Home > Uncategorized > Uncivil Discourse Produces a Star

Uncivil Discourse Produces a Star

This is hard to admit, but it’s true: today I’m almost sorry spring break is here. Yesterday afternoon, I was as happy as anyone to be heading away from school for ten days.  But now there is an exciting controversy swirling in the news, and it relates directly to the unit on effective argument that I just finished with my Writing Seminar students.  How I would love to spend a class period Monday discussing Rush Limbaugh’s ad hominem attacks on Sandra Fluke!  It would introduce such interesting issues:

  • When is sound logic expected or required in public life, and when is it not?
  • When are appeals to emotion rewarded, encouraged, accepted?
  • Is it acceptable for a person in a position of power (Limbaugh) to attack the dignity and humanity of a young, unknown citizen participating in the democratic process?  Should Limbaugh retain his position of power?
  • Who is winning this argument and why?

It’s dangerous, of course, to address such controversial topics in class.  I assume that some of my students are fans of Rush Limbaugh or come from families who are, and it’s essential to respect their beliefs.  It’s also essential, I think, to practice having respectful conversations about controversial issues.  The problem is that my feelings on this matter are far too intense to hide, no matter how neutrally I phrase the questions.

If I were going to tackle this subject in class (and I suspect I won’t because it will seem like old news by the time school resumes), it would be great to have a chaperone for the discussion, i.e. an adult supporter of Rush Limbaugh to point it out when my bias shows through.  An adult who is committed to respectful discourse but likes Rush Limbaugh… how would I find such a person?

One good outcome of this controversy: I think we’re seeing a star in the making.  Sandra Fluke is articulate, dignified, respectful, and incredibly effective.  I bet we’ll see her back on the national stage!  Ironically, we’ll have to give Rush Limbaugh some credit when that happens.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. David C. Burton
    March 4, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Regardless of whether they love or hate, agree with or disagree with Mr. Limbaugh a key ingredient which most people forget (from all perspectives on any given issue) is that he is 1st and foremost an entertainer. Without such entertainment value to his presentation he would not have the career nor, as you discribed, “position of power”, which he has experienced. Limbaugh simply uses the lens of political commentary as the venue for his entertainment (don’t forget that he tried to cross into the field of using sports analysis as a lens for his entertainment early in the last decade). Most of his career in political commentary entertainment has surrounded what he himself has referred to as “accentuating the absurd with absurdity”. The problem is that most see him foremost as a political commentator rather than as an entertainer and thus put much more stock in his actual words rather than the rationale for why he uses the words which he does. I’m reminded of times when Howard Stern or Kathy Griffin have made some “horrible” comments (often from a leftist political slant) that has caused friends of mine to become highly upset and demanding of appologies (i.e. Griffin’s famed “suck it Jesus” statement). I don’t get bothered because I understand that each is foremost an entertainer and intentionally says outlandish things for the purpose of entertaining and getting noticed.

    This is not in anyway shape or form meant to legitimize or excuse comments made in the situation at hand. It is rather meant to add additional perspective on the whole of Limbaugh’s career.

    Much of global education is about truly understanding (not necessarily agreeing with) multiple perspectives.

  2. Arlis
    March 4, 2012 at 1:53 am

    Well said, David. Limbaugh’s early career included several years right here in Sacramento. As a young mom I worked in a photo lab that had his show running much of the morning. (Though you could easily find out, putting the year in writing is simply too embarrassing just now.) I often think I “get” him more than the masses because I consider much of what he says as “tongue in cheek.” That’s not to say that I don’t think he’s crossed the line more than once, or that I agree with everything he says, but David’s point is a good one. I also agree that Sandra Fluke will be the one who profits from Limbaugh’s comments this time.

    • March 7, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks, Arlis and David, for your replies. I agree about Limbaugh being an entertainer (of sorts), and I can shrug off most of his rantings–but not this one. I think it’s dangerous to ignore this one because it a) undermines citizen participation in the democratic process, b) dehumanizes a vulnerable member of society. As some have pointed out, it meets the criteria for hate speech.

      Interesting to compare the Griffin comment to Limbaugh’s. I’m sure Christians were deeply offended by “Suck it Jesus,” but they weren’t personally intimidated, demeaned, or threatened. I recall that MSNBC’s Ed Shultz called Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” sometime in the last year. He opened his next show with a full and convincing apology and worked out a week-long suspension with network executives.

      In contrast, Limbaugh compounded the problem in the days following his original comment, taking them from unacceptable and offensive to utterly depraved. His economically motivated apology didn’t change anything. I hope he’ll soon be enjoying his freedom of speech as a private citizen without radio megaphone.

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