Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Thought on Bill Maher, and the Rush Limbaugh False Equivalence

This is not a post about the whole Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh/Slut-gate affair. Though it can't be pointed out enough, that Limbuagh's 3-day rant bore no resemblance to reality, and was completely out of bounds. It's not really about Bill Maher, his comedic choices, or his potty mouth. And it's not even about the actual false equivalence: Sarah Palin, uber-famous political celebrity vs. Sandra Fluke, student activist; Rush Limbaugh, conservative messiah vs. Bill Maher, libertarian comic.

What this post is about is the mystery of the news cycle. For several days (and it's probably dying down a bit right now), conservatives were pushing the "Oh yeah? Well if you're going to blast Limbaugh, we're going to tear down Bill Maher!" line. As is common when this stuff hits right-wing talk radio and FOX "News," the mainstream (liberally biased, my ass) media picks up on it too. So, the storyline became: If Rush Limbaugh's so bad, what about Bill Maher?

So, I'm not going to argue the false equivalence, I just want to know, why Maher? Do you know how many comedians have used Sarah Palin* for a punchline? Or how many have used the same words Maher used about her? Patton Oswaldt, John Fugelsang, Hal Sparks, and many others have made Palin the butt of their jokes. And don't tell me it's because she's a woman­® either. Lisa Lampanelli, Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin? They're all women. They've all skewered Palin. It's because she's a dolt, not because she's a woman!

So, how did conservatives en masse decide that the issue boiled down to a) sexism, b) Bill Maher and c) Sarah Palin? It would be quite a leap for so many conservatives to go to. It can't be a coincidence, so what is it? Do conservative talkers, pundits, commentators and bloggers get marching orders from headquarters? Do they get a bullet-pointed talking points daily email? Do they have some sort of Star Trek Borg hive-mind? I'd really like to know.

*And back to the sexism angle. It isn't just Palin and Michele Bachmann who get skewered with dirty words. Off the top of my head, I can think of John Boner Boehner, Eric ("bitchface") Cantor, Mitch (Yertle) McConnell, Tom (Tipsy McStagger) DeLay, Dick (Darth) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Scott (Recall) Walker, and George freakin' Dubya Bush--all men--who comedians have had a field day with. It's not about sexism. It's about comedic potential.


  1. I believe Maher stands out in the conservative hive mind for three reasons: (1) his show deals in thoughtful political commentary in between the jokes; (2) he made controversal statements after 9/11/01 that actually got him fired by ABC; and (3) he just donated $1 million to the super PAC supporting President Obama's re-election. Among comedians, only Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have the same kind of political influence as Maher, and neither of them deal in the same brand of R-rated sexual humor as Maher, so no similar equivalence can be suggested in their cases.

  2. I can see that reasoning, but I don't for a minute believe that every conservative slamming Maher came at it from that angle. It was just too unanimous. The truth is, there isn't a left-wing Limbaugh, and that's probably because there really isn't much of an extreme left wing in America. And the political barometer has never moved to the extreme left edge as it has to the right. Remember when Limbaugh was "fringe" like Morton Downey Jr.?

    I'm still fascinated and perplexed how it is that the right-wing outrage machine all get fired up about the same thing every news cycle. It's so often faux outrage, or a bad analogy, and I wonder who lights the match. Maybe it's as simple as Limbaugh, Drudge and FOX "News", but my curiosity is, do they coordinate?


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