It’s been well over a week since a conservative radio host launched into a not-uncommon series of misogynisitic ad feminam attacks against a women speaking on an issue of concern to women. The woman, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law student, was invited by Congress to speak on the issue of mandated contraception coverage for women. The relevant part of her remarks can be read here.
Rush Limbaugh has such a long history of dishonesty and abuse that his views no longer deserve rational analysis. I’m sorry for the millions of listeners who listen to him. I’m especially sorry for those who listen only because they find his brand of humor funny. It’s best, I think, not to develop a taste for certain things.
Some people defending Limbaugh, on the other hand, do warrant discussion. Here is fairly well known professor of economics at the University of Rochester, Steve Landsburg.
Rush Limbaugh is under fire for responding in trademark fashion to the congressional testimony of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who wants you to pay for her contraception. If the rest of us are to share in the costs of Ms. Fluke’s sex life, says Rush, we should also share in the benefits, via the magic of online video. For this, Rush is accused of denying Ms. Fluke her due respect.
But while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatsoever. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it.
To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.
It is funny how so many of our debates concern the rules of our debates. Many claim–correctly in my view–that Limbaugh broke basic argument rules, distorting a person’s words to malign her (fallacious ad hominem attacks, straw men, etc.). This fellow, Steven Landsburg, inexplicably, thinks Limbaugh has not in fact done this, but has rather zeroed in on the critical issue–whether you and I should pay for this woman to have sex.
That, however, wasn’t nearly the point of Limbaugh’s 46 or so tirades. Here’s one:
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. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.
And Landsburg thinks only the word “slut” was out of order.
There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?
I’m sad for this guy’s students, his department, and his university.