Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two villains and no hero

As a conservative blogger who writes for a liberal audience, I feel duty-bound to address this week's Rush Limbaugh quagmire, even though its a sticky issue I wish I could just avoid. In this tale, both sides are wrong in their own way.

Here's the narrative my dear friends on the left believe happened: College student Sandra Fluke spoke before congress advocating that all insurance plans should cover birth control, and conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for being on birth control and advocating its use.

The real story is very different, but it still ends with Rush Limbaugh shamefully using the word "slut." I am not going to ignore the negative response I felt this week when I read the transcript of his full comment, which can be heard here. I do enjoy listening to Rush, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly occasionally and I make no apologies for that, and I still feel Rush crossed the line here. This entry is not to excuse his words, but to put them in their proper context and correct the misinformation.

After initially being denied a chance to speak, activist Sandra Fluke spoke before congress advocating a federal mandate that all health insurance programs should be required to provide birth control to women without copayments. Then she made a claim no reasonable person could believe is true.

I've written several times about why I oppose health insurance mandates because they drive up the cost of health care, forcing more people to be uninsured. Insurance is about spreading out risk, not about creating a club where routine services are provided. My opposition is to the mandate, not the service being mandated.

Yet that's what the left is claiming this is about. I am being told that my stance is secretly against birth control and contraceptives. This couldn't be further from the truth, I support keeping those important services legal. When a person is told obnoxious lies about what's in their heart, the natural response is tribalism and my brain naturally drifted towards making a full defense of Rush. However, I was able to keep in mind how I felt when I heard his choice of words and I have resisted the sirens call.

An important point being left out is that Rush wasn't actually saying Fluke is promiscuous. He was mocking her for a whopper she told during her congressional testimony.

Fluke, who is about 30 and something of a lobbyist, told congress that women can spend as much as $3,000 on birth control during the three years they are in law school, and this price is too high. She gave no other numbers and tried to mislead the public into believing contraceptive costs $1,000 a year.

This is absurd. She made no attempt to prove this figure's validity and the numbers don't add up. Planned Parenthood lists a cost of $180 to $600 a year for birth control pills, and a report from U.S. News compared all rival methods and gave the range of contraceptives from $60 to $600 a year. Her numbers are inflated to the point of being a lie, and she made no attempt to explain them as outliers.

Parodies came out saying that in order to spend this much money, one would have to use massive piles of condoms. Using a high estimate of $1 for each condom, that comes out to using 2.74 condoms a day, every day, for three years.

Rush was pretending that Flukes absurd numbers were factual, not a lie, and called her that vulgar word because he saw her as claiming to be having sex several times every day with people she doesn't know well enough to ask them to chip in. He was pretending she was telling the truth and added to it, saying that if she wants other people to pay for her unreasonably high rate of contraceptive use, the public should be able to watch.

Rush issued an apology on his website, sticking to his point but apologizing for calling her a slut. I'm glad he did that. I see his only sin was being vulgar, as his joke was rational. It caught so much attention that some liberals even stopped mocking the recent death of conservative activist Andrew Breitbart in order to shame Rush for his lack of civility.

This was political opportunism, of course, and the issue has been twisted to say that it's anti-woman to oppose this new government mandate. President Barack Obama sprung this requirement on the public as a result of closed-door meetings with lobbyists like Fluke. There was no public debate on the matter.

Yet, the left has responded as if forcing all insurance programs to cover birth control is a given. Obama sprung this issue on the public, and opposing the mandate is not the same as opposing birth control. This was a story with no good guys, as one was dishonest and the other made a joke about it in bad taste.

Addendum: It just occurred to me that this is strikingly similar to when Congressman Alan Grayson called Linda Robertson a "K Street whore" on the radio. If you want to crucify Rush and still support the smug manatee, then you need to reevaluate your life.


  1. Well said, Michael. Now, when I see a similar debate on my facebook, I can avoid the online-debate sludge and just link this as a reply.
    Your previous entry "Accepting the Conservative Mantle" makes a great point about the follies of the left and right, respectively That is, when the right is incorrect, it is because they are uneducated but when the left are incorrect it is because they are purposefully twisting a story and too arrogant to admit it. I think it fits perfectly with this situation.

  2. The reason planned parenthood can provide birth control at that price is because people have insurance they can use there or they qualify for a sliding pay scale which is determined by their income, which they must prove with their last few consecutive pay-stubs. This is possible through donation and government funding. Without this funding, it would cost more for each person on the sliding scale to use this service, which would disproportionately hurt the poorest people without health insurance. No surprise there. $60 dollars every 28 days is a lot for someone who makes minimum wage, and I don't think it's really fair for outsiders to determine "what's cheap" or not for those in the lowest economic class. What's crazy about the whole thing is that Rush doesn't seem to know that having more sex does not lead to needing more birth control pills. All you need is one monogamous partner and you need to be on birth control every day, even if you only have sex once a week. That's just how it works. I feel like Rush confused BCP with the Plan B pill, as if that would be the preferred method among women (which it never would be, considering those can go up to 40 bucks a pop and are not as effective). I don't know if, as a person on the "left" that I or most of my friends would call it "anti-women" to be against the mandate, what's anti-women is the rhetoric and the fact that men were allowed to have free access to penis pumps and viagra through insurance and medicare long before this issue ever came up. It really just highlights that there is a disconnect between the rights of men and the rights of women when it comes to sexuality and insurance coverage.


  3. Case in point.

  4. Lauren, thank you for your reply. Let me address your main points.

    Planned Parenthood's own website tells women the range is $15-$50 a month - I did the math in the piece and put this as $180-$600 a year. I'm not sure where you got $60 from, but it is too high. Some people are citing $9 a month from Target.

    What's important here is that even at the far end of the sliding scale, Fluke's numbers are wrong. It also presumes that people should DEMAND that birth control is provided in the method they prefer, as if it's beneath poor people to use condoms. What rubbish!

    If someone has a monogamous partner, then they should be able to split the cost of contraception if its an issue.

    I disagree that Rush claimed more sex = more pills. Instead, the joke of 2.74 condoms a day understands that birth control pills are a flat rate in dollar-per-copulation figures, and says the only way her fake numbers are possible is if they use pay-per-copulation condoms at an absurd rate.

    As for saying that an insurance company has covered something silly in the past - you are missing the point. Individual insurance companies may have chosen the wrong order of values, but that is not the same as having a federal mandate that health insurance plans are banned unless they cover Viagra. I join you in mocking their coverage, and I would be more upset if a president mandated their coverage. You are confusing mandates for all with choices by some.

  5. I'm not confused, I understand the qualms with the mandate and how it differs from private insurance. Medicare covers these things, so that is not private insurance, not a choice by private companies, but funded for by taxes. Frankly, the only thing I think that truly stands out right now is an over representation of attacks on women's sexual health than on men's sexual health in the media, regardless of any mandate, such as slut shaming, anti-choice rhetoric and the continuous attack on contraception use by women. It is becoming a little too much like a trend, and I just don't understand why the republican party aligns itself with these misogynistic ideologies. Just trying to win religious social conservative votes I guess...

  6. I just heard a girl at work (who I doubt knows anything of this, much less cares about it) complaining about the excessive cost of certain birth control. She has cysts which factor into her costs. She didn't put a number on it all, but it isn't cheap and it isn't the expected cost for someone who is entirely healthy.

    I would be interested in seeing some real numbers on all this. All we have so far are estimates based upon condoms and calculations premised in deferred costs. There needs to be a reputable source that steps up here.

  7. To put it another way, it is wrong to say Fluke was lying when your only basis is random guessing. You don't know what birth control she used in her numbers.

  8. Ok, did some more research on the cost of birth control without insurance. Using the NuvaRing or getting Depo-Provera shots can add up to from $480 to $900 each year, depending on insurance coverage. So sure, we can pick and choose what BC that Fluke was using and on one hand, say she was having sex almost 3x a day if she was using condoms, or on the other hand, having Nuvaring or Depo-Provera and maybe her numbers were not far off. Which one is more likely?

    Either way, the fact you felt a need to defend Rush is odd. Why defend him? Why not present your arguments in a completely separate realm from Rush? Do you have to really defend him to frame your own arguments? Defending a misogynist will not win you points and does not bring any validity to possibly valid arguments. If you have valid points, accept that what he said was horrible and unnecessary, and make a blog post about your feelings on what Fluke said, framed completely outside of Rush and the backlash he is rightfully getting. His argument is framed on misogyny, and your argument is framed on defending him in a way.

    Make a blog post without mention of Rush and go from there.

  9. I titled the post "Two villains and no hero." I don't see how you interpreted this as defending him, as I repeatedly said his actions were wrong.

    I defended criticizing Fluke because people are using this as a way to avoid the underlying issue. It's also important to give the context because now the left is saying conservatives degrade women for being on birth control. That's me they are accusing.

  10. Michael, you have an underlying assumption in your argument that you're missing. We get that Limbaugh wasn't actually calling Fluke a slut - he doesn't actually believe she was having sex that often. That isn't the issue. Even if she was having that much sex, he is wrong to tell a woman (or a man) that that is too much. The "underlying assumption" in your argument is that it was okay for him to tell another person how much sex is just the right amount of sex. You were wrong to do that.

    The fact that you missed this assumption is why you've been told that you have privilege (as much as I hate the term). It isn't just that you're in a fortunate position in life (even the people who point out your 'privilege' will admit they also have their own privileges), but rather it's that you are unaware when you argue from your particular position. Telling women they can have this much or that little sex - regardless of Limbaugh's primary point - is a way to control women, to tell them how they ought to act. And yes, I think most people realize Limbaugh probably did not have that overt intention, but the fact that he had no idea that he had that exact consequence is a problem in and of itself. As a person whose ethics in life revolve around a theory of consequence (libertarianism), I think you can appreciate that.

  11. I don't see where anyone told anyone how much sex they can have and if someone did, I would join you in criticizing that view.

    I have a central philosophy that it is both just and and good for society to give individuals a large amount of control over their own lives and destinies.

  12. Of course he was saying how much sex was too much. He called her a slut because he believes that the term is apt for someone who has sex as frequently as he said Fluke did by his estimate. If he doesn't believe he can put a number on how much sex is too much sex, then he loses the entire premise for his insult.

  13. It's the liberal way. Lets take a single word and ignore any and all context and extrapolate a series large complex philosophical positions that this person takes.

    Not at all dissimilar to the situation when a conservative says they are against government funding of ________. All of the sudden, someone is screaming at you about how you hate poor people, blacks, Asians, Jews, gays, women, and(insert ANY minority group here, all from simply saying the government shouldn't fund abortion or something.

    Here again, Rush should have said something else, but the usage of the word "slut" in no way means he is a sexist, hates women, thinks a certain amount of sex makes a person the devil, is against birth control, wants poor people to be "punished" by having a child or took part in the holocaust.

    There is simply more evidence that gravity is a vast government conspiracy then for any of those things I listed being true about Rush. Now he may indeed be all of those things, but I need a little more evidence then his calling a woman who was claiming to have spent a fortune on birth control a slut. Her claims of course have lead to the humorous theoretical points about her having sex about 2.64 times a day or up to 6 times a day by a guy who used bulk condoms prices online. It's not a big leap to say "slut" is an apt definition when you have just finished talking about those funny points.

    Not that he should have said it. but there truly is no legitimate reason to be outraged for longer then it takes to brew a pot of coffee.

  14. "It's the liberal way."

    When you start off your post with words like that, I assume that you have really nothing valuable to add. It's too bad, because I largely agree with your point and Michaels', but it gets lost in your pompous attitude.

  15. Again, the word "slut" doesn't even make sense as an insult if it doesn't imply such a thing as too much sex. This isn't about deriving complex philosophical positions or anything like that. At this point it's just about basic reading comprehension.

  16. Matt, I didn't intend to be pompous, I never do, I just love snarkiness so much I usually can't help myself. In this case, we are largely talking about liberals, but I just as easily could have said "it's the way of politics", and it is, both sides do it, but it's not as snarky that way.

    Michael Hawkins, I just don't see how that matters. You are just determined to paint this as a case of a moral position being taken, that of "women can have too much sex", when it isn't about that at all, and someone with a basic level of reading comprehension should notice that in no story was the entirety of what he said quoted.

    So, again, perhaps he shouldn't have used that word, but I think "super big liar lady" misses the point that this was about sex, specifically the mandatory requirement that some people should be made to pay for the sexual pleasure and safety of others.

  17. Your first position was that his language did not imply anything other than his primary point that he thought Fluke's numbers were ridiculous/made-up. Now your position is that it doesn't matter that his language implied such a thing as too much sex for women. Do you see how you've ceded ground here - fundamental ground on which you have built your argument? You went from saying his words had no implications other than what Nate Fellows thinks they imply to admitting that his words do have obvious implications. You even appear to have admitted that the implications are exactly as I've described.

    Why don't you just save us both some time and admit that he used the assumption that women can have too much sex as a basis for his argument?