So in the wake of the hubbub over Limbaugh's recent rhetorical excesses, there are comparisons to Bill Maher and Ed Schultz, two liberals who used insulting terms to refer to women, and the lack of outrage on the left they stirred. It's gotten to it's surrealistic zenith with Stanley Fish's bizarre attempt to justify the double standard (see this thread at EconLib
). So lets' look at what these guys said and attempt to gauge what the outrage level should be for each.
Ed Schultz, on his radio program, referred to Laura Ingraham as a "right-wing slut". What he said fully was "President Obama is going to be visiting Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, but you know what [Republicans are] talking about, like this right-wing slut, what’s her name? Laura Ingraham? Yeah, she’s a talk slut. You see, she was, back in the day, praising President Reagan when he was drinking a beer overseas. But now that Obama’s doing it, they’re working him over." So the initial "right-wing slut" comment sounds like he slipped and said what he really thought
, then quickly covered up with the "talk slut" trope to suggest he only meant that she was changing her arguments to fit who was in charge. So he basically used a "sexist" term to refer to a rival.
Bill Maher referred to Sarah Palin as a "c---" and a "dumb twat". I can't find the exact context of these terms, but they were used in his stand-up act. It seems highly likely that the only point to using these terms were to shock the audience with an extreme insult. Maher assures us
that the word usage was appropriate as his audience was unanimous in their approval. "The bit I did about Palin using the word c--- was one of the biggest laughs in my act, I did it all over the country, not one person ever registered disapproval." Wow - hard to believe that Maher's crowd of trained seals barked and hooted their approval in unison at one of his snarky, smug one-liners.
Limbaugh referred to Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute," his point being that she was demanding that other people pay for her freedom to have sex. Taking the analogy to an extreme, he was basically asserting that she needed to spend several thousand dollars on birth control so that she could have lots
of sex, which doesn't necessarily follow. Still, his point was obviously rhetorical - he was clearly not referring to any specific behavior, but was analogizing her demand for free birth control to a prostitute demanding payment for sex.
So how do these transgressions compare? I believe that Schultz initially referred to Ingraham gratuitously as a slut, but since he quickly covered his tracks and restated the insult as a metaphor, his only real transgression is using an insulting word that should not be used in a public forum. The word "whore" is better suited for such uses (though not without its pitfalls).
Limbaugh's use was rhetorical and not intended to directly impugn her character but instead to make a mockery of her political position. It was rather juvenile, surely, but in no way "slanderous." Again, the word "slut" should never be used in public forums, so he deserves condemnation for that. It is further asserted that Sandra Fluke is a private citizen and "law student" undeserving of such vitriolic attack. But of course she took very affirmative steps to inject herself into this debate, and made the preposterous assertion that she needs to spend over $1000 a year on birth control and couldn't possibly afford that given her attendance at a $30,000 per year law school. And since when does "law student" equate to fragile waif? She's going to get a lot worse real soon - she needs to toughen up.
As for Maher, the only redeeming aspect is that he used these terms as part of a stage show, where extreme language is more accepted. Still, it is symptomatic of his inane debating style - use quick-witted insults aimed at his opponents and let his well-disciplined audience to hoot and hiss on cue.
So in sum, I don't think any of them deserve to be silenced or banned. While Maher's insults are clearly outside the bounds of decent, civilized discourse, the fundamental problem there is that he is taken seriously at all - he's a comedian, period. Limbaugh's rhetoric is often quite juvenile, and here is another example. Again, a bit too much serious attention is paid to the man. Ideally, this incident should have illustrated for many that his word should not be taken as gospel - unfortunately, in the furor, his adherents are no doubt circling the wagons rather than re-thinking their adulation. And Ed Schultz - oh who cares, really?