I don’t have to tell you about the recent Rush Limbaugh controversy, right? About the horrible, hateful things that he said about Sandra Fluke, in response to her testimony at a Democratic hearing about birth control coverage; about the outcry that has started coming in from Republicans, media figures, sponsors and even the president – we don’t have to go into those details here and now, correct?
Good, because I am so tired of it. Not tired in the sense that I think it was overblown, or that it should be ignored. On the contrary, I think it’s a significant talking point and one that draws a line in the sand with regard to the public debate about contraception. I just mean, I’m tired. I’m so angered, so astounded, so saddened by this situation that I feel mentally and emotionally drained.
I realize that Rush Limbaugh lives for this stuff. To him, anything goes in the quest for attention, and the more people he riles up, the better. It’s just like pouring fuel on the fire to even respond to his rants at this point. And the same goes for his followers, who, it seems, can’t or won’t speak against even the most egregious utterances from Limbaugh’s lips. To all of them, this is a lot of fun. “Look at the Libtards! What’s the matter, did we make your heads explode?” They really do think there’s some sort of agenda to be served by simply being publicly obnoxious, as if engaging in fights on internet comment threads are meaningful to either side’s cause. I wonder how many of them understand that Limbaugh is playing them as much as he’s playing the left. He’s getting everyone to jump at his command, and in Limbaugh’s eyes everyone’s equally moronic for doing it.
And so here we are, unable to effectively make our points to Limbaugh and his followers because they think our outrage is hilarious, and unwilling to sit and watch while this man and his minions go ever farther in their efforts to bully the rest of the world. How the hell do rational people manage to have a debate about important issues anymore? How do we prevent the downhill slide which threatens to take our public discourse past the point of no return, where it doesn’t even matter if you got your point across, as long as you pissed somebody off?
See, thinking about this stuff is why I’m so tired. I genuinely want to think that people on both sides of the political spectrum can see how bad this atmosphere has become for democracy in America, and that they can all agree that something needs to change for the benefit of the country we all love. I want to believe that in the worst way. I’m just not sure I can.
There is a lot of evidence that we’ve already gone over the cliff. The divisive rhetoric that has grown louder and uglier over the past dozen years or so…the way our Congress ignores the public good in order to focus on scoring points for their own party…the seemingly bottomless well of disrespect and name-calling that we use when we disagree with each other…and now this, Limbaugh’s “slut” heard round the world.
It just makes me so damn negative, even though I try to find reasons to hope. When I speak face to face with people who might not share my views (and I do have that opportunity pretty regularly), I sometimes get fooled into thinking that maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is. In those one-on-one situations, I find that those who would argue with me still realize that I’m not a total idiot, and that straightforward conversations are more worthwhile than insults and anger. I always feel the same about them. And by the time we finish talking, there’s usually at least some little patch of common ground we can both share.
But we don’t live in a one-on-one world. We rarely have these discussions with people we actually know. We think of those who hold opinions different from our own as faceless enemies. We live in a world of blogs and anonymous website comments and call-in talk shows and angry mobs, where we aren’t ashamed to be the sort of asshats that we would want to punch if we ran into them ourselves in a bar. We lose our humanity in those settings, which brings us back to Rush Limbaugh.
A man who sits in a closed-off room with a microphone, yabbering on at millions of people he doesn’t see, doesn’t know, and doesn’t want to know – this is a man for whom the concept of simple human decency is basically irrelevant. As long as he has a platform from which to speak and he continues to get the reactions he wants from both his fans and his enemies, he’ll be just fine. I can understand why he has no trouble sleeping at night, despite the things he says on his show every day. He thinks this is all a game, set up for his financial benefit and his personal amusement. It’s impossible to gauge how much of his words reflect the way he really thinks or feels. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is how the rest of us who live in the real world act toward each other when we disagree. And if we allow Limbaugh and other puppet-masters like him to manipulate the path of political discussion in this country, then we have no right to call ourselves a democracy anymore. I’d like to think we’re better than that, but after watching the reactions to Limbaugh’s comments this week among the media and the general public, I just don’t know that we are.