As grotesque as it was to hear Rush Limbaugh's prolonged attack on a private citizen, calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying that her law school ought to cover birth control, the Republicans are making it worse.
It's a testament to Limbaugh's power that the Republican Presidential candidates refused to condemn him. The "family values" crowd declined to disown his remarks that, in exchange for health coverage for birth control, young women like Fluke should have to post videos of themselves having sex online.
Even after advertisers began fleeing Limbaugh's show, and he was forced to make an insincere apology, Colorado Republican Senator Greg Brophy tweeted a defense of Limbaugh, who he called "an icon and a hero to the conservative movement," adding: "And Ms Fluke, I don't want to buy your booze, pay for your spring break or your birth control. Call your Dad for that."
The national Republican Party is completely captive to the toxic rightwing bullies led by Rush.
One Republican who has spoken out forcefully about the Republicans' Rush problem is political pundit and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum.
As Frum puts it, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox."
Back in 2009, Frum wrote a piece in Newsweek that decried Rush Limbaugh's outsized influence on his party.
"Rush knows what he is doing," Frum wrote "The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined. But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership?"
Frum has since been blacklisted by Fox News, fired from the American Enterprise Institute, and denounced as a "RINO" (Republican in Name Only) by conservative talkers. But he continues to press his case, that his party is marginalizing itself by living in the weird parallel reality cooked up by the crazy right--the War-On-Christmas, death panel, anti-birth-control wing of his party will ultimately do it in, Frum frets.
He contrasts President Obama--the fit, friendly, family man, with big, fat, drug-plagued, self-indulgent Rush as a warning to the Republicans to look for better leadership.
Frum traces the Republicans' current problems to Rush's declaration at the start of the Obama Administration that he hoped Obama would fail. Since then, Mitt Romney has repeated the idea that it would be better if the auto industry were allowed to fail, and many national Republicans have denounced the Obama stimulus and efforts to blunt the worst effects of the recession. Such positions to not represent a winning platform, Frum argues.
In a piece in New York magazine about the hijacking of his party by the Rush Limbaugh-Tea Party wing, Frum writes:
"In the mid-sixties, when the party split spectacularly between Ripon Republicans, who embraced the civil-rights movement, and Goldwater Republicans, who opposed it, civil-rights Republicans like Michigan governor George Romney spoke forcefully for their point of view. Today, Republicans discomfited by political and media extremism bite their tongues."
Nowhere is that more evident than in the Sandra Fluke flap.
"Limbaugh is especially off-putting to women: his audience is 72 percent male," Frum wrote back in 2009. "Limbaugh himself acknowledges his unpopularity among women. On his Feb. 24 broadcast, he said with a chuckle: 'Thirty-one-point gender gaps don't come along all that often.'"
Yet Republicans can't afford to lose women voters if they want to win elections.
"Limbaugh is kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally," Frum wrote in the piece that got him excommunicated from his party.
"No Republican official will say that; Limbaugh demands absolute deference from the conservative world, and he generally gets it. When offended, he can extract apologies from Republican members of Congress, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee. And Rush is very easily offended."
The problem is deeper than Rush, of course. A whole generation of rightwing talkers are chasing fame and fortune with outrageous comments that garner tons of attention, ala Ann Coulter.
The shock-jock approach to politics might be good for ratings, might reward the most outrageous and offensive with the biggest bucks, but they will cost the Republicans' elections.
On birth control, on gay rights, on the environment, on basic economic justice, on racial harmony, on basic decency, the Republicans are so out of touch with majority American values, they are on another planet. Planet Rush.
The danger is not just, as Frum worries, that they will lose elections this way. The danger is that the toll that their coarse, bullying rhetoric takes on society as a whole.
The richer Rush and his slavish followers at Fox News get, the more the rest of us have to endure a culture distorted by bullying and demagoguery that gets more and more extreme.
The fate of Republican politicians is the least of our worries, as a citizenry.
But for their own good, the Republicans should think about taking Frum's advice, and pulling the plug on Rush.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsinites Start Turning Back School Privatization."
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