A couple of weeks ago, accosted on the street by paparazzi, MSNBC talk-show host Alec Baldwin spontaneously uncorked a homophobic slur. The result: The network kicked him off the air, for good.
At about the same time, another MSNBC host, Martin Bashir, delivered a scripted on-air commentary in which he said that somebody should urinate and defecate in Sarah Palin’s mouth. The result: He had to apologize.
Last year, Rush Limbaugh called a young woman who testified to a congressional committee in support of Obamacare a “slut.” Result: President Obama phoned her to say that Limbaugh’s remarks “don’t have any place in the public discourse” and he didn’t want his daughters to grow up in a country that tolerated that kind of insult.
Meanwhile, comedian Bill Maher, who contributed a cool $1 million to political action committees supporting Obama’s reelection, repeatedly referred to Palin, both on his HBO show and in his stand-up routine, as “a dumb [four-letter-word-for-ladyparts].” For good measure, he attacked Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum by saying his wife uses a vibrator. Result: The president was profoundly silent.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, NBC reporter David Shuster, during a talk show, spoke disapprovingly of Hillary Clinton’s use of her daughter Chelsea to seek celebrity endorsements. “Chelsea’s sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way,” he suggested. Result: NBC suspended Shuster for two weeks.
During the campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann appeared on NBC’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. As she walked on stage, Fallon’s house band played a song called Lyin’ Ass Bitch. Result: NBC named Fallon the next host of The Tonight Show.
Oddly, when I hear progressives talk about The War On Women, they never mention any of these incidents. To them, “war” is any form of public resistance to the creation of new government-mandated entitlements. Catholics who don’t want to have to subsidize abortions are committing the moral equivalent of Pearl Harbor.
But sexualizing insults of women, using their gender to discredit their ideas, doesn’t even rise to the level of a skirmish — at least not when the ideas are conservative. When Limbaugh made his single coarse, stupid remark, the criticism was deafening. But Maher’s repeated abuse of Palin only brings him more fans. In fact, on the rare occasions when anyone brings him to task, that’s Maher’s defense.
“I let the audience be the guide,” Maher bragged to television newsman Jake Tapper. “The bit I did about Palin using the word [bleep] — one of the biggest laughs in my act. I did it all over the country, not one person ever registered disapproval.”
No doubt Maher is accurately reporting the reaction of his fans, who also rallied around him a couple of weeks after Sept. 11, when he praised the bravery of hijackers for their sneak attack on innocent civilians (about a quarter of them women, incidentally).
But the sad fact is the war on conservative women has spread into the progressive rank-and-file. The political postings on Twitter and Facebook or liberal websites like the Huffington Post read like absurd parodies of 1950s locker-room misogyny. And it doesn’t take a political lightning rod to set them off, either.
Last year, when Ann Romney did a round of appearances to offer her unshocking opinion that her husband would make a good president, Twitter exploded with vitriol that is literally indescribable, at least in a newspaper where editors are watching. The most remotely printable one I noted at the time was, “You filthy billionaire whore!”
You’d think progressive women, many of whom sense lurking sexism in the word “ history” or “hu manity,” would get it: that rebutting a woman’s ideas by referring to her genitalia or sexual attractiveness (Playboy magazine once ran a list of female conservatives that assigned each what it called a “hate [fornication] rating”) is an insult to all women, regardless of their politics. If the vagina is an emblem of stupidity, it must be as true of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi as it is of Bachmann and Palin.
But that doesn’t seem to be true. Cher, who fashions herself as the political conscience of the nation, or at least the part of it that still listens to disco music (she famously tweeted that no decent person would breathe the same air as Mitt Romney “and his Right Wing Racist Homophobic Women Hating Tea Bagger Masters”) recently declared that Palin’s picture could be found in the dictionary under “the dumb C word.” And she didn’t mean “cat.”
This from a woman who, by her own admission, was shocked to learn that the faces on Mount Rushmore aren’t natural rock formations. If we’re going to be using a dumb C word, I vote for Cher.