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Rush Limbaugh and the Right-Wing Nervous Breakdown

For a Republican Party already suffering from a yawning gender gap, Limbaugh's hijacking of the news cycle last week must have been unwelcome news.
 
 
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 It turns out that even in cases of emergency, the GOP Noise Machine has no off switch.

Republicans learned that painful lesson as the Rush Limbaugh "slut" fiasco made headlines for days on end. With the Voice of the Republican Party engulfed in one of the most damaging (and self-inflicted) controversies of his career, and with parts of the GOP Noise Machine scrambling to actually defend Limbaugh, as well as to echo his misogynist taunts, it's been the larger conservative movement that has been absorbing the worst blows.

For a Republican Party already suffering from a yawning gender gap, Limbaugh's hijacking of the news cycle last week must have been unwelcome news. But this is what happens when Republicans sponsor an irresponsible media Noise Machine that's designed to offend and attack and is designed to dehumanize its political enemies. This is what happens when the wheels fall off in spectacular fashion, like Limbaugh spending three days smearing, by name, a Georgetown University Law School student as greedy nymphomaniac having so much sex "it's amazing she can still walk."

It's no secret Republican leaders live in fear of Limbaugh and over the years have found it almost impossible to publicly criticize even his most outlandish and hateful statements. Those few who did stop forward were often forced to then quickly reversed course and apologize to Limbaugh. Just like Republicans have had to bow down to kingmakers at Fox News and embrace their lowest common denominator programming.

The truth is the conservative movement in America has become a media-based one, delegating an absurd amount of influence to bloggers, cable channels and talk show hosts. In turn, that movement suffered a collective collapse last week. Incapable of self-reflection, player after player, including those at Fox News, rushed forward to condemn the law student and/or to insist the AM talker had done nothing wrong by, A) insulting the young woman, B) mocking her parents C) demanding she post videos of herself having sex online, and D) suggesting she was using condoms when she was in elementary school.

Large portions of the right-wing media complex saw nothing wrong with that kind of behavior; saw nothing wrong with the 53 bullying smears Limbaugh unloaded on the student in front of his national radio audience. Not only did they defend Limbaugh, they lashed out at anyone who suggested the titan talker lacked common sense. And then they stomped on Sandra Fluke's reputation some more.

A sample of the swill:

-Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin denounced Fluke as a "femme-agogu tool."

-The right-wing site Jawa Report illustrated a post about Fluke with a picture of a tattoo that reads "Semen Demon."

-Pam Geller wrote that Fluke is "banging it five times a day" and that "calling this whore a slut was a softball."

-Accuracy in Media's Don Irvine called her a "skank."

-Former CPAC Blogger of The Year, Ace of Spades, called Fluke a "shiftless rent-a-cooch from East Whoreville."

-Michelle Malkin guest blogger Doug Ross used "Got Slut?" in a headline and suggested Fluke suffered from "nymphomania."

-Dana Loesch complained the controversy surrounding Limbaugh's three-day "slut" campaign represented a "manufactured" story. (This, before Limbaugh responded to the "manufactured" story by issuing a rare public statement.)

This is nuts. (What word would you choose?) A law student testifies about contraception and within days conservative commentators are sprinting towards their microphones and keyboards in order to find ways to call her a slutty, semen demon?

That's what a nervous breakdown looks like and that's what has been broadcast across AM talk radio, Fox News and the Internet since last Wednesday.

Some conservative voices did acknowledge the errors of Limbaugh's ways and condemned Republicans for cozying up to him.Wall Street Journalist Peggy Noonan called his performance "crude, rude, even piggish." And on ABC's This Week, George Will coined Sunday's best phrase when he pointed out Republicans leaders "want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."

A Washington Post editorial suggested that, "For the good of U.S. political culture -- or at least its own political self-interest -- the GOP must distance itself from Mr. Limbaugh." But few members tried, even timidly, to do the right thing.

Ron Paul dismissed Limbaugh's misogynist taunts as being a "little crude," Rep. John Boenher gently chastised the talk show host for using "inappropriate" language, and Mitt Romney said simply that Limbaugh's brutal name-calling didn't include "the language I'd use."

The Republican Party years ago made a Faustian bargain with the right-wing Noise Machine. And now it's paying the price.

Blogger Tod Kelly made this observation in the wake of Limbaugh's "slut" debacle:

The people behind the people in the GOP aren't idiots. They know perfectly well that this whole battle on contraception is going to kill them in a few months; they certainly know that the Right's most visible pundits lamely and uncomfortably trying to rally around Limbaugh is especially bad news for them.

Republicans know this "slut" controversy has been a disaster for them politically, yet they were powerless to do anything about it. Powerless to stop it.

That's because Republicans can't turn off the Noise Machine, even when it's in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

Eric Boehlert is is a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. He's the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006) and Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press (Free Press, 2009). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics.
 
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