Commentary Magazine


Obama, Limbaugh and the Law Student

The White House has escalated the controversy about Rush Limbaugh’s supposedly grave insult of a Georgetown University law student who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of mandatory insurance coverage for birth control. President Obama called Sandra Fluke today to tell her her parents should be proud of her. The call and the effort to inflate Limbaugh’s satirical remarks about Fluke’s complaints about the high cost of birth control during her congressional testimony are clearly part of a Democratic effort to change the discussion from defending religious liberty against ObamaCare to one about the subjugation of women. Unfortunately, for those who care about defending the Catholic Church’s freedom to defend their faith, Limbaugh’s typically over-the-top humorous jibe at Fluke’s expense is being exploited to obfuscate the real issue at stake here.

Republicans are running for cover as the Democrats and left-wing women’s groups attempt to make Fluke a feminist martyr. Speaker of the House John Boehner called Limbaugh’s comments “inappropriate.” He’s right about that, but the problem is that while Democrats seem to regard Rush as some kind of Republican pope, much of what is said on the show needs to be understood to be no different than the rhetorical excesses of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” Limbaugh’s use of the words “prostitute” and “slut” in connection to Fluke were not intended to be a literal accusation but a hyperbolic takedown of the notion that women at Georgetown are oppressed because they must spend as much as $1,000 of their own money for contraception the Jesuit-run school refuses to pay for.

Let’s specify that what Limbaugh said did nothing to advance the cause of civil debate on the issue. But those who decry the lack of civility in politics generally tend to limit their complaints to hyperbole uttered by people whose views they do not share. The same people who are voicing outrage at the hurt feelings of Ms. Fluke do not scruple at mocking or name calling when it comes to Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum or others whose beliefs on this or any other subject they believe to be antediluvian. The church and its adherents have been subjected to withering ridicule.

Moreover, though it has been lost amid the outcry against Limbaugh, he’s right to point out that, those who believe institutions ought to be compelled to fund free birth control are, in effect, demanding a subsidy for having sex. Of course, that is not the same thing as being a prostitute. Nor does it make anyone who wishes to take advantage of such a subsidy a “slut.” Such terms are abusive. But that is exactly why an entertainer like Limbaugh uses them much as Stewart and liberal comics employ similarly nasty terms to people they wish to deride. Need we really point out that comments made in the context of this sort of show is not the same thing as remarks recorded in the Congressional Record and should thus be judged by a slightly different standard?

Rush Limbaugh will survive this latest attempt to destroy him and may, in fact, benefit from being the subject of a White House barb. But conservatives and those who care about religious liberty should be dismayed by the way the left has been allowed to shield an ominous attempt to expand government power and subvert religious freedom behind a faux defense of women’s rights.

No one is trying to prevent Sandra Fluke or any other woman — or man — from doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own bedrooms. But what Fluke and President Obama are trying to do is to force religious institutions to pay for conduct their faith opposes. That, and not Rush Limbaugh’s scorn for Fluke’s birth control bill, remains the real issue at stake in this debate.