John P. Reisman: Free speech gone wild

Rush Limbaugh, in a grand gesture to challenge the edge of what can be considered wise, if not merely palatable in his extreme rhetoric, attacked Sandra Fluke calling here a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her position on contraception. This all in the context of the continuing healthcare debate.

Limbaugh was unapologetic, until of course his advertisers began to drop his show. Apparently, after he realized that his actions would affect him financially, he had a change of heart.

He released a statement as follows:

“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir,” and “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Sandra Fluke, in an appearance on ABC’s ‘The View’ responded:

“I don’t think that a statement like this issued, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything, and especially when that statement is issued when he’s under significant pressure from his sponsors who have begun to pull their support,”

Free speech is one of the greatest and most profound aspects of the American experience. It protects us from abuse by government and allows the free development of ideas. However, having free speech does not remove our own personal and general obligations to good sense in contributing to rational discourse.

Limbaugh has a long history of appeal to emotion argument style and keeps himself insulated from rebuttal on his shows. Since someone challenged him from the audience some years ago, and essentially demolished his argument, he has shied away from allowing anyone else to exercise free speech on his shows. This tendency exposes that Limbaugh is a capitalist rather than a conservative. He targets the Republican ideology market, one that is willing to embrace his emotional rhetoric that has less in common with reason and rationality, than it does with anarchy and self-centered opinion.

If we hope to present a rational argument, we need to look beyond the limits of our emotional perspectives and examine the evidence from all sides.

As to integrity, what can be said of he who would only change his opinion when it affects his wallet? Limbaugh continued attacking Sandra Fluke two days later and criticized President Obama for lending his support. As soon as Rush realized he was losing advertisers, and perhaps listeners, his perspective changed. That is not integrity, in fact it is quite the opposite. Sandra Fluke did not accept his apology, and justifiably so. It is reasonably clear that Limbaugh doesn’t mean what he says.

As to “Free Speech Gone Wild,” all of us should reexamine how we exercise our free speech. Just because we have the right to speak irresponsibly does not mean we should do it, especially when in causes harm to others.

Pragmatism and reason should be the rule and our arguments should be based not merely on opinion and bias but on the verifiable facts of the case. If we hope to present a rational argument, we need to look beyond the limits of our emotional perspectives and examine the evidence from all sides. Only then might we be more able to present a ‘fair & balanced’ view.

Column by John P. Reisman


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