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.

 

Liberaltarians

The conservative movement—and, with it, the GOP—is in disarray. Specifically, the movement’s “fusionist” alliance between traditionalists and libertarians appears, at long last, to be falling apart.

.. Libertarian disaffection should come as no surprise. Despite the GOP’s rhetorical commitment to limited government, the actual record of unified Republican rule in Washington has been an unmitigated disaster from a libertarian perspective: runaway federal spending at a clip unmatched since Lyndon Johnson; the creation of a massive new prescription-drug entitlement with hardly any thought as to how to pay for it; expansion of federal control over education through the No Child Left Behind Act; a big run-up in farm subsidies; extremist assertions of executive power under cover of fighting terrorism; and, to top it all off, an atrociously bungled war in Iraq.

This woeful record cannot simply be blamed on politicians failing to live up to their conservative principles. Conservatism itself has changed markedly in recent years, forsaking the old fusionist synthesis in favor of a new and altogether unattractive species of populism.

.. The old formulation defined conservatism as the desire to protect traditional values from the intrusion of big government; the new one seeks to promote traditional values through the intrusion of big government.

.. Just look at the causes that have been generating the real energy in the conservative movement of late: building walls to keep out immigrants, amending the Constitution to keep gays from marrying, and imposing sectarian beliefs on medical researchers and families struggling with end-of-life decisions.

.. the conservative embrace of a right-wing Leviathan has left libertarian-minded intellectuals feeling left out in the cold.

.. New York Post columnist Ryan Sager bemoaned the rise of big-government conservatism and warned that excessive pandering to evangelicals would rupture the movement.

.. Andrew Sullivan denounced the right’s fundamentalist turn in The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back.

.. 13 percent of the population, or 28 million voting-age Americans, can be fairly classified as libertarian-leaning.

.. Back in 2000, this group voted overwhelmingly for Bush, supporting him over Al Gore by a 72-20 margin.

.. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos fame caused something of a stir by proposing the term “Libertarian Democrat” to describe his favored breed of progressive.

.. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, fellow Montanan Tester, and Virginia Senator-elect Jim Webb—have sounded some libertarian themes by being simultaneously pro-choice and pro-gun rights.

.. if Democrats hope to continue appealing to libertarian-leaning voters, they are going to have to up their game. They need to ask themselves: Are we content with being a brief rebound fling for jilted libertarians, or do we want to form a lasting relationship? Let me make a case for the second option.

.. the prevailing ideological categories are intellectually exhausted. Conservatism has risen to power only to become squalid and corrupt, a Nixonian mélange of pandering to populist prejudices and distributing patronage to well-off cronies and Red Team constituencies.

.. Liberalism, meanwhile, has never recovered from its fall from grace in the mid-’60s.

.. Conservative fusionism, the defining ideology of the American right for a half-century, was premised on the idea that libertarian policies and traditional values are complementary goods.

.. But an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends.

.. many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era—the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration—were championed by the political left.

.. capitalism’s relentless dynamism and wealth-creation—the institutional safeguarding of which lies at the heart of libertarian concerns—have been pushing U.S. society in a decidedly progressive direction.

.. The civil rights movement was made possible by the mechanization of agriculture, which pushed blacks off the farm and out of the South

.. Likewise, feminism was encouraged by the mechanization of housework.

Greater sexual openness, as well as heightened interest in the natural environment, are among the luxury goods that mass affluence has purchased.

.. secularization and the general decline in reverence for authority, as rising education levels (prompted by the economy’s growing demand for knowledge workers) have promoted increasing independence of mind.

.. Yet progressives remain stubbornly resistant to embracing capitalism, their great natural ally.

.. Knee-jerk antipathy to markets and the creative destruction they bring continues to be widespread, and bitter denunciations of the unfairness of the system, mixed with nostalgia for the good old days of the Big Government/Big Labor/Big Business triumvirate, too often substitute for clear thinking about realistic policy options.

.. the rival ideologies of left and right are both pining for the ’50s. The only difference is that

  • liberals want to work there, while
  • conservatives want to go home there.

.. Both generally support a more open immigration policy. Both reject the religious right’s homophobia and blastocystophilia. Both are open to rethinking the country’s draconian drug policies. Both seek to protect the United States from terrorism without gratuitous encroachments on civil liberties or extensions of executive power. And underlying all these policy positions is a shared philosophical commitment to individual autonomy as a core political value.

.. their conceptions differ as to the chief threats to that autonomy.

  • Libertarians worry primarily about constraints imposed by government, while
  • liberals worry most about constraints imposed by birth and the play of economic forces.

.. At the same time, some of the resulting wealth-creation would be used to improve safety-net policies that help those at the bottom and ameliorate the hardships inflicted by economic change.

.. Progressive organizations like Oxfam and the Environmental Working Group have already joined with free-market groups in pushing for ag-policy reform.

.. the current subsidy programs act as a regressive tax on low-income families here at home while depressing prices for exporters in poor countries abroad—and, to top it off, the lion’s share of the loot goes to big agribusiness, not family farmers.

.. the president of Cato and the executive director of the Sierra Club have come out together in favor of a zero-subsidy energy policy.

.. cut taxes on savings and investment, cut payroll taxes on labor, and make up the shortfall with increased taxation of consumption. Go ahead, tax the rich, but don’t do it when they’re being productive. Tax them instead when they’re splurging—by capping the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and tax incentives for purchasing health insurance. And tax everybody’s energy consumption.

.. Gore has proposed a straight-up swap of payroll taxes for carbon taxes

.. Greg Mankiw has been pushing for an increase in the gasoline tax.

.. libertarians’ core commitments to personal responsibility and economy in government run headlong into progressives’ core commitments to social insurance and an adequate safety net.

.. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is now projected to increase from about 9 percent of GDP today to approximately 15 percent by 2030.

.. We can fund the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for the poor; we can fund unemployment insurance and other programs for people dislocated by capitalism’s creative destruction; we can fund public pensions for the indigent elderly; we can fund public health care for the poor and those faced with catastrophic expenses. What we cannot do is continue to fund universal entitlement programs that slosh money from one section of the middle class (people of working age) to another (the elderly)—not when most Americans are fully capable of saving for their own retirement needs.

.. Instead, we need to move from the current pay-as-you-go approach to a system in which private savings would provide primary funding for the costs of old age.

John Kelly’s defense of Trump was absurd. And he surely knows it.

But Kelly did not even deny Wilson’s basic claim, i.e., that Trump said some variation of “He knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”
.. But it’s not clear why Kelly had to go out of his way to suggest that the congresswoman was exploiting Johnson’s death, suggesting for good measure that he was so angry that he walked among the graves of fallen soldiers to cool down, and then launching into a sermon about how basic decency and traditional values are dead. “When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Kelly said, adding that “women were sacred.”
It’s odd to invoke the “sacredness” of women while defending Trump, whom multiple women have accused of sexual assault and who has repeatedly and very publicly denigrated women in horrifying ways, but Kelly is of course not responsible for Trump’s actions. What is worse is the sleight of hand Kelly used to align Trump culturally and morally with the military and the families of the fallen while casting the congresswoman as belonging to a kind of cultural category that, in the minds of people of Kelly’s generation,
.. which came of age during the country’s searing divisions over Vietnam, is characterized by empty, valueless showboating and doesn’t have sufficient respect for the military and the ultimate sacrifice made by fallen soldiers and their loved ones.
.. Whatever the truth about Wilson’s motives, the decision as to who listened in on the call was a personal one made by the next of kin. And Kelly should respect that. Instead, he helped Trump play the aggrieved party. But in this case, Trump apparently botched the call to a family. He should have known that he might be placed on speakerphone. (When you were a “kid growing up,” surely men took responsibility for their actions, right, John?)

Blue State Blues: America’s Divisions are Not Political — They’re Religious

Broadly, the Republican Party is concerned about governance. That is why, for example, repealing and replacing Obamacare is taking so long. The Republican leadership in Washington seems genuinely concerned about passing something that works.

.. The Democratic Party is often called the “party of government.” But aside from representing public sector unions, Democrats do not care about governing — at least, not anymore. To them, power is the means to achieve a kind of secular salvation: a placid world where all are equal, all needs are met, and all are validated — something like John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Many Democrats accept that the methods they use to achieve their utopia may be harsh, even violent. The ends justify the means.

.. The two parties are not clashing: they are talking past each other, and only seem to be arguing.

.. In extremis, that means taking up arms. For most Democrats, “resistance” means denying Trump’s legitimacy and denouncing the heresy of his supporters.

.. Democrats think Republicans are the religious nuts, because of the party’s stance on social issues. But even the Bible prescribes family values for reasons that are, at least in part, practical. “Honor your father and your mother,” the Bible says (Exodus 20:12), “in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you” (emphasis added, obviously).

.. Republicans believe that faith and traditional values help individuals live more fulfilling lives in an orderly society. Democrats substitute the government for God

.. They have their own internal divisions, between

  1. leftists who want the state to do everything and
  2. those who simply want to tear it down along with every other institution.

But both reject America’s founding idea of God-given individual liberty.