His bungle made Fluke a Washington cause. Then Rush Limbaugh’s insult made her famous.
“She must be paid to have sex. What does that make her?” the conservative radio host said about Fluke on Feb. 29, erroneously saying that she wanted taxpayers, and not a private school’s insurer, to pay for contraceptives. “It makes her a slut, right?”
Limbaugh later apologized. But since then, Fluke has been living in a strange world that he created.
In it, the straight-arrow daughter of a Methodist minister — who had worked her way from small-town Pennsylvania to Georgetown Law — became famous as a byword for entitlement and sex.
That hasn’t abated, even months later. “In the past, people would be ashamed of taking such a stand. But she continues to be self-righteous about it . . . that’s what makes her funny,” said Oleg Atbashian, a Florida-based conservative whose Web site, thepeoplescube.com, came up with popular caricatures of Fluke: She’s a slot machine, she’s a belly dancer, she’s got a collection of condom wrappers.
Atbashian says he tries not to let the jokes get too sexual. But he hasn’t removed a commenter’s post that shows Fluke facing a long line of male suitors, plus a horse. “I also don’t want to limit people too much,” he said.
After Limbaugh’s remarks, Fluke got a phone message from S.R. Sidarth, a Democratic campaign tracker who then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) called “macaca.” Another came from Meghan McCain, the Republican senator’s daughter and a target of Internet ridicule.
“It’s about them,” Fluke recalled Chelsea Clinton saying when they had tea. “It’s not about you.”
Using the spotlight
Fluke’s reaction was to try to use the spotlight while she had it. She has said that, at one point, she broke down and told her fiance that she couldn’t handle an activist’s role while studying for the bar exam. Her answer to herself was: Push harder.
“You have to push through whatever that moment is that’s making you want to run and hide,” she told an audience in July. “Keep pushing through it. Because you have a responsibility.”
Since then, there have been good moments: At the Democratic National Convention, her practice paid off. Fluke had previously seemed rushed, unsmiling, joyless when she spoke in public. Now, she paused and smiled at the right times.
“Staying classy about it. She didn’t take it personally,” said Deborah Epstein, a mentor at Georgetown Law who oversaw a program where Fluke helped domestic-violence victims in the D.C. Superior Court. She’d taught her that emotions get in the way of effective lawyering. “I hope that she learned some of that from someone at this law school.”