Thursday, March 22, 2012


I confess, I am not precisely sure where I come down on this whole issue of free speech versus civil discourse. I do think political correctness is often taken too far. I also believe that when someone with the moral authority (deserved or not) of a Rush Limbaugh, with twenty million listeners and a $50 million salary attacks a well-spoken law student for several hours, not only calling her a slut, but telling her that she can only make up for testifying before a Congressional committee on an issue he disagrees with her on, by filming herself having sex and posting the video, he is a pompous, bullying, dickhead.

Bill Maher is often used to counter what Rush did. But a comedian using offensive words to describe Sarah Palin, a powerful and popular and rich public figure who can easily defend herself, is not the same as the man often cited as the most influential figure in Republican circles picking on a heretofore anonymous law student. And Maher made his comments at a stand-up show where people paid money to see the self-described pottymouth perform. Maher had some good points on this issue in his NY Times op-ed piece:
Published: March 21, 2012
THIS week, Robert De Niro made a joke about first ladies, and Newt Gingrich said it was “inexcusable and the president should apologize for him.” Of course, if something is “inexcusable,” an apology doesn’t make any difference, but then again, neither does Newt Gingrich.

Mr. De Niro was speaking at a fund-raiser with the first lady, Michelle Obama. Here’s the joke: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

The first lady’s press secretary declared the joke “inappropriate,” and Mr. De Niro said his remarks were “not meant to offend.” So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin. And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing.

When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?

This week, President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod, described Mitt Romney’s constant advertising barrage in Illinois as a “Mittzkrieg,” and instantly the Republican Jewish Coalition was outraged and called out Mr. Axelrod’s “Holocaust and Nazi imagery” as “disturbing.” Because the message of “Mittzkrieg” was clear: Kill all the Jews. Then the coalition demanded not only that Mr. Axelrod apologize immediately but also that Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz “publicly rebuke” him. For a pun! For punning against humanity!
If it weren’t for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn’t get any exercise at all.
I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

As a writer, speaker, performer--I am vehemently opposed to censorship in any form. And maybe it all works out in the end. Rush Limbaugh certainly came out second best in his match-up with Sarah Fluke, and will probably never again have the prestige in conservative circles he built up. There was a time when good manners prevailed in politics and most other areas of American life. It's good that we are debating this now, and examining whether we sometimes just cross the line into bad taste and what used to be called gaucherie. Maybe we need to invent a new term for the kind of buffoonish behavior of Limbaugh and similar types. My suggestion, "What do you expect? He's just a gauchbag!"

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