any official willing to challenge an ally in that way would reap political rewards. Yet if there is such a giant, he or she has yet to step to the mic.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.