The following, my second column on the Republican War on Women (see Part 1 here), was published in the Pawling Press on March 16th. Although a bit outdated, it is a reminder that this is still an ongoing assault.
“Hell Hath No Fury…”
On February 16th, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), held a hearing regarding the new contraception coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Issa’s stated reason for the hearing was to obtain testimony as to whether the new rule infringed on ‘religious freedom’, and the only witnesses allowed to testify were male religious leaders. Congressman Issa refused to hear the testimony of Ms. Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, a Catholic university whose insurance does not cover the birth control pill. Ms. Fluke was prepared to testify, in part, about a schoolmate who needed the pill in order to control an ovarian growth, being afflicted with polycystic ovarian syndrome. The schoolmate’s inability to afford the medication led to the eventual surgical removal of one of her ovaries due to the size of the out-of-control growth.
After she was not allowed to testify at Congressman Issa’s hearing, Ms. Fluke gave her prepared testimony at a Democratic forum (Democrats, being in the minority in the House, are not allowed to hold actual hearings) and subsequently the news media began covering the story.
Enter right-wing radio’s Rush Limbaugh: either unaware of, or deliberately disregarding, the actual testimony of Ms. Fluke, Mr. Limbaugh attacked, calling Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Mr. Limbaugh lied about Ms. Fluke’s testimony, saying that she “went before a Congressional committee and said she’s having so much sex she’s going broke buying contraceptives and wants us to buy them” and “she wants us to pay for her to have sex.” Mr. Limbaugh topped off his disgusting remarks with:
“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
Despite the outrage that ensued, Mr. Limbaugh continued his barrage against Ms. Fluke for several more days, while Fox News ‘personalities’ defended his stance and joined the sexist attack. Finally, enough of his sponsors having dropped their advertising, Mr. Limbaugh issued a non-apology apology.
This story, in my opinion, is important for two reasons. One reason is that Rush Limbaugh is the de facto ruler of the Republican Party. In 2009, after Mr. Limbaugh’s remarks about ‘wanting Obama to fail’, then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele stated, “Rush is not the head of the Republican Party. He’s an entertainer whose show is incendiary and ugly.” Mr. Limbaugh lambasted Mr. Steele, saying that Steele ought to resign from the RNC Chairmanship. Mr. Steele then issued a statement including “My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh, he is a national conservative leader …There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” Other Republicans who have had to apologize to Mr. Limbaugh include former S.C. Governor Mark Sanford and Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia.
Neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum has condemned Mr. Limbaugh’s sexist and despicable remarks. Mitt Romney (who still receives investment income from Bain Capital, which owns Clear Channel Communications, whose Premiere Radio Networks Inc. hosts Limbaugh’s program) would only say: “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used,” and I’m not going to weigh in on that particular controversy.” Rick Santorum’s comment about Rush Limbaugh’s remarks was “He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd.” Could either candidate possibly have been more mealy-mouthed about such horrible slurs?
The second reason why this is important is because of the current Republican attacks on contraception and women’s reproductive rights. Rick Santorum has said more than once that he believes that “contraception is wrong.” Numerous states have either proposed or passed legislation, including “personhood” amendments, severely limiting or denying women’s access to legal abortions or certain types of contraception. In the U.S. Senate, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed an amendment to the Public Health Service Act which would exempt “any individual or entity” from having to “offer, provide, or purchase coverage for a contraceptive or sterilization service, or related education or counseling, to which that individual or entity is opposed on the basis of religious belief.” Senator Rubio’s name has been bandied about as the possible Vice Presidential candidate. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) offered an amendment which went even further, allowing any type of healthcare services to be denied for religious or “conscience” reasons. These amendments, together referred to as the Blunt-Rubio Amendment, were only narrowly defeated.
Protests against these misogynistic right-wing legislative attacks, and outrage over the verbal vitriol from right-winger Rush Limbaugh, have been widespread and increasing. As of this writing, over 140 advertisers have abandoned sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh’s show. Republican popularity among women has been dropping (46%-42% favored a Republican-run Congress last summer, now 51%-36% favor the Democrats.) Although several prominent Republicans (including Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts) have condemned Mr. Limbaugh’s despicable remarks, the two front-running Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, haven’t displayed the leadership and strength of character to do so. Why not? And what does this say about them?
Part 3, today’s Watering Hole, to follow shortly…