By Ruth Conniff on March 06, 2012

As grotesque as it was to hear Rush Limbaugh's prolonged attack on a private citizen, calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying that her law school ought to cover birth control, the Republicans are making it worse.

It's a testament to Limbaugh's power that the Republican Presidential candidates refused to condemn him. The "family values" crowd declined to disown his remarks that, in exchange for health coverage for birth control, young women like Fluke should have to post videos of themselves having sex online.

Even after advertisers began fleeing Limbaugh's show, and he was forced to make an insincere apology, Colorado Republican Senator Greg Brophy tweeted a defense of Limbaugh, who he called "an icon and a hero to the conservative movement," adding: "And Ms Fluke, I don't want to buy your booze, pay for your spring break or your birth control. Call your Dad for that."

The national Republican Party is completely captive to the toxic rightwing bullies led by Rush.

One Republican who has spoken out forcefully about the Republicans' Rush problem is political pundit and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum.

As Frum puts it, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox."

Back in 2009, Frum wrote a piece in Newsweek that decried Rush Limbaugh's outsized influence on his party.

"Rush knows what he is doing," Frum wrote "The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined. But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership?"

Frum has since been blacklisted by Fox News, fired from the American Enterprise Institute, and denounced as a "RINO" (Republican in Name Only) by conservative talkers. But he continues to press his case, that his party is marginalizing itself by living in the weird parallel reality cooked up by the crazy right--the War-On-Christmas, death panel, anti-birth-control wing of his party will ultimately do it in, Frum frets.

He contrasts President Obama--the fit, friendly, family man, with big, fat, drug-plagued, self-indulgent Rush as a warning to the Republicans to look for better leadership.

Frum traces the Republicans' current problems to Rush's declaration at the start of the Obama Administration that he hoped Obama would fail. Since then, Mitt Romney has repeated the idea that it would be better if the auto industry were allowed to fail, and many national Republicans have denounced the Obama stimulus and efforts to blunt the worst effects of the recession. Such positions to not represent a winning platform, Frum argues.

In a piece in New York magazine about the hijacking of his party by the Rush Limbaugh-Tea Party wing, Frum writes:

"In the mid-sixties, when the party split spectacularly between Ripon Republicans, who embraced the civil-rights movement, and Goldwater Republicans, who opposed it, civil-rights Republicans like Michigan governor George Romney spoke forcefully for their point of view. Today, Republicans discomfited by political and media extremism bite their tongues."

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Sandra Fluke flap.

"Limbaugh is especially off-putting to women: his audience is 72 percent male," Frum wrote back in 2009. "Limbaugh himself acknowledges his unpopularity among women. On his Feb. 24 broadcast, he said with a chuckle: 'Thirty-one-point gender gaps don't come along all that often.'"

Yet Republicans can't afford to lose women voters if they want to win elections.

"Limbaugh is kryptonite, weakening the GOP nationally," Frum wrote in the piece that got him excommunicated from his party.

"No Republican official will say that; Limbaugh demands absolute deference from the conservative world, and he generally gets it. When offended, he can extract apologies from Republican members of Congress, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee. And Rush is very easily offended."

The problem is deeper than Rush, of course. A whole generation of rightwing talkers are chasing fame and fortune with outrageous comments that garner tons of attention, ala Ann Coulter.

The shock-jock approach to politics might be good for ratings, might reward the most outrageous and offensive with the biggest bucks, but they will cost the Republicans' elections.

On birth control, on gay rights, on the environment, on basic economic justice, on racial harmony, on basic decency, the Republicans are so out of touch with majority American values, they are on another planet. Planet Rush.

The danger is not just, as Frum worries, that they will lose elections this way. The danger is that the toll that their coarse, bullying rhetoric takes on society as a whole.

The richer Rush and his slavish followers at Fox News get, the more the rest of us have to endure a culture distorted by bullying and demagoguery that gets more and more extreme.

The fate of Republican politicians is the least of our worries, as a citizenry.

But for their own good, the Republicans should think about taking Frum's advice, and pulling the plug on Rush.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsinites Start Turning Back School Privatization."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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