09.11.12 5:15 PM ET
Slurs only bolster Sandra Fluke's cause
In my column for CNN, I detail why lobbing slurs and insults at Sandra Fluke only emboldens her cause.
Of all the speeches at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, few offended conservative listeners more than the speech by Sandra Fluke.
There are plenty of good reasons to be annoyed. From the conservative point of view, Fluke is on the wrong side of a battle over religious freedom. Back in March, she testified in favor of a proposed Obama administration rule that would require Catholic institutions, like her own Georgetown University law school, to reject the teaching of their church and cover contraception in their university health plans -- plans not funded by taxpayers, by the way, but by tuition and other university revenues.
Now here Fluke was again, on the national stage, warning that a vote for the Republican ticket in 2012 was a vote for "an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don't want and our doctors say we don't need.
"An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don't."
Shortly before Fluke spoke, conservative commentator Ann Coulter had tweeted: "Bill Clinton just impregnated Sandra Fluke backstage."
That was nothing compared with the outpouring of fury during and after the speech.
Stephen Kruiser, who hosts on the conservative Internet video site PJTV and appears on Fox's "Red Eye," tweeted mid-speech: "Tricky camera work to keep TV audience from seeing (David) Axelrod's hand up Fluke's a**."
The next day, National Review columnist and sometime Rush Limbaugh guest host Mark Steyn scoffed: "Sandra Fluke has been blessed with a quarter-million dollars of elite education ... and she has concluded that the most urgent need facing the Brokest Nation in History is for someone else to pay for the contraception of 30-year-old children."
James Taranto, columnist for the online edition of The Wall Street Journal, was nearly equally scathing. "Seriously, the party of Andrew Jackson and Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman chose to showcase someone whose claim to fame is that she demands that somebody else pay for her birth control."
Within 48 hours, the attack had jumped from the conservative media sphere to electoral politics. Campaigning in Addison, Illinois, Republican congressional candidate Joe Walsh erupted: "Think about this, a 31-, 32-year-old law student who has been a student for life, who gets up there in front of a national audience and tells the American people, 'I want America to pay for my contraceptives.' You're kidding me. Go get a job. Go get a job, Sandra Fluke."
There's never any shortage of vitriol in political commentary, but usually it's reserved for the headliners. Yet Fluke provoked more sputtering in five minutes than former President Bill Clinton did in a speech 10 times as long.
The answer takes us to the events that put Fluke on the stage in Charlotte in the first place: Rush Limbaugh's brutal, sexualized attack on her congressional testimony.
On the day after Fluke spoke, Limbaugh demanded: "What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. 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."
Limbaugh returned to the subject again and again, escalating his abuse over three consecutive days. "So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
After three days of this, advertisers began to drop his show -- and Limbaugh was constrained to issue a grudging apology on his website.