It’s been well over a week since a conservative radio host launched intoÂ a not-uncommon series of misogynisitic ad feminam attacksÂ against a womenÂ speaking onÂ an issue ofÂ concern to women.Â Â The woman, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law student,Â was invitedÂ by CongressÂ toÂ speak on the issue of mandatedÂ contraception coverage for women.Â Â The relevantÂ part of herÂ remarks can be read here.
Rush Limbaugh has such a long history of dishonesty and abuse that his viewsÂ no longer deserveÂ rational analysis.Â I’m sorry for theÂ millions of listenersÂ who listen to him.Â I’m especially sorryÂ for those who listen only becauseÂ they find his brand of humor funny.Â Â It’s best, I think, notÂ to develop a taste for certain things.
Some people defending Limbaugh, on the other hand, do warrant discussion.Â Â Here isÂ fairly well knownÂ professorÂ ofÂ 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. Flukeâ€™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, herÂ position â€” which is whatâ€™s at issue here â€” 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 donâ€™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 elseâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 howÂ so many of our debates concern the rules ofÂ our debates.Â Many claim–correctly in my view–thatÂ Limbaugh brokeÂ basic argument rules,Â distorting a person’s words to malign her (fallacious ad hominem attacks, straw men, etc.).Â Â This fellow,Â Steven Landsburg, inexplicably, thinksÂ Limbaugh hasÂ not in factÂ done this, but has rather zeroed in on the critical issue–whetherÂ you and IÂ should pay for this woman to have sex.
That, however,Â wasn’t nearly the point of Limbaugh’s 46 or so tirades.Â Â 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 LandsburgÂ thinks only the wordÂ “slut” was out of order.
Thereâ€™s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a â€œslutâ€ because, he says, sheâ€™s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word â€œslutâ€ connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been â€œprostituteâ€ (or a five-letter synonymÂ therefor), but thatâ€™s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that thereâ€™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 â€œextortionistâ€. Or better yet, â€œextortionist with an overweening sense of entitlementâ€. Is there a single word for that?
I’mÂ sad for this guy’s students, his department, and his university.