Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sandra Fluke

Dems Overreach in War on Women Reboot

Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

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Today’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby made it clear that religious liberty trumps ObamaCare’s policy dictates. That’s bad news for liberals who believe their vision of universal health care can override the Constitution as well as Republicans. But the silver lining for Democrats is that they think the decision will allow them to reboot their war on women theme just at the moment when it seemed the public might be tiring of it.

In Hobby Lobby, the court’s 5-4 majority established that the only guarantees that counted in the case were those of the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act that set a high standard for the government to prove that it had a compelling interest to force citizens to violate their religious beliefs. As the decision stated, when it came to matters such as employment discrimination, faith cannot be an excuse for open bias. But the notion of the “right” of citizens to have free contraception or abortion-inducing drugs paid for by an employer who thinks such services violate their religion doesn’t meet the test.

The only parties that were potentially deprived of their rights in Hobby Lobby were the religious owners of the chain stores and other business people in a similar situation. The ObamaCare mandate treated their faith-based opposition to abortion drugs as irrelevant to the desire not for access to such drugs but to compel employers to pay for them. The court rightly decided that to do so to closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby was to create a situation in which the owners must choose between their faith and the right to do business. This would have been an intolerable violation of their rights that would create a cribbed definition of religious liberty in which faith must be abandoned in the public square.

Yet for Democrats, this commonsense reassertion of First Amendment protections is a new war on women being waged not by congressional Republicans but by conservative justices.

That’s the message being repeated endlessly on the left as it attempts to turn Hobby Lobby into a judicial version of Todd Akin’s infamous comments about rape and abortion. As Politico reports, it didn’t take long for Democratic operatives to begin ginning up their war machine in which the decision is now framed as an effort to impose fundamentalist religion on non-believers and to tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

But what the Democrats are forgetting is that a Supreme Court decision protecting constitutional rights is not the moral equivalent of a political gaffe. Try as they might, Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling is not a repeat of Rush Limbaugh’s line about contraception advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut.”

No one, not even the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby, is telling Fluke or any other women who wants free contraception or abortion drugs not to have sex or to use these products. But they are making it clear that they should not be forced to pay for these widely available items. Do the Democrats think Americans are so stupid as to misconstrue this entirely reasonable position as a war on women?

Given the events of 2012 when a few stray remarks by Limbaugh and then Akin morphed into a media-driven campaign meme about Republicans and women, perhaps they’re not far off. Limbaugh’s foolish comments about Fluke after she testified before Congress against the mandate helped transform a debate that up until that moment had been correctly focused on the Catholic Church’s principled opposition to the federal plan. Soon, everyone, at least in the mainstream media, was discussing how mean conservatives were to women, not religious freedom.

But a court decision is not so easily hyped into that kind of a distortion. Whether Americans agree with the Greens about abortion, and most probably do not, the reasonable center of American politics understands that this case is about balancing one demand for a benefit against rights. Turning that sort of a nuanced ruling, which limited the impact to a specific kind of company and which also set limits on how far faith could override policy mandates, into a one-liner requires more than an ad buy; it can only work when political operatives are in “big lie” mode.

The Democratic push will fire up their base and that is probably all they really want. But they must also be careful. No one liked it when Limbaugh insulted Fluke and Akin’s comments were as stupid as they were indefensible. But Alito’s decision is the sort of commonsense approach to policy that most Americans crave in that it defended principle while also recognized that even faith can go too far. If Democrats go all-in on an attack on religious liberty, barring a similar error such as that of Limbaugh, they may be the ones overreaching on the issue.

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ObamaCare, Religious Liberty, and a Crucial Supreme Court Showdown

The fact that the Supreme Court will hear a religious freedom-based challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate is the kind of story that possesses significance likely beyond any volume of coverage it will receive. Indeed, while liberal activists will repeatedly try to cast this in the mold of the fictional “war on women,” their own arguments reveal just how far-reaching a definitive ruling on this would be for American religious and political practice.

Thus it is instructive to listen to how the left frames the debate. To do this, it will be important to look beyond the “corporations aren’t people” argument that the left typically employs when asking the courts to remove First Amendment rights from individuals who coordinate their activities through an organized group. This argument is exceptionally weak; as Ilya Shapiro explained in the wake of the liberal hysterics over Citizens United, no one argues that companies don’t have, say, Fourth Amendment or Fifth Amendment rights.

So the left moves then from explicitly trying to revoke the constitutional rights of those with whom they disagree to the claim of protecting their own rights. This is when the left is at its most revealing, for liberals have a curious definition of rights. Last night, the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney debated birth-control activist Sandra Fluke on MSNBC on the topic. Carney said that if the government wants to claim a compelling interest in the provision of free birth control, they also must argue there was no less intrusive way to provide it. There are obviously less intrusive ways than this ObamaCare contraception mandate.

Fluke responded that one less-intrusive way would be to have the government simply provide birth control directly, but complained that conservatives are cutting back on funding for such public programs. Then, as Ryan Moy pointed out after the broadcast, Fluke said this:

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The fact that the Supreme Court will hear a religious freedom-based challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate is the kind of story that possesses significance likely beyond any volume of coverage it will receive. Indeed, while liberal activists will repeatedly try to cast this in the mold of the fictional “war on women,” their own arguments reveal just how far-reaching a definitive ruling on this would be for American religious and political practice.

Thus it is instructive to listen to how the left frames the debate. To do this, it will be important to look beyond the “corporations aren’t people” argument that the left typically employs when asking the courts to remove First Amendment rights from individuals who coordinate their activities through an organized group. This argument is exceptionally weak; as Ilya Shapiro explained in the wake of the liberal hysterics over Citizens United, no one argues that companies don’t have, say, Fourth Amendment or Fifth Amendment rights.

So the left moves then from explicitly trying to revoke the constitutional rights of those with whom they disagree to the claim of protecting their own rights. This is when the left is at its most revealing, for liberals have a curious definition of rights. Last night, the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney debated birth-control activist Sandra Fluke on MSNBC on the topic. Carney said that if the government wants to claim a compelling interest in the provision of free birth control, they also must argue there was no less intrusive way to provide it. There are obviously less intrusive ways than this ObamaCare contraception mandate.

Fluke responded that one less-intrusive way would be to have the government simply provide birth control directly, but complained that conservatives are cutting back on funding for such public programs. Then, as Ryan Moy pointed out after the broadcast, Fluke said this:

So there’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance coverage on insurance that employees pay for, at the same time that there’s an attack on public availability through clinics.

One more time: there’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance. To the left, there is no freedom without government coercion. This is either incoherent or Orwellian, or both. But that’s the argument the left is running with: they want you to be forced to provide the funding for even their most private activities; only then will you be truly free.

But Fluke isn’t the only one making this argument. Mediaite has the video of an MSNBC roundtable on the issue, in which the panelists are panicked at the thought of affording Americans full religious liberty because, essentially, it’s then a slippery slope to protecting all constitutional rights. And then–mayhem, or something:

“This is another reason why we should have moved toward a single payer system of health coverage, because we’re just going to end up with one challenge after another – whether it’s in the courts or outside of the courts – and I just don’t see an end to this,” Herbert submitted.

“We’re already on the slippery slope of corporate personhood,” he continued. “Where does it end?”

“Where does it end” is the attention-getter in that comment, but I think Herbert’s plea for single-payer health insurance is just as telling. Put the government in charge of the country’s health care, Herbert argues, because then it will be much more difficult for Americans to “challenge” the government’s infringement on their freedom. It’s not just legal challenges either. Herbert says those challenges can be brought “in the courts or outside of the courts,” the latter perhaps an allusion to the shady world of participatory democracy.

So this is much more than a fight over birth control, or even health insurance. It’s about two fundamentally different views on American constitutional freedoms. Conservatives want those freedoms to be expansive and protected, as the Founders did. Liberals want those freedoms to be curtailed lest the citizenry get greedy or the democratic process imperil the state’s coercive powers.

The Founders saw religious freedom as elemental to personal liberty in America. But they were not alone in thinking that unimpeded religious worship was a guard against an overly ambitious or arrogant national government. As Michael Burleigh writes about the role of religion in post-French Revolution European politics, with a supporting quote from Edmund Burke:

The political function of religion was not simply to keep the lower orders quiescent, as has been tiresomely argued by generations of Marxists, but also to impress upon those who had power that they were here today and gone tomorrow, and responsible to those below and Him above: ‘All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.’

Religion was not the “opiate of the people,” intended to keep them in line. It was, rather, to keep the government in line. This was not a revolutionary idea; it predated the American Constitution, certainly. As Francis Fukuyama writes in The Origins of Political Order: “The existence of a separate religious authority accustomed rulers to the idea that they were not the ultimate source of the law. The assertion of Frederic Maitland that no English king ever believed that he was above the law could not be said of any Chinese emperor, who recognized no law other than those he himself made.”

A battle over the constitutional protection of religious liberty is not an abstraction nor, as in cases like the birth-control mandate, a minor social-issue front in the culture war. Such battles go to the heart of how we seek to govern ourselves and how we understand the fundamental documents that serve as the explication of our national political identity. Americans should watch this case closely and take its implications seriously.

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Democratic Convention Winners and Losers

After two weeks of speeches, non-stop abuse of Mitt Romney, platform fiascos and a steady diet of support for abortion, gay rights, illegal immigrants and mentions of the auto bailout and Osama bin Laden, the Democratic National Convention is finally over.

The completion of both party conclaves means that the fall campaign is officially launched. But before we move on to the home stretch of the presidential race, here’s a roundup of some winners and losers from Charlotte:

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After two weeks of speeches, non-stop abuse of Mitt Romney, platform fiascos and a steady diet of support for abortion, gay rights, illegal immigrants and mentions of the auto bailout and Osama bin Laden, the Democratic National Convention is finally over.

The completion of both party conclaves means that the fall campaign is officially launched. But before we move on to the home stretch of the presidential race, here’s a roundup of some winners and losers from Charlotte:

Winners

Joe Biden: Who would have bet that the blundering, bloviating vice president would give a better-received speech than the president? Biden went on way too long, blew some big lines and shouted more than he needed to. But he also gave Democrats exactly what they wanted. While he remains a strange mixture of national joke/partisan attack dog, he still knows how to talk to Democrats and his party is grateful.

Bill Clinton: His speech was greatly anticipated and rapturously received. It didn’t deserve all the adulation but what mattered is that Bill Clinton showed he still had the power to delight his party and fascinate the nation. That the president was forced to give the husband of his one-time rival this kind of showcase demonstrated how much he needed Clinton’s endorsement and the 42nd president made the most of it.

John Kerry: His Thursday night speech was obviously an audition for the chance to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee didn’t blow it. Kerry directed some powerful zingers at Mitt Romney and some of them landed. A lot of the speech was deeply unfair and classless (the opening line about neo-cons ought to have been beneath Kerry) but he did exactly what Obama and the Democrats wanted. No one is rooting harder for an Obama second term.

Andrew Cuomo: The governor of New York only stopped by Charlotte for a quick visit and didn’t speak. That didn’t help raise the national profile of a man who is clearly thinking about 2016. But Cuomo came out ahead simply because the convention illustrated the paucity of Democratic luminaries not named Obama or Clinton. None of the supposed young stars of the party impressed anyone this week leaving the silent Cuomo at the top of a very thin Democratic bench.

Sandra Fluke: Nobody had heard of Fluke until Rush Limbaugh turned her into a left-wing heroine by using a nasty word to characterize her, but Charlotte proved Fluke now outranks many senior Democratic officeholders in the liberal hierarchy these days. Her claims of victimhood and being silenced are laughable, but she is a full-blown media star and can pretty much write her own ticket once she decides what she wants to do with her celebrity. ObamaCare and the HHS Mandate haven’t done anything good for the country but they have been the making of the world’s most famous advocate of free contraceptives.

Losers

Barack Obama: The president is the victim of the heights to which his 2004 and 2008 convention speeches soared. But even though he is held to an impossibly high standard, his acceptance speech was nothing more than a well-delivered dud. In retrospect the awful jobs report numbers that his audience wouldn’t hear until the next morning, but which he already knew, may have influenced his performance. But whether that is true or not, as I wrote last night, there’s no doubt that the hope and change messiah of 2008 has left the building.

Hillary Clinton: The secretary of state remains a front-runner for 2016 if she wants to try again for the presidency but she was almost completely off the radar screen this week on an overseas trip. That might just be her job these days but she had no place in the Obama/Biden show and the fact that her husband overshadowed the ticket gives one the feeling that for all of her gifts, she may never get the chance to lead her party.

Julian Castro: The “Hispanic Obama” didn’t just fail to meet the impossible expectations that were placed on his keynote address. Castro wound up being eclipsed by the film clips of his toddler vogueing for the camera and tossing her hair during his speech. The mayor of San Antonio didn’t exactly flop, but he also showed that he’s nothing more than a middling political talent who isn’t likely to be following in the non-Hispanic Obama’s footsteps.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: This should have been a showcase event for the chair of the Democratic National Committee but instead the week turned into a nightmare for the Florida congresswoman. She was busted for telling a lie about Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren blasting the Republican Party as “dangerous for Israel.” She then compounded the trouble by claiming Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner misquoted her only to be confronted with the audio of her making the false statement. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then conducted a CNN interview in which she blatantly mischaracterized the voice vote about changing the Democratic platform and then denied that there had been any real change, prompting a panel of the network’s commentators to laugh at her for existing in an “alternative universe.” Getting caught in a lie is troublesome, but becoming a laughing-stock can be fatal for a politician.

National Jewish Democratic Council: The president’s Jewish cheering section has been laboring to present him as a friend of the Jewish state but the Democrat’s platform fiasco cut them off at the knees. The controversy over platform language is not a big deal by itself but it reminded Jewish voters about their doubts about the president. The NJDC will talk about the president’s intervention to change the platform (though the Democrats still left out much of the pro-Israel language of their 2008 document), but the spectacle of a clear majority of Democratic delegates voting “no” on the revision captured on video will linger in our memories more than the platform. It was a graphic illustration of the growing numbers, if not the power, of opponents of Israel within the party.

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Fluke’s Battle Cry: Lysistrata or Insomnia?

Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke became the poster child for the Democrats faux “war on women” theme this past spring when she was brutally mocked as a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for whining to Congress about her Catholic university’s refusal to pay for her contraceptives. Fluke has parlayed that foolish insult into a full-time career as a liberal activist and will appear at the Democratic National Convention to denounce the Republicans and urge President Obama’s re-election. Fluke has no interest in the fact that her fight for free contraceptives infringes on the religious liberty of Catholics and others who object to being compelled to pay for services that violate their consciences. She believes her demands trump the constitutional rights of others.

Today, she appeared at a pre-convention Planned Parenthood rally at which she urged women to work for the GOP’s defeat. The group was reportedly disappointed by the poor turnout for the event that was apparently caused by an Occupy Wall Street standoff with police preventing Democrats and activists from getting to the rally. But thanks to Fluke, they got some publicity because of the catchy battle cry she issued to supporters:

She announced her new rule: “No sleep ’til November!” Fluke called on Planned Parenthood supporters to talk to “everyone…if there is one woman or one man who loves women in America who doesn’t understand what these candidates stand for in November,” Planned Parenthood supporters will have failed.

But what exactly does the would-be lawyer mean by that? It might be just an awkward metaphor.  But does she expect all women to be pulling all-nighters working at Obama call centers or knocking on doors canvassing? Or is she channeling Greek poet Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, first performed in 411 B.C.E., in which the women of Athens vow to withhold their sexual favors until their men obey their demand to change a state policy?

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Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke became the poster child for the Democrats faux “war on women” theme this past spring when she was brutally mocked as a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for whining to Congress about her Catholic university’s refusal to pay for her contraceptives. Fluke has parlayed that foolish insult into a full-time career as a liberal activist and will appear at the Democratic National Convention to denounce the Republicans and urge President Obama’s re-election. Fluke has no interest in the fact that her fight for free contraceptives infringes on the religious liberty of Catholics and others who object to being compelled to pay for services that violate their consciences. She believes her demands trump the constitutional rights of others.

Today, she appeared at a pre-convention Planned Parenthood rally at which she urged women to work for the GOP’s defeat. The group was reportedly disappointed by the poor turnout for the event that was apparently caused by an Occupy Wall Street standoff with police preventing Democrats and activists from getting to the rally. But thanks to Fluke, they got some publicity because of the catchy battle cry she issued to supporters:

She announced her new rule: “No sleep ’til November!” Fluke called on Planned Parenthood supporters to talk to “everyone…if there is one woman or one man who loves women in America who doesn’t understand what these candidates stand for in November,” Planned Parenthood supporters will have failed.

But what exactly does the would-be lawyer mean by that? It might be just an awkward metaphor.  But does she expect all women to be pulling all-nighters working at Obama call centers or knocking on doors canvassing? Or is she channeling Greek poet Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, first performed in 411 B.C.E., in which the women of Athens vow to withhold their sexual favors until their men obey their demand to change a state policy?

If the latter, it would be a highly inventive campaign tactic as well as a tribute to Fluke’s erudition. It would, of course, be very bad news for Democrats of all sexual proclivities and, no doubt, cause some strife in households where the partners are of different political persuasions. In Aristophanes’ version of history, the women eventually do prevail and manage to bring a halt to the Peloponnesian War.

Far be it from me to offer any advice about how any attendee at the DNC should make use any of the sexual organs that some of them are dressed up as this week. But one imagines that Democratic women would be far better off going Lysistrata until November rather than suffering the horrors of insomnia. There is also the added benefit that at least for the next two months, it would cut down on the costs of the contraceptives that Fluke and her supporters are so anxious to have paid by taxpayers and Catholic institutions.

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DNC Really Wants You to Know Women Will Speak at its Convention

The Democratic Party is fighting hard to revive that tired “war on women” meme. Today it announced its list of 10 female convention speakers, which CNN described as part of an “attempt by Team Obama to woo women away from the Republican Party”:

Nine additional Democratic women, many with ties to specific voting blocks, will address the national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention Committee said Wednesday.

The list includes Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Georgetown student Sandra Fluke; Caroline Kennedy; Lilly Ledbetter; Eva Longoria, a co-chair of the Obama campaign; former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Did you get that? Democrats want the world to know they’re going to have women speaking at their convention, which is apparently considered some sort of accomplishment in DNC-land. This may come as a shock to them, but the RNC has the same number of women slated to speak. That wasn’t widely promoted in a press release because, in 2012, Americans have become accustomed to women being involved in the political process. But kudos to the DNC for continuing that long-held tradition.

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The Democratic Party is fighting hard to revive that tired “war on women” meme. Today it announced its list of 10 female convention speakers, which CNN described as part of an “attempt by Team Obama to woo women away from the Republican Party”:

Nine additional Democratic women, many with ties to specific voting blocks, will address the national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic National Convention Committee said Wednesday.

The list includes Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Georgetown student Sandra Fluke; Caroline Kennedy; Lilly Ledbetter; Eva Longoria, a co-chair of the Obama campaign; former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth; Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Did you get that? Democrats want the world to know they’re going to have women speaking at their convention, which is apparently considered some sort of accomplishment in DNC-land. This may come as a shock to them, but the RNC has the same number of women slated to speak. That wasn’t widely promoted in a press release because, in 2012, Americans have become accustomed to women being involved in the political process. But kudos to the DNC for continuing that long-held tradition.

Note that “Georgetown student” Sandra Fluke graces the top of the list (wait, didn’t she graduate?). She’s back to playing a role in the Democratic Party’s strategy, and Jake Tapper reports that the Obama campaign has started sending out fundraising blasts in her name:

The Obama campaign will later today send out a mass e-mail to supporters from abortion rights activist Sandra Fluke criticizing the comments of embattled Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., and trying to tie them to the GOP presidential platform, ABC News has learned.

The email will be just the latest attempt by the Obama campaign to link the presumptive Republican presidential ticket to Akin, whose widely condemned (and scientifically false) remarks about rape have been disputed by both Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in addition to almost every national Republican official with a pulse.

Fluke may rally the pro-choice base, but I have a hard time believing that the vast majority of American women remember who she is or really care about what she has to say about anything.

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Reviving the War on Women?

Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

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Sandra Fluke, the free-contraception activist whose claim to fame was getting insulted by Rush Limbaugh, is hitting the campaign trail with President Obama in Colorado today. But she started the day off with an anti-Romney column in the Huffington Post (via Daily Caller):

The morning of noted contraception activist Sandra Fluke’s campaign appearance with President Barack Obama in Denver, the newly minted lawyer explained she is “standing with Obama” in an effort to protect women’s health care.

“This choice is personal for all of us because it will impact each of our lives. But for me, it’s intensely personal,” Fluke wrote in a Wednesday Huffington Post blog post, circulated by Obama for America. “Earlier this year, I was publicly attacked by Rush Limbaugh and others for testifying before members of Congress. I had shared stories of my friends and other young women, stories no different from those I’ve heard from women who also worry about having the health care they need.” …

“When Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ for speaking about medical needs for contraception, Mr. Romney could only say that it ‘wasn’t the language [he] would have used,’” she added. “If Mr. Romney can’t stand up to the extreme voices in his own party, we know he’ll never stand up for women and protect the rights that generations of women fought so hard to ensure.”

Is Fluke really still trying to cash in on the Limbaugh controversy? It wasn’t a nice thing for him to say, but come on. It’s been six months. Fluke is about as relevant to the current state of the race as Joe the Plumber; the birth control debate isn’t exactly at the top of voters’ agendas.

Which is exactly the point of Obama bringing her along on the campaign trail. It’s a continuation of the same strategy Democrats have been using since the spring — delay and distract and talk about anything that’s not related to the economy. See: accusing Romney of killing a steelworker’s wife, floating rumors about him avoiding taxes for 10 years and accusing Romney of lying about when he left Bain Capital. Reviving Sandra Fluke to renew her attack on the “anti-women” Republicans is the latest gimmick from a campaign that has been negative, dirty, and dishonest through and through.

But at least by getting out on the campaign trail, Fluke is being honest about who she is. Last spring, the media treated her as a nonpartisan law student, when she’s actually a left-wing activist with an agenda. At least now, that reality is indisputable.

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Catholics Angered by Choice of Commencement Speaker

To be precise, it’s Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute that will reportedly host Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – the official behind the birth control mandate – as its commencement speaker.

As you might imagine, the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society is furious:

It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly “pro-choice” Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration’s effort to restrict the Constitution’s first freedom — the right to free exercise of religion — while threatening the survival of many Catholic and other religious colleges and universities, schools, charities, hospitals and other apostolates.

Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor. The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.

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To be precise, it’s Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute that will reportedly host Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – the official behind the birth control mandate – as its commencement speaker.

As you might imagine, the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society is furious:

It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly “pro-choice” Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration’s effort to restrict the Constitution’s first freedom — the right to free exercise of religion — while threatening the survival of many Catholic and other religious colleges and universities, schools, charities, hospitals and other apostolates.

Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor. The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.

At the American Spectator, Quin Hillyer rightly wonders why Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech at Georgetown was criticized by 90 faculty members as anti-Catholic, but they have yet to object to the Sebelius invitation:

If 90 faculty members can protest a non-honorary speech by somebody who only arguably would violate interpretive church teaching, why aren’t they not just protesting but actually threatening to publicly demonstrate against honoring a speaker who is directly trampling upon central, doctrinal church theology and mission?

If there was any doubt that Georgetown’s PPI is intentionally trying to send a message by choosing Sebelius, consider the institute’s last controversial speaker. Georgetown law student and activist Sandra Fluke gave a lecture at the institute yesterday. This seems intended as some sort of protest of Georgetown’s birth control insurance policy, which the university has refused to change, despite complaints from activists.

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G’town Keeping Policy on Birth Control

Georgetown University’s student insurance program came under fire a few months ago during an unofficial congressional hearing after student and activist Sandra Fluke criticized its lack of birth control coverage. Since Fluke’s testimony, the university has been under mounting pressure to change its birth control coverage policy immediately. But today, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia confirmed in a letter to students that the university will not change its policy until it’s required to by law:

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

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Georgetown University’s student insurance program came under fire a few months ago during an unofficial congressional hearing after student and activist Sandra Fluke criticized its lack of birth control coverage. Since Fluke’s testimony, the university has been under mounting pressure to change its birth control coverage policy immediately. But today, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia confirmed in a letter to students that the university will not change its policy until it’s required to by law:

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

While the letter doesn’t mention Fluke directly, DeGioia clearly responds to several of her claims. In her testimony, Fluke argued that contraception coverage is necessary for health care reasons, and recounted a story about one fellow student who was allegedly forced to have an ovary removed after the university health insurance refused to cover the contraception that would have treated her polycystic disorder. DeGioia reiterated that Georgetown’s health insurance covers contraception as long as it is for medical reasons unrelated to birth control.

DeGioia also pointed out that students aren’t required to purchase the Georgetown health insurance and have the option to buy outside plans instead.

While DeGioia’s letter didn’t indicate that the university would take a public stance against President Obama’s rule requiring religious institutions to provide birth control coverage in their insurance plans, he did say he would be monitoring related developments. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has called for protests of the law this summer.

Full letter from President DeGioia below:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I write to you regarding Georgetown’s health insurance and contraceptive coverage in our plans.  Many members of our community have expressed different perspectives on this issue.  I am grateful for the respectful ways in which you have shared your opinions.

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control.  It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

After thoughtful and careful consideration, we will continue our current practice for contraceptive coverage in our student health insurance for the coming year, as allowed for under the current rules issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

There will also be no change to the University’s approach to contraceptive coverage for employees for 2013.

We will be monitoring further regulatory and judicial developments related to the Affordable Care Act. I hope this is helpful in clarifying a matter of concern to many of you.

You have my very best wishes as we conclude our academic year.

Sincerely,
John J. DeGioia

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The Liberal War on Rush Limbaugh

About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

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About this Washington Times story regarding efforts by the left to silence Rush Limbaugh, I had some thoughts.

The first is that we know by now that the outrage on the left about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke was largely false and feigned. We know this because if the fury were genuine, it would extend to vulgar comments leveled against all women, not just liberal ones. But the refusal of the Obama campaign team to return Bill Maher’s $1 million Super PAC contribution, combined with their silence in the wake of other attacks on conservative women, has given away the game. I’m reminded of how the feminist movement reacted to Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas v. the actions of Bill Clinton. Even if you believed everything Ms. Hill said (and I do not), Thomas’s actions paled in comparison to how Clinton has treated women. And yet the former was vilified and the latter was celebrated.

Second, liberals have failed to beat Limbaugh at his own game (talk radio) for almost three decades now. The left tried Air America and all sorts of other routes; none has worked. So they have settled on this one. What they are aiming to do is to delegitimize Limbaugh, to silence him because they hate him, his style, and his ideas.

I would think that even some of those who don’t cotton to Limbaugh might be a bit uneasy about the tactics the left is using. They’re not illegal, but they reveal a somewhat troubling cast of mind.

Limbaugh’s critics have every right to go after him on the merits and to their heart’s content; that’s what a robust, free, self-governing nation does. David Brooks of the New York Times argues that Limbaugh has hurt conservatism, and he’s articulated his case on several occasions. That’s all fine and good. But the impulse on the left is more authoritarian than that. Many liberals have long been disposed to use whatever means they can — including the power of government, if necessary (see the so-called Fairness Doctrine for more) — to silence the voices and views of those with whom they disagree.

My own sense is that the left scored some damaging blows against Limbaugh early on but has since overplayed its hand; and that the blinding hypocrisy of Limbaugh’s critics has undermined their cause. Their attacks aren’t really about morality or civil public discourse; they are about power and the will to power. That is what separates Brooks from, say, Media Matters.

I’ll even make a prediction: Rush Limbaugh will be sitting behind the Golden EIB microphone years from now, still with a large and loyal audience in place, still arguing with David Brooks about this and that issue. And that is, as it ought to be.

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Anti-Rush Campaign Was in the Works

Wonder how the left was able to mobilize so quickly on the Rush Limbaugh boycott? According to the architect behind it, Media Matters online strategy director Angelo Carusone, the project was actually created in 2009, but stayed inactive until the Sandra Fluke controversy boiled over (via Legal Insurrection):

I started Stop Rush in 2009, 2010, and when I went to register the domain, I saw that Rush owned StopRush.com….

The Beck work was working, and I kind of froze the Rush work, and experimented with it a little, to get a sense of who Rush’s advertisers were and what their comfort level with him was. It was definitely valuable, and I am glad I spent some time doing it. It has informed the work I am doing now.

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Wonder how the left was able to mobilize so quickly on the Rush Limbaugh boycott? According to the architect behind it, Media Matters online strategy director Angelo Carusone, the project was actually created in 2009, but stayed inactive until the Sandra Fluke controversy boiled over (via Legal Insurrection):

I started Stop Rush in 2009, 2010, and when I went to register the domain, I saw that Rush owned StopRush.com….

The Beck work was working, and I kind of froze the Rush work, and experimented with it a little, to get a sense of who Rush’s advertisers were and what their comfort level with him was. It was definitely valuable, and I am glad I spent some time doing it. It has informed the work I am doing now.

Legal Insurrection’s William Jacobson connects the dots on the story most of the media missed: that the entire Limbaugh boycott was pure, undistilled Astroturf.

The secondary boycott of Rush Limbaugh advertisers is portrayed in the media as a reaction to a groundswell of public outrage.  In fact, the secondary boycott was initiated by and driven by Media Matters, which had a “Stop Limbaugh” campaign on the shelf waiting to be used, and was executed by Angelo Carusone, Director of Online Strategy for Media Matters.

But while Carusone depicts his campaign as a response to the Fluke controversy, it seems obvious from the timeline that Media Matters played a large role in creating the controversy. According to the New York Times, the dormant “Stop Rush” twitter account run by Carusone snapped to life on Wednesday, Feb. 29, the day Limbaugh made his now-infamous comments. Media Matters also appears to be the first media outlet that reported on Limbaugh’s remarks, with Think Progress picking up on the story a few hours later, and the Huffington Post following up that evening.

This is a really useful case study of how the left coordinates to create a full-blown media uproar. Democrats in Congress don’t typically rush out to respond to every insult from conservative radio hosts. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi managed to round up six other female congressional Democrats to release a joint statement condemning Limbaugh’s comments within hours of the broadcast:

“When Sandra Fluke testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee after Republicans attempted to silence her, she courageously spoke truth to power. As a result, today, she has been subject to attacks that are outside the circle of civilized discussion and that unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country. We call upon the Republican leaders in the House to condemn these vicious attacks on Ms. Fluke, which are in response to her testimony to the Congress. Democrats will always stand up for women’s health and women’s voices.”

According to Carusone, he began reaching out to Rush’s advertisers the next day to put the boycott campaign into action. Two days after Limbaugh’s comments, a Friday, President Obama put in a call to Sandra Fluke, which fanned the flames of the controversy and kept it going through the weekend.

Something else worth noting: Tucker Carlson recently reported that Media Matters representatives have weekly meetings with the White House, and the activist group is in close contact with the administration. Was anti-Rush media strategy ever discussed? Was the White House aware that Media Matters had a “Stop Rush” boycott campaign teed up and ready to go? After all, top White House officials have spoken openly about their 2009 campaign to use Rush Limbaugh to attack the Republican Party.

The anti-Limbaugh boycott may not have been the wild success Media Matters wanted it to be, since at this point it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any long-term fallout for Rush. But they were able to dominate the news cycle with their message for weeks and during a contentious primary race – a pretty impressive feat. Ruthless conservative political strategists out there would do well to take notes.

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White House Hypocrisy

There’s something even more offensive than pundits and comedians using their platforms to launch nasty or sexist attacks on people they disagree with politically. And that’s the selective outrage and brazen hypocrisy of this White House, which calculatedly stirred up anger about Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments for political gain, but seemingly has no problem when liberal comedians and talk show hosts take sexist jabs at conservative women.

Sarah Palin’s ShePAC shines a light on the White House’s indefensible double-standard:

The real issue isn’t so much that the comments in the clip are offensive, though many of them obviously are. It’s the fact that the petty political scheming of this administration reaches the highest level in the White House. How else to explain the fact that Sandra Fluke warranted a sympathy phone call from President Obama, but Bill Maher’s nasty jokes about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy are shrugged off by White House officials? For that matter, how do you explain Fluke’s call, when Obama still hasn’t managed to ring up Sen. Mark Kirk since his stroke?

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There’s something even more offensive than pundits and comedians using their platforms to launch nasty or sexist attacks on people they disagree with politically. And that’s the selective outrage and brazen hypocrisy of this White House, which calculatedly stirred up anger about Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments for political gain, but seemingly has no problem when liberal comedians and talk show hosts take sexist jabs at conservative women.

Sarah Palin’s ShePAC shines a light on the White House’s indefensible double-standard:

The real issue isn’t so much that the comments in the clip are offensive, though many of them obviously are. It’s the fact that the petty political scheming of this administration reaches the highest level in the White House. How else to explain the fact that Sandra Fluke warranted a sympathy phone call from President Obama, but Bill Maher’s nasty jokes about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy are shrugged off by White House officials? For that matter, how do you explain Fluke’s call, when Obama still hasn’t managed to ring up Sen. Mark Kirk since his stroke?

The obvious conclusion is that Obama and his advisers saw a political advantage to making hay out of the Fluke controversy, and they eagerly exploited it. Only now are they starting to get burned. Obama adviser David Axelrod was pressured into canceling his appearance on Bill Maher’s show, and ShePAC is continuing to turn up the heat on Obama with its new ads.

This isn’t about taking down Maher, Ed Schultz and David Letterman, who are free to say whatever they choose to. It’s about expecting the president to spend his time leading the country rather than engaging in trivial political games and constructing phony controversies designed to help his reelection campaign.

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The Real War on Women

Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

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Women’s groups were right to be offended by Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, which were nasty, sexist and unfair. And their concern that Rush was trying to “silence” female free-birth-control activists with the vulgar attack was not unreasonable.

But if Rush’s intention was to silence his opponents, he didn’t succeed. Politicians and pundits have denounced his comments across the spectrum. He’s lost advertisers. And he eventually caved to pressure and apologized, admitting he was wrong for saying what he did.

Yet, instead of getting back to discussing the birth control policy debate, Democrats and liberals in the media have continued to rage against Limbaugh. Maybe because it’s easier to argue against an indefensible comment by a radio host than to try to convince the public that your right to pay less for birth control should override the religious rights of Catholic employers. But for the most part, the news stories on the birth control mandate have been substance-less variations on the “Limbaugh Still Under Fire for ‘Slut’ Comments” theme. And Democrats continue to use the controversy to claim the Republican Party is waging a “war on women.”

A little perspective would be useful here. A radio host with a history of saying offensive things called a birth control activist some really nasty names. He later apologized. By what standard does that amount to a Republican “war on women,” or something that should be dominating the news after two weeks?

But Democrats aren’t the only ones keeping this in the news. On the other side, conservatives have been pointing out that liberal pundits and comedians have made plenty of comments about women that are just as vulgar and offensive as Limbaugh’s. Greta Van Susteren even called for journalists to skip the White House Correspondent’s Dinner because she thinks the host, comedian Louis C.K., has made sexist remarks about female politicians.

It’s important to highlight the hypocrisy of the White House and Democratic Party when it comes to civil discourse, but this is turning into a futile competition about which side can act more offended. Getting so worked up over the words of comedians and radio shock jocks – people whose job descriptions practically require them to be offensive – is a little ridiculous.

On a partially related note, Wednesday was International Women’s Day. In Egypt, women spent it wondering whether the Islamist-majority parliament will take away their right to work when the new constitution is drafted. Female activists took to the streets in protest, all at great personal risk. That’s a real war on women, and it’s something to think about if you’re an American who’s still hyperventilating over Limbaugh’s grievous insult today, 15 days after he said it and nearly a week after he apologized. Maybe you should ask yourself whether your unappeasable outrage is based on rational concerns, or whether it’s driven by something a bit more partisan.

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Despite Gaffe, Limbaugh Won’t Be Silenced

As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

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As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

Most Americans, even those who agreed with Limbaugh about the issue, thought his over-the-top remarks about Fluke being a “slut” because she thought her Jesuit-run law school ought to pay for her birth control costs were way out of line. He’s been publicly spanked for this and rightly so. But the moment the effort to punish him becomes a campaign to destroy him, the nature of the narrative of this issue can change just as quickly as it did last week.

The fact that the outrage over Limbaugh was hypocritical didn’t buy him much slack as he was forced to face the music about his comments. But as soon as this outrage morphed into a crusade to force him off the air, that hypocrisy becomes relevant again. Those who think Limbaugh’s insensitivity to women is such that he ought not to be allowed to broadcast need to be asked why they haven’t signed on to similar efforts to force someone like HBO’s Bill Maher off his well-paid cable perch? He has said far worse about conservative women than Limbaugh’s faux pas.

Of course, the difference here is not that what Limbaugh said was worse, because it wasn’t. It is that he is a conservative who trashes liberals rather than a liberal who trashes conservatives.

In the New York Times Media Decoder feature about Limbaugh’s woes, columnist Brian Stelter points out one of those advertisers who have left his show, Tax Resolution Services, was “put on the map” by their sponsorship of “The Howard Stern Show.” The company’s chief executive Michael Rozbruch says the reason why he bowed to pressure to leave Limbaugh after loyally sticking with a vulgar creature like Stern is due to the increased pressure from “social media.”

It’s true that Facebook and Twitter have given such campaigns a boost, but anyone who thinks political hypocrisy is not at work here is not paying attention. The effort to destroy Limbaugh will fail because the shift from righteous indignation at him to an effort to suppress his voice only serves to remind his huge fan base the reason why Limbaugh and the whole genre of conservative radio had to be created was the liberal monopoly on traditional broadcast outlets. Shutting him down has been a liberal dream for two decades, but his Fluke gaffe won’t serve as an excuse for silencing the movement he has come to exemplify. As Limbaugh promised his listeners today, any advertiser who bolts from his show will be replaced.

Liberals are overplaying their hand on Limbaugh and, as Taranto rightly points out, sooner or later the debate will switch back to the ObamaCare mandate and the way it threatens to dangerously expand government power.

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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.

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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.

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