AUSTIN -- Being attacked by Rush Limbaugh is like being gummed by a newt. The current champion of the ad hominem argument has seen fit to reflect on me because I quoted what I still think is one of the funniest examples of white-backlash thinking I have ever come across.
The quote in question was the immortal observation, made by a Limbaugh listener at a coffee group in Weatherford, Tex., in August, "Why, I agree with Rush that racism is dead. I just wonder what the niggers are going to find to complain about now."
This quote caused some Limbaugh "dittohead," as he calls his followers (Do you suppose they are actually flattered by that?), to call, gobbling with outrage, which seems to be a constant condition with many dittoheads, to demand how I dared accuse Rush of racism. Sigh.
What I really hold against Limbaugh is that many of the people who listen to him seem so singularly unable to reason their way out of a paper bag. Although we have no hard evidence of this, I infer that this is a consequence of listening to The Master for several hours a day.
Perhaps it is not fair to hold a radio talk-show host responsible for the several idiocies of his listeners, so let's consider Limbaugh himself. Here is a Limbaugh joke: "Everyone knows the Clintons have a cat. Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?" And he puts up a picture of Chelsea Clinton. Chelsea Clinton is 13 years old.
Here is another joke told by Limbaugh on the air: He, Rush Limbaugh, gets onto an elevator. The only other passenger is Hillary Clinton. She tears off all her clothes, throws herself on the floor and begs him, "Rush, make a woman out of me." So Limbaugh tears off all his clothes, throws them at Clinton and says, "Fold those."
Now, that's an old sexist joke, and let's set aside, for the purposes of this argument, whatever respect might be deemed due a First Lady. The object of this stale joke, it seems to me, has by now earned the respect due a tremendously hard-working woman with a clear case of old-fashioned Methodist conscience. That there is an enormous amount of crude and licentious humor spread about Hillary Clinton (another reason to be grateful for the fax machine) reflects, I think, more on the spreaders than on her.
I'm a great believer in the American tradition of making fun of those who have power. Where I think Limbaugh misses the boat is in aiming satire -- traditionally a weapon of the powerless against the powerful -- at powerless people. It's not his humor I object to; it's his targets. Women, children, dead people, the homeless and animals.
"Oh, but Rush doesn't pick on the homeless. He just picks on the people who are exploiting them," said one of his followers. Really? This is a man who describes homeless people as drunks, drug addicts and worthless, lazy bums. And some of them are. And many of them are women, children and the mentally ill. And who does he think is exploiting these people? Those who help them.
A little over a week ago, I got up early to speak at a meeting of the Texas Homeless Network. Three hundred fifty people who go out every day here in Texas to feed the hungry, clothe those who need clothes, invite in the stranger and visit the sick. I did not meet any exploiters there.
I suspect that Limbaugh is one of those people like Andrew Dice Clay -- some might even call them "exploiters" -- who see a market share in what they take to be "outraging the bourgeoisie," as though there were something new and kicky in comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.
I am pleased to learn, via dittohead defense, that Limbaugh considers only some feminists to be "feminazis," although I have never heard him make the distinction myself. I think the most serious problems that women in this country have today are violence and poverty, and I've never found anything terribly funny about either violence or poverty. Sex, I grant you, is comical.
Trying to get people to notice the hilarity of politics has long been a cause of mine. But did you ever stop to think about why P.J. O'Rourke is so often funny and Limbaugh so often is not? Aside from the fact that O'Rourke has more wit and style, it really is a difference in targets. Liberal pomposity and self-righteousness are more than fair game. Hypocrisy on all sides is a rich, ripe, inviting target. But little girls, dead people, the homeless and animals really aren't in much of a position to answer back.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.