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Defeating the right while keeping our soul: Lessons from Limbaugh

We have seen a major victory among the forces of decency in our country.  Not only has Rush Limbaugh now lost 141 advertisers.   Better yet, a great many have indicated they want no association with right wing hate radio. They are leaving not only Limbaugh, they are leaving the whole putrid industry.

Given the nature of our right wing enemy we need to learn from this victory and build on it.  The basic principle here is “framing.”

Limbaugh attempted to punish a private citizens for speaking out in Congress by viciously attacking her sexuality and claiming she wanted taxpayers to pay for her sex life.  This was a lie, but more important, it was an attempt to frame the contraception debate in terms of whether we should pay for others’ sexual behavior.    Those terms favored a conservative view of morality and put liberals on the defense: “No, that is not what she was arguing…”  Now we would be playing in the right wing sand box.


Instead he was consistently attacked for his slanderous and vicious defamation of a private citizen, Sandra Fluke.  Fluke did a good job making her case and demonstrating the viciousness of Limbaugh’s behavior.  Many rallied around her and pressured his advertisers to leave – on grounds of decency on the airwaves. This framing worked, and the vicious and depraved Rush Limbaugh may have seen his career destroyed, at least in so far as supposedly representing a national constituency of more than pathetic losers is concerned.

Earlier the right wing had attempted another frame: that religious freedom was at stake is contraception were mandated in health insurance.  That was also a lie.  Many states have similar provisions and the Catholic Bishops had never objected even though they found time in many cases to cover up child abuse.  But if the lie had taken hold we would be arguing about religious freedom and what it should include, again stuck in the right wing sand box, rather than arguing about empowering women. Another piece of evidence that this was thought out in advance was that Republican hearings over the contraception issue brought out lots of male apologists for religious bigotry nut not a single woman.  Not one.  Having a woman there, even a conservative evangelical, would have muddied the frame that what they were attempting to do had nothing to do with women.  They were irrelevant.


Happily it backfired. How dare these guys discuss such an issue without including a single woman?  And when the Democrats held a hearing that actually incliuded a woman, the right wing pounced on Sandra Fluke with an incredible barrage of lies.

But liberals and decent people had an alternative frame: the “war against women.”  It is accurate. It also puts the right wing on the defensive: “No, we are not warring against women.”  At that point is is easy to bring up many other examples to show that they are.  Their whole agenda is exposed as the fetid moral swamp it truly is. Think of the right wing defense of having Viagra in insurance but not contraception.  The more they make their argument, the more they demonstrate to any American with a functioning brain their double standard, their hypocrisy, and their general nastiness.


In “A Pagan lesson for an evangelical,”  an earlier piece on Beliefnet I demonstrated how the same method of rejecting the right wing framing and substituting my own more accurate one could have a powerful impact in religious discussions.

Arguments always take place within larger contexts that provide the frame in which particular points are viewed.  The frame is accepted on all sides, either deliberately or by accident, and usually it helps one more than the other. The right wing has been a master at this, likely because they get help from hacks who studied psychology in order to make lots of money as marketing consultants.  Marketing Chicken McNuggets and marketing Rick Santorum require similar skills on the part of the advertiser. Meanwhile liberals and decent people assume that sincerity and sticking to facts and logic will carry the day.  They do for some people, but obviously not all.


My debate with the evangelical rejected his framing at two points where, had I not, I would have been arguing defensively on terrain he chose.  First I rejected his suggestion that everything was “God’s property,” which assumed a noxious concept of God, and replaced it with “The sacred is everywhere”  and so the term “property” is irrelevant.  When he suggested that I “worshipped the creation” I said at root there was no “creation” for again, the Sacred was everywhere, immanent as well as transcendent. He could not get a foothold for his tried and tested arguments on this terrain. I rejected his sandbox and did so reasonably, by offering a bigger one.

Then he tried to shift to new ground, and claimed that in the absence of a powerful deity both he and I would have little moral substance.  We would go wild.  He ‘modestly’ included himself here.   I responded  “Most people do good things because they enjoy doing good things – your logic is that Christians do good things because they are told to and expect to be paid well later by going to heaven.  Christians therefore are not really acting morally.  Like a prostitute they are offering services in exchange for a pay off.  Christians of that sort lack the moral capacity of most atheists who expect no pay off.”   Now he was on the defense.  His better nature enjoyed doing good things and it was in deep tension with his noxious theology of original sin and a vengeful and abusive deity.


My point about framing is not for us to become manipulative liars like the right wing.  The term “War on women” is not a lie.  It is a fact, an attempt by them to turn back the gains women made in obtaining control over their lives and destinies that men had long taken for granted.   Bad and weak men had long resented this, and now they were moving to destroy their gains. Similarly, framing Rush Limbaugh’s actions as far beyond the pale of decency was only telling the truth.

But here is the most important point.  These successful frames married truth to decency, mind to heart, whereas the right wing needs to separate the mind from the heart in order to win.  When we can accomplish this we deepen our own understanding of where we come from and simultaneously engage the right wing on the only grounds where many are accessible: their hearts.  Their minds are closed but their hearts are in pain, and in at least some cases open enough to be touched.


The brilliant philosopher George Lakoff has done more in my opinion than anyone else to help us understand framing and how to push back effectively – and yet many liberals, Progressives, and genuinely spiritual people have not taken his lessons to heart.  I recommend this brief essay from the Huffington Post as a good start in seeing what needs to be done.

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posted March 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm

But there is one more thing. Rush is on Armed Forces Radio everyday.

Rush Limbaugh’s women hating is too boring to repeat. But there is a law suit being waged by military women over the military’s tolerance for rape culture and that is relevant.

Military women complain of being regularly called whore, and sluts, dykes, (feminazi?) and prostitutes. Behind their back and to their face.

“Eight current and former members of the U.S. military allege in a new federal lawsuit that they were raped, assaulted or harassed during their service and suffered retaliation when they reported it to their superiors.Details of the lawsuit are on the SWAN website.

A Pentagon spokesman says the military’s network will continue to air Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. George Little says the American Forces Network offers a wide range of programming to reflect listeners’ interests and he is unaware of any plans to review that decision.

Of course. @#**%#

Get the ball rolling to get this misogynist off the tax payer funded Armed Service Radio Network. We need 6,000 more signatures by April 3 to get a White House response.

Sign the petition here…Look at the bottom of the page, your right side .. create an account .. its easy:

UPDATE: Mitt Romney owns Blain which owns Clearchannel which hosts Limbaugh ———-

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Gus diZerega

posted March 13, 2012 at 1:50 am


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Rosalind Lord

posted March 15, 2012 at 7:44 am

I stopped paying attention to Rush Limbaugh and everything he says years ago, because he’s a lunatic and a drug addict and a total sleaze. Everything about him is just..ick. I’m not surprised by his latest rants and obscenities because I don’t expect anything better from him. What he said to Sandra Fluke is just another example of how sick his mind really is.

But like you, Gus, I am also very happy that he’s now lost 141 advertisers. It’s high time. And your last two paragraphs raise very good points.

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posted March 20, 2012 at 3:53 am

Don’t worry. The Obama care that is killing the poor will be repealed at some time. We had better hope so before thousands die. You do know that Obama care limits what you can have done by doctors if you are terminal right? Guess what were all terminal, everyone dies.
Next, I still support Rush, and for every advertise agency that looses support there are hundreds standing buy to fill his quota.
Also, there is no law aginst attacking verbally any political, or personal view that is made to either house of the congress.
Finally, you have Obama, he has done nothing for you, unless you count taking your money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. He raised your taxes, forgot every promise he made while running for office. Obama is the biggest idiot that ever lived in the whitehouse. I can only hope he looses the run for reelection. We really need some intelligent people in office to get the country rolling again.

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posted March 20, 2012 at 4:04 am

Your not getting Rush off the Armed Forces Radio Network. You do know that over 90% of all military people listen to, and support Rush. The last poll puts all branches of the military except the Air Force at nearly 99% republican, and 70% of those are far right conservatives. The same people you bash all day defend your right to be free, they give your children a free future, and stand guard at the edge of hell so you can call them names, and wish them dead. Just so you know, the Air Force was the lowest percent republican because they have the highest population of homosexual members. This group of people in general are demacrats.

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