I’ve been meaning to get my thoughts on the Rush Limbaugh/contraception flap down on paper–so to speak–for a few days. In the meantime, pretty much everything I had to say has become conventional wisdom. So here are a few observations, for what they are worth:
1. The riffs in which Rush called Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” were way below Rush’s usual standard. Frankly, they didn’t make much sense. The fact that she wanted free birth control pills and other appurtenances of contraception made her greedy, not promiscuous, and certainly not a prostitute. So there wasn’t much of a higher purpose–at least, not a coherently expressed one–behind the harsh words, putting Rush’s defenders in a tough spot.
2. Casual observers didn’t notice, but the episode was staged, from beginning to end, by the Democrats. Ms. Fluke was no “coed,” as she was widely described, but rather a 30-year-old professional left-wing activist. Her “testimony” was ginned up before an audience of Democrats after the Dems tried to switch her, at the last moment, for a scheduled committee witness and the Republicans balked. Beginning with what seemed to be an unpromising hand, the Democrats played the GOP (Rush most of all) like a violin.
3. Rush was right to apologize, and as far as I could tell his apology was unusually sincere, but of course that hasn’t stopped the left–the Washington Post, CNN, etc.–from keeping the story going by pondering the quality of his mea culpa.
4. This incident certainly exposed the left/media double standard; “slut” and “prostitute” would be terms of endearment compared to the manner in which Democratic media figures routinely refer to conservative women. In today’s press conference, one reporter actually asked Barack Obama about the double standard; naturally, he didn’t answer. But I think this point, although not exactly a subtle one, is lost on the average voter. We have all lived with a double standard for so long that it seems natural.
5. The Democrats won this round by a TKO. The actual issue that was originally at stake–the government’s effort to force religious institutions to pay for contraceptives and some abortions–has been mostly lost sight of. Sure, political insiders understand what was involved, but my guess is that a large majority of uncommitted voters–the sort of people who thought that if Barack Obama were president, he would fill up their gas tanks for free–came away with the impression that Republicans are trying to ban contraception. Seriously.
6. If November’s election is about the economy–far and away the voters’ biggest concern–with, perhaps, a dollop of foreign policy, the Republicans will win big, likely taking the White House and Senate as well as holding the House. If, as the Democrats desperately hope, the election is diverted into other channels–the social issues and other matters that at this point are merely distractions–the Democrats will hold the White House and likely the Senate. If the “slut” episode brings that fact home to Republican voters and candidates, it will not have been in vain.
7. As noted above, some people do actually understand what the issue is. Like Michael Ramirez:
My own interpretation of this cartoon is broader than Ramirez perhaps intended. It is not just forcing religious institutions to pay for contraception, etc., that is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Rather, for the federal government to dictate any coverages that must be included in private insurance policies is well beyond any enumerated power in the Constitution, and therefore is invalid.