In one of his most dubious arguments by analogy, Rush Limbaugh has compared the end of the filibuster on cabinet appointees and judicial nominees to the possibility that rape could be legally condoned. Here is a transcript of his comments on his radio show:
“”Forget the Senate for a minute. Let’s say, let’s take 10 people in a room, and they’re a group. And the room is made up of six men and four women. Right? The group has a rule that the men cannot rape the women. The group also has a rule that says any rule that will be changed must require six votes of the 10 to change the rule.
“Every now and then, some lunatic in the group proposes to change the rule to allow women to be raped. But they never were able to get six votes for it. There were always the four women voting against it and they always found two guys.
“Well, the guy that kept proposing that women be raped finally got tired of it, and he was in the majority, and he was one that [said], ‘You know what? We’re going to change the rule. Now all we need is five.’ “And well, ‘you can’t do that.’ ‘Yes, we are. We’re the majority. We’re changing the rule.’
“And then they vote. Can the women be raped? Well, all it would take then is half of the room. You can change the rule to say three. You can change the rule to say three people want it, it’s going to happen. There’s no rule when the majority can change the rules, there aren’t any.”
According to Politico, Limbaugh concluded the segment by asserting that the primary reason that the Senate’s Democratic leadership has resorted to the “nuclear option” is that President Obama “’can’t get what he wants democratically.’”
The problem with the politicization of the classroom and, paradoxically, the impetus to avoid politically charged topics in classroom discussions is that this kind of excremental public discourse, which ought to provide an opportunity to demonstrate the civic value of critical thinking, seldom becomes the focus of discussion.
But even our least engaged students should be able to recognize that five votes out of ten is never a majority and, perhaps with some minimal assistance, that the far-fetched possibility of legally condoned rape and the previously routine approval of cabinet appointees and judicial nominees are not at all analogous.
Our more engaged students should be able to consider the analogy within the broader context of Limbaugh’s previously controversial comments about women—most notably, the controversy stemming from his calling graduate student Sandra Fluke a “slut” because she testified before Congress on the importance of insurance coverage for birth control—and in the broader context of the Republican party’s “war on women.” Those students will grasp that although the analogy might very superficially seem to reflect a concern about women, its absurdity actually serves to trivialize the topic of rape, and the analogy is therefore grossly insensitive to the concerns of all women and to the trauma experienced by the victims of rape.
There are at least four other issues here that ought to be pointed out in such a discussion.
First, these comments have not provoked anywhere near the level of controversy that the comments about Sandra Fluke provoked, probably because those comments were perceived as an attack on an individual, rather than simply a broader insensitivity to women’s rights. But the selectivity of media coverage and the patterns of behavior that typically lead up to what, in isolation, might seem singular lapses in judgment are also worth noting.
Second, Limbaugh stokes his audience by being deliberately controversial. So as soon as he uses a word such as “rape,” his audience knows that he is courted liberal criticism, and that baiting of his critics is a major part of his appeal. So, if his critics pay attention but their criticism seems ineffectual, the notion of his considerable political influence is reinforced, and if his critics remain silent, he appears unassailable.
Third, the demonization of President Obama is a major undercurrent of this diatribe, though it emerges only at the end, where the point of the analogy is “explained” to anyone who may have missed the point. Obama is against “democracy.” It doesn’t matter that the filibuster was being used to obstruct majority vote and that majority vote is clearly more an expression of democracy than the filibuster is. That Obama is undemocratic remains the unchallenged underlying assumption as well as the conclusion reached.
And, lastly, and I am sure that Limbaugh would shriek at this suggestion, the diatribe ultimately links a discussion of rape with President Obama in a racially charged way. Obama is after all the one behind the end of the filibuster, and, in the analogy, the filibuster is what is preventing women from being raped. So, Obama wants to see women raped. If the rhetoric of the Far Right were not as consistently racially charged as it has been, this suggestion would indeed be quite a reach. But as I illustrated in a previous post, “Hating a Black President Isn’t Necessarily Racist” (you have to read the subtitle) and as I plan to illustrate in an upcoming series on the pervasive race baiting on some Far Right media sites, it becomes harder to say that such a derogatory and, historically, such a racially charged association is purely accidental when in so many other instances the racial demonization of this president has been so pointedly deliberate.