Defending idiots is an exhausting, but necessary function of democracy.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but I am writing to defend Rush Limbaugh’s right to say what he said concerning Sandra Fluke on his radio show recently. But let me be quite clear: I am not defending what he said, but his right to say it. As offensive as I think Limbaugh’s comments are, his right to say them far outweighs the offense.
We live in a democracy that promotes the right of free speech as long as that speech does not call for the physical harm of the person the comments are directed toward. There are many things that people say in this country that I do not agree with, but their right to say it is the cornerstone of democracy. Quite frankly it’s surprising to me, and I also see this as hypocritical, that so many so-called liberals are calling for the cancellation of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. All he did was call a woman a slut and a prostitute, which is pretty reprehensible, but not illegal. Instead of calling for the cancellation of his show, liberals should be out dancing in the streets shouting, “I told you so!” It is not very surprising to me that Limbaugh said what he said. In fact, as outraged as I was when I first heard this, I did finally laugh at the position in which Limbaugh placed himself.
Of course one issue that has been highlighted by all of this nonsense is a woman’s right to treat her own body in the way that she sees fit. Birth control is not a right but a responsibility. We live in an incredibly overpopulated world and taking responsibility for oneself following sexual intercourse is, in the long run and economically speaking, much cheaper than bringing an unwanted child into the world. Moreover, there are a lot of different reasons why woman take birth control pills other than to prevent pregnancy. I believe that birth control should be covered under insurance and Limbaugh’s attack on Fluke showed his ignorance in a profoundly real and traditionally conservative way; a way that has lost touch with contemporary reality. I do not buy the conservative position that birth control and organizations like Planned Parenthood are a war on religion—and so what if they are? I think we’ve had enough religion in this world. However, I do take the liberal position that the far right is wagging war on women’s health due to religious, and NOT economical beliefs. So, something good may come out of Limbaugh’s latest offensive remarks if it sparks more discussion on this topic. Moreover, the same right that allows me to publically stand with Planned Parenthood is the same right that allows Limbaugh to say what he does.
However, the real issue here, it seems to me, is free speech. Our democratic process is certainly flawed, but not as flawed as the Greeks had it. Under Greek democracy slaves and women were not considered citizens. Although women still do not have equal status in the contemporary world (we say that they do, but they do not, not really), we have made tremendous strides in the decades. Perhaps Limbaugh had the classical Greek society in mind when he made his comments? Okay, perhaps not. But maybe we should begin to think in the plural when it comes to democracy; that is, there is not one definitive definition of democracy, but several, existing simultaneously and each is always calling the other into question. Perhaps our concept of democracy and what it means to live in a free and open society is always evolving, always reinterpreting itself under the pressures of an ever-fickle public. We must not forget that our modern conception of democracy is fundamentally entangled with our sense of government and politics. As Giorgio Agamben argues: “Western democracies are perhaps paying the price for a philosophical heritage they haven’t bothered to take a close look at in a long time.” Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at democracy and what it means to contemporary society.
In order to maintain a free and open society we must protect the idiot’s right to speak just as we do the general public, for the general public (and the not-so general public) is filled with idiots. The alternative is the nightmare of a totalitarian society. The question, then, is: what kind of democracy do we desire? The Rush Limbaugh episode is a perfect example of the amphibological nature of democracy. We cannot agree of what democracy consists of, let alone where it came from. Until a truly global alternative presents itself we must look to sources like the Constitution of the United States as a guide. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech in this country. This may sound like Tea Party politics, but free speech gives everyone the right to speak his or her mind in public. A democratic society is a public society.
The best way to boycott Rush Limbaugh is not to sign a petition to get him off the air, or to put pressure on his advertisers to abandon him, it’s to do what I do: don’t listen to his show and don’t buy his books. It’s as simple as that. I have no respect for polarizing figures like Limbaugh, especially ones that have very little intelligence, but I will defend an idiot’s right to say what he or she thinks as long as what he or she says brings no physical harm to that person. I say let these idiots continue to talk so they hang themselves in the end. If we refuse their right to speak then we no longer live in a democratic society, and that, my friends, is much worse than a world filled with obese, cigar smoking idiots.