Conservatives love to claim that there's a double standard in how Rush Limbaugh has been treated compared to liberal sexists. And they're correct, but not the way they suspect: Rush Limbaugh has always been given a free pass by the right for his sexism, while feminists frequently critique the sexism of the left.
Recently, Chelsea Clinton interviewed Sandra Fluke. Here's the video (video not working with Firefox):
Chelsea Clinton mentioned that, "She and I actually have something in common. We've both been attacked by Rush Limbaugh. I also believe that if you have the right type of enemies you are doing something correct."
It's important to recall that moment that I detail in my book, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason. On November 6, 1992 (before Clinton was even inaugurated), Rush said on his television show: “In: A cute kid in the White House. Out: Cute dog in the White House.' Could--could we see the cute kid? Let's take a look at--see who is the cute kid in the White House. [A picture is shown of Millie the dog] No, no, no. That's not the kid. [Picture shown of Chelsea Clinton] That's--that's the kid. We're trying to...[Applause] No, just kidding.”
According to one defense of Limbaugh, “The real version has Rush talking about a 'cute dog' as well as a 'cute kid,' obviously not a set-up for calling the kid a dog. It is not an assault on Chelsea, as her picture only comes up in the context of correcting the error....Rush has always maintained the incident was an accident.”
The “cute kid” reference was nothing but an excuse to compare Chelsea to a dog. If Limbaugh had not intended to show Chelsea's picture, he would never have said, “Just kidding.” There was no mistake, and his fake apology was just another excuse to show the picture over and over again: “There I go. My friends, I apologize again. I--that's the third time the crew makes a mistake by showing you Millie the dog when I intended to show you Chelsea Clinton...”
This wasn’t the first time that Limbaugh tried to hide behind a technician to excuse his hateful comments toward women. A USA Today reporter at Limbaugh’s radio studio two weeks before the attack on Chelsea noted that while playing the song “Men” for Limbaugh’s Feminist Update, “Limbaugh's technicians, at his command, punctuate the song with a sounds of cows mooing. Every time the cows moo, Limbaugh orders 'Men' stopped. 'Don't do that!' Stop. The music starts again. More moos. Stop! Music. ('Throw another one in there!' he says off mike, chuckling).” So Limbaugh had a documented record of ordering his staff to compare women to animals and then pretending that the technicians were violating his commands.
Nor was this the first daughter of a president that Limbaugh had insulted, since he had also called Amy Carter ugly. Continuing his tradition of insulting the daughters of Democratic presidents, in 2010 Limbaugh referred Malia and Sasha Obama as the president's “two fat daughters” and falsely claimed that the First Lady had called them fat.
Limbaugh continued to smear Chelsea Clinton after she became an adult. In 2009, he claimed: “Chelsea Clinton said it was Bush's tax cuts that led to 9/11. She did.” No, she didn't. Chelsea Clinton wrote an article for Talk Magazine explaining what she was doing in lower Manhattan when 9-11 happened: “I was expounding on the detriments of Bush's tax cut as we approached Grand Central Terminal and were met with hordes of people running out of the station.” She wrote, "Once we stopped running, I started praying. I prayed for my country and my city. I stopped berating the tax cut and started praying that the president would rise to lead us.”
So Chelsea Clinton never blamed 9-11 on the Bush tax cuts; she happened to be criticizing the Bush tax cuts when 9-11 happened, and then promptly stopped doing it to unify with the rest of the country behind Bush. Yet Limbaugh, the man who compared Chelsea at 13 to a dog and then lied about what she wrote in 2001, had the audacity to claim, “Chelsea has had a charmed life in terms of not having to deal with any kind of press that is especially critical or probing.” Because, after all, 13-year-old girls certainly deserve critical and probing media coverage of their physical appearance.
When David Letterman told a joke about Alex Rodriguez that mentioned getting Sarah Palin's daughter pregnant, Rush was one of the leaders of the outrage: “A joke like that about any woman is just in bad taste and it's not funny.” He claimed, “shows like that are beneath me.” Limbaugh claimed about Sarah Palin's daughter, “It is just despicable, what we have become in this country, to destroy a 17-year-old girl in the hopes of destroying her mother and her father.” Apparently that same logic didn't apply to the 13-year-old daughter of a Democratic president.
Limbaugh also invoked the common conservative tactic of the double standard: "the double standard clearly exists, and it always will." Limbaugh was talking about how unlike Palin's daughter, "Chelsea Clinton was off-limits all during the Clinton presidency and the Drive-Bys bent over forward, grabbed the ankles, said, ‘Okay Clinton, whatever you want.’” He contended that the media “left Chelsea Clinton alone.” Limbaugh was wrong; there was media attention to Chelsea's boyfriends during the Clinton Administration, but since Chelsea never got pregnant, it never became a major story.
Limbaugh's insults against Chelsea Clinton are an important reminder of how conservatives invoke a false "double standard" to defend the indefensible, even when (as in Limbaugh's case) they're guilty of the very same smears they attack. Limbaugh's assault on Chelsea also should remind us that his attack on Sandra Fluke wasn't a fluke: it was a continuation of his decades-long career of sexist smears against women.
Crossposted at DailyKos.