Christopher Hitchens interview on the Clintons (1999)

Christopher Hitchens interview on the Clintons (1999)

The Life and Death of a Woman-Hater

Rush Limbaugh made the G.O.P. the party of misogyny.

When the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh died on Wednesday of complications from cancer, he ended a decades-long career as one of the most malignant and sadistic figures on the right.

His contributions to contemporary conservatism encouraged members of the Republican Party base to be meaner, smaller and more vulgar. He anchored his banter with a steady stream of invective, by turns promoting xenophobia, racism, homophobia and misogyny, teeing up a ready-made audience for the cruelty politics of Donald Trump.

But perhaps one of Mr. Limbaugh’s most significant and longest-lasting impacts, and one that will persist even if the party returns to a post-Trump “normal,” stemmed from his loud opposition to women’s rights: He was the right wing’s misogynist id.

His belligerent chauvinism was key in making the Republican Party the party of anti-feminism. Cracking open his slobbering hatred of women allows insight into his success, as well as the perversion of the party he championed.

Mr. Limbaugh burst on the national scene in the late 1980s during a national anti-feminist backlash and as the Republican Party was completing its turn away from libertarianism and toward the religious right. While he often gave rhetorical nods to the “pro-family” traditional values of the Moral Majority, he didn’t adopt its veneer of propriety — he was positively

But perhaps one of Mr. Limbaugh’s most significant and longest-lasting impacts, and one that will persist even if the party returns to a post-Trump “normal,” stemmed from his loud opposition to women’s rights: He was the right wing’s misogynist id.

His belligerent chauvinism was key in making the Republican Party the party of anti-feminism. Cracking open his slobbering hatred of women allows insight into his success, as well as the perversion of the party he championed.

Mr. Limbaugh burst on the national scene in the late 1980s during a national anti-feminist backlash and as the Republican Party was completing its turn away from libertarianism and toward the religious right. While he often gave rhetorical nods to the “pro-family” traditional values of the Moral Majority, he didn’t adopt its veneer of propriety — he was positively lascivious in his rhetoric, using ugliness and shock to promote embittered and unvarnished sexism, and he saw a world of opportunity in the party. Republicans, in turn, saw opportunity in him.

Mr. Limbaugh’s sexist provocations were myriad. He argued that women shouldn’t be allowed on juries if “the accused is a stud.” He claimed that “feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” (He wasn’t entirely wrong about that last bit — feminists do indeed want to live in a society where women have equal rights and equal access to resources and power regardless of how men rate our attractiveness. For Mr. Limbaugh, though, this was a mark against us.)

He really hit his stride when Bill Clinton ran for office. Mr. Clinton was accompanied by a feminist wife whose biography — a successful lawyer, an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, a woman who kept her own name and identity after marriage — often set off unhinged emotional outbursts from many Republicans, including Mr. Limbaugh.

Attacking Hillary Clinton in some of the ugliest terms possible became Mr. Limbaugh’s bread and butter, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that sustained his show through three decades. He helped build a cottage industry of Hillary-hate, insisting Mrs. Clinton had a “testicle lockbox” — a theme that, during her first presidential campaign, surfaced among opportunistic vendors selling Hillary nutcrackers.

As Mr. Trump would later, Mr. Limbaugh had Mrs. Clinton, and the conservative public’s insatiable appetite for attacks on her, partly to thank for his success. And like Mr. Trump, Mr. Limbaugh then further wielded his huge platform to threaten and denigrate smart, ambitious, politically involved women.

In 1992, Mr. Limbaugh introduced the term “feminazi,” a pejorative he assigned women who spoke out for their own rights generally, and for abortion rights specifically. It was his preferred term, he said, for “women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day Holocaust: abortion.”

Girls were not spared his ire. Mr. Limbaugh told viewers of his television show in 1993: “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” And he held up a photograph of Chelsea Clinton, who at the time was just 13 years old. Two decades later, as he established a steady patter of racist and misogynistic hate aimed at Barack and Michelle Obama, Mr. Limbaugh took to calling Mrs. Obama “Moochelle,” reinforcing the idea that women are only as valuable as their looks — a rule that he did not seem to apply to men.

That Mr. Limbaugh’s fortunes grew with this kind of extreme and schlocky rhetoric, could not have been lost on conservative politicians. The victories of the civil rights and feminist movements in the 1960s and ’70s had forced a great reorganization in American politics, with the Republican Party seizing opportunities for growth among whites angry about progress toward racial equality, and among men who resented women’s changing roles and growing power in the workplace, society and the family.

Mr. Limbaugh was the ur-character of this new kind of conservative Republican: one who spoke out loudly for traditional values — which in this case meant male authority over women — as well as the cultural, political and economic dominance of whites. But unlike many Republican politicians, he eschewed dog whistles and code words in favor of unvarnished bigotry. His talk radio show soon became the most popular in America, riding a wave of white male resentment as well as helping to stoke it.

Aware of his reach, Republican politicians began competing for his listeners’ votes. That meant firmly solidifying themselves as opponents of women’s rights, privacy and progress.

As much as moderate Republicans may have publicly, at least occasionally, wrung their hands over Mr. Limbaugh’s boorishness, they were happy to support his politics. Perhaps the best case study of Mr. Limbaugh’s grotesque efforts happened in 2012, after Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, testified before Congress to urge mandatory coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act, which many congressional Republicans opposed.

Mr. Limbaugh gleefully spent days maligning Ms. Fluke on his show. “It makes her a slut, right?” he said. “It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

Mr. Limbaugh offered to buy women at Georgetown aspirin to put between their knees. “Feminazis,” Mr. Limbaugh luridly admonished them, “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.”

This from a man who had been detained at an airport with a prescription, not in his name, for Viagra, a sexual aid typically paid for by health insurance, and who trumpeted the importance of traditional family values before he died childless and on his fourth marriage to a much younger woman.

But this is not surprising. Mr. Limbaugh promoted double standards that punish women (and gay men) for sexual activity while applauding straight men for the same; he excused cruelty by white men as entertainment while feigning outrage at any hint of incivility and impropriety from those speaking out against it. Mr. Limbaugh’s fans and defenders have carried on these hypocrisies after his death, admonishing critics for speaking ill of a man who used to hold on-air celebrations of AIDS-related deaths.

Different kinds of sexism reinforce one and other. There’s hostile misogyny, the sort advanced by men like Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Trump berating women with sexist slurs, or, at the most extreme, in men who beat, rape and kill women and girls. And there’s benevolent misogyny, which clothes itself as chivalry and tradition and which stereotypes women as uniquely moral and pure.

But for benevolent sexism to be effective in enticing women to participate in their own subjugation, hostile sexism has to be a looming threat. This is where Mr. Limbaugh played such an important role in American conservatism: He gave voice to the malicious misogyny that was always at the foundation of conservative anti-feminist policy.

Indeed, Mr. Limbaugh was so blatantly racist and sexist that he made the race- and gender-based hostilities of mainstream conservatism look more reasonable by comparison. He made hostile misogyny so normal on the reactionary right that Donald Trump, who shocked uninitiated liberals, sounded downright familiar to anyone tuned into right-wing radio.

No wonder the attempts in 2016 to kneecap Mr. Trump’s candidacy by pointing to his disparaging comments about women and his boasting about sexual assault were largely impotent. In Rush country, that’s daily entertainment.

This has all worked out well for the Republican Party, which benefited from Mr. Limbaugh’s misogyny as much as it was shaped by it. Take Mr. Limbaugh’s attacks on Ms. Fluke, who became a national figure in the first place because Republicans held a hearing on contraception and then allowed only men to speak. She testified before a Democratic committee a week later, about Georgetown’s policy of refusing to cover contraception in its student health plans.

Even students who had been prescribed contraceptives to treat medical conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, Ms. Fluke said, were denied coverage because the insurance company argued they might be using the drugs to avoid pregnancy. That’s when Mr. Limbaugh took to the airwaves to demean her. He was met with great outrage.

The outrage, though, was directed largely at Mr. Limbaugh, and not at the Republicans whose party once embraced family planning (George H.W. Bush was so passionate about the issue he was nicknamed “Rubbers”). A few Republicans gently clucked their tongues at Mr. Limbaugh’s vulgarity, but the party pressed on with its anti-contraception policy agenda anyway.

Republicans lined up behind Mr. Limbaugh’s basic premise: that contraception is permission for female promiscuity, the public shouldn’t pay for it and employers have a right to refuse women health care if they believe it would enable female immorality. His loyal base seemed frankly ebullient that someone had put a promising young woman in her place by sexually humiliating her on a national stage.

For feminists, Ms. Fluke was a hero. But a few years after her testimony, the Supreme Court held that an employer who objected on religious grounds could be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health care plans cover contraception. Democrats won the news cycle, but Republicans won the game.

Mr. Limbaugh didn’t create right-wing misogyny or hate speech. But he did more than his part to reinforce and expand it. In 2017, a man in Mr. Limbaugh’s viciously misogynist mold was installed in the presidency even after calling women pigs and dogs, and even after he was caught on tape boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.

Mr. Trump is out of the White House, and Mr. Limbaugh is dead. But the animus that animated the Limbaughian, Trumpian public remains, and the misogyny that financed Mr. Limbaugh’s plush lifestyle, padded his $85 million a year salary and won him a Presidential Medal of Freedom will be difficult to unwind.

In the aftermath of a disastrous presidency, some Republicans may think they’re choosing between being the party of Trump and Limbaugh, the party of unapologetic hatreds and white resentment, or of being the party of Ronald Reagan, the party of freedom and family values.

But the two have long been intertwined, aiding and abetting each other. When the Limbaughs and the Trumps of the party offered their fans rank chauvinism and abject bigotry, they created more space for family-friendly sexism to be built into conservative policy.

That is Mr. Limbaugh’s legacy: not his crass language, but his militant anti-feminism, and how effective he was at ensuring that misogyny translated into policy. The Republicans who say they want their party back from the carnival barkers of bigotry need to reject more than profane words and an uncouth political aesthetic. They need to turn away from the ugly ideology that undergirds it all, which was always foul, whether or not the language was polite.

 

Thomas Frank on Fake Populism & Silicon Valley Fantasies | Useful Idiots

Thomas Frank rejoins the show to talk about the past, present, and future of the Democratic party. Hosts Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper look into the Trump rallies planned for this weekend.

The Vainglorious Eternals Go Golfing

There is always a photograph, and so naturally there is a photograph. This one was taken during the summer of 2008, on a golf course owned by President Donald Trump in New York’s Westchester County. Despite whatever accidental prescience the image might since seem to have acquired, the photo itself was and remains just what it is: artless proof that some wealthy and powerful men—in this case Rudolph Giuliani, Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Clinton—had at some point posed together on a golf course with their respective Big Bertha drivers out.

It’s the sort of photo that the principal figures have had taken thousands of times over the course of their public lives and equally public retirements. For people of this stature, taking pictures like this with other members of their micro-caste of puffy swells—variously seared pink or golden brown, buzzcut and triangular or pillowy and spheroid, foreign or domestic—is something like their job. There’s no aesthetic merit to these photos, which invariably involve three or four or more pairs of golf shoes and varying shades of incipient sunburn—and sometimes, as this one does, multiple pairs of centimillionaire knees. Aesthetic merit of course plays no role in the staging of such photos; rather, they serve to document a convergence of egos and interests. In functional terms, they mark a random historical moment in roughly the same way and for roughly the same reasons that hostage-takers photograph their captives holding up the front page of a given day’s newspaper. Everyone in the shot can point to it as proof of themselves being in the proper company and the correct milieu. Images like this do not exist to be looked at so much as they exist to be seen, or noticed.

And that’s what we have here. Giuliani, far left, looks as ever as if he has somehow been spilled into his clothes; he is turned such that he is grimacing towards a camera that no one else is facing. Trump is halfway into or out of a grin, and sagging to leeward like a butter sculpture left out in the sun. A head shorter and directly to Trump’s left, Bloomberg is trim, mirthless, and more deeply tan than any public official has a right to be. Bill Clinton had not at this point embarked on his vegan glow-up, and so looks jocular and fluffy in shorts and a pastel golf shirt with implausibly girthsome sleeves. Most versions of this photo that have circulated over the days since Bloomberg announced his interest in joining the field of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination crop former Yankees Manager Joe Torre and professional Yankees fan Billy Crystal out of the photo entirely, even though the picture was taken at Torre’s own charity golf event.

That is rude, but it fits. Characters like Torre and Crystal are incidental to photos like this, or anyway useful mostly as local color, or a spritz of local flavor atop the expensive lobes of foie gras at the center of the image. The photos are proof that various powerful people once stood next to each other, more or less as peers, and they are to be hung up like a diploma—something for guests to see on the wall of a long corridor in some cold and fancified house, or notice in an office in which, as a matter of course, no actual work gets done. A bunch of rich old men, together, their respective pendulous drivers arrayed before them such that their identical heads are nearly touching, but not quite. Well, doesn’t that beat all?

In a better world, such photos might still exist. The people in them would not have become nearly as rich or unaccountable or powerful as they are in this one, but there’s no reason to think that they would not have found each other in some refrigerated clubhouse or hotel dining room or breakout session or cigar bar. In that world, these men would not be any better than they are in this one, because they are what they are by nature—mutants of appetite and ego, and outliers from the rest of humanity in terms of both the depth and the breadth of their need. But in that other world, in which they are merely rich and terrible, they would threaten only the good times of the other people sharing those spaces with them.

In this one, though, these vainglorious eternals somehow shamble on atop the culture even in their curdling dotage. From that commanding position they do what they do—pursue their endless blowsy feuds, scheme and carp, watch television and go on television and, where the opportunity presents itself, blithely commit various high crimes and misdemeanors. Far above the struggle and insecurity of everyday life, these brittle titans squabble and gossip and go through acrimonious and highly public divorces; for all the ways in which the toxic runoff of inequality can currently be felt in the culture, the fact that the cheesy churn of rich and petty men drifting into and pissily out of each other’s good graces now so distorts our politics is among the most enervating. It is one thing to see so much of our popular culture narrowing and flattening to suit various billionaires’ crude and idle whims, but it’s something else to realize that the political life of the richest and most powerful country on earth is in large part determined by the spats and obsessions of a super-class of aged and lazy lords, all of whom consider themselves peers of each other and virtually no one else.

It’s not a constitutionally enumerated power of the office, but presidents invariably shape the culture in ways that reflect their own values or anti-values, politics, and vibe. Clinton’s America applauded itself from the apex of boomer self-assurance; Bush’s was gilded and blustering and fragile, both strident and utterly bereft of ideas; Obama’s was cosmopolitan and smart from afar and naively inclined to assume facts not in evidence about the trajectories of various important things. It makes sense that Donald Trump’s America would be just the country for these old men—that the machinations and endless feuds of the tabloid undead would crowd and then devour everything else.

If Trump has values beyond the protection and promotion of his hideous and hungry self, they are these tabloid-driven rules of engagement. If Trump has peers—if there are people that matter to him beyond those who might be instrumentalized to advance his pursuit of more of everything—these are those people. Bloomberg will not be the next president of the United States, because virtually no one alive wants him to serve in that role. And yet he and his untouchable peers, who have been allowed through various long-standing failures to have so much more than any person ever should, will spend millions of dollars not in pursuit of any particular set of policies or even the office itself, but out of habit. Look at that photo again, and it is clear that none of the people in it are really friends—but just as important, they’re not enemies in any meaningful way, either. If you know the roles they play in our politics, the people in the photo seem like an unlikely foursome—the lumpy blowhards who backed into fascism for lack of any conviction deeper than a distaste for those with less than them, grinning alongside the savviest and most state-of-the-art ur-moderates. Someone who didn’t understand how weak everything around them had become, or how high these duffers had been allowed to rise as a result, might just look at the photo and see some old guys heading out to play some golf, and maybe bet a little something on the outcome to make things interesting.

Jeffrey Epstein with TrueAnon’s Liz Franczak, Plus Elizabeth Warren’s Dog | Useful Idiots

Matt and Katie dive deep into the reopening of the Epstein saga with Liz Franczak from TrueAnon

Steve Kornacki, “The Red and The Blue”

Steve Kornacki discusses his book, “The Red and The Blue, at Politics and Prose on 10/5/18. Kornacki’s lively political history of the 1990s is both an absorbing chronicle of the parallel rises of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich and a look at some of the key events, debates, and figures that laid the ground for today’s political landscape. In many cases—Trump, Schumer, Hillary Clinton—the cast of characters overlaps both eras. Kornacki, national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, shows how, for instance, Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential bid gave Trump his first taste of electoral politics in 1999, and how Hillary Clinton’s role in the 1998 midterm elections put her on track to run for the Senate two years later. Kornacki is in conversation with Hallie Jackson, NBC’s chief White House correspondent.