Column on Rush Limbaugh's boorish behavior draws vitriolic reaction
As a former state superintendent of public instruction for the State of Michigan, I am constantly on the lookout for teachable moments.
The vitriolic reaction to a column I wrote, (Rush Limbaugh's attacks on Sandra Fluke were reprehensible and wrong), calling Rush Limbaugh out for his boorish behavior on his incendiary radio show, drew out quite a few angry Limbaugh supporters.
Limbaugh personally attacked Sandra Fluke, a third-year Georgetown law student, calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her stand on birth control.
File photo | MLive Media group
I received several supportive emails from both the left and right, agreeing that Rush's comments were over the top and had no business in the public square or airwaves.
Yet, many of the caustic responses directed at me from Rush supporters were personal. A few called me a "liberal media whore" and worse, for daring to call out their "hero." I am not "the media." I am a citizen with a point of view that I attempt to express in a clear and forceful fashion on these and other pages.
Having different perspectives and points of view and sharing them in the public square is healthy for a strong and prosperous free society. As my first boss once told me, " If both of us agreed on everything, one of us is not necessary."
Shockingly, several attacked me, my family, and my record as a public servant in mean and hateful ways. Why? Because I too, had the audacity to hold a point of view different from theirs.
Personal attacks as a way to thwart public debate is unhealthy to the very foundation of our democracy.
Shortly after the Rush defenders were through calling me everything other than the nice middle-aged man that I am, they launched, on cue, into a diatribe about how those "lefty" talk show hosts say bad and vicious things too.
As every mother and kindergarten teacher has ingrained into their children, "two wrongs do not make a right."
Let me be very clear: Disgusting, vile, mean, hateful, personal attacks have no place in the public square and ought to stop from the left and the right.
Yet, it seemed odd and a bit frightening that the email responses to my original column appeared so identical as if they were simply cut and pasted from some right leaning, talking points manual. How else can you conclude the numerous responses were robot like in its monotone exactness?
When I pointed this out, my new email pen pals often returned to calling me names.
The entire episode and my week long verbal sparring with angry Rush-loving readers has left me rather depressed about the future of our county.
If we cannot agree that calling a women a "slut" for having the audacity to express her opinion, regardless of whether or not you agree with her political leanings or policy analysis, is quite simply wrong -- we are in serious trouble as a nation.
As an optimist, however, I do see some hope that perhaps this can be a teachable moment when we come together as a country as say, "Enough is enough."
We are better than the hate talk that substitutes for substantive policy and political debates.
A few emails, while chastising me for not including the "left" in my spanking of Rush, agreed his comments were as inappropriate as wrong. They then moved on respectfully, in a thoughtful manner to examine how we can improve the public debate. This is a healthy response. I truly enjoyed both these email exchanges and the few phone conversation I had with Rush supporters that were civil, constructive and informative as we each respectfully attempted to be both heard and understood.
Perhaps the best outcome of this whole ugly mess would be a better civil discourse would result on both sides of the political aisle. As a country we should be able to disagree on policy and politics without lowering ourselves to ugly personal attacks.
There is a need to change the civic voice and the public tone in America. Politics of personal destruction is ripping our country apart.
In his tour of America in 1831 - from the East Coast to the then "frontier West" — a journey that inspired his classic, “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville captured the essence of America when he said, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but the ability to repair her faults.”
As the ugly Limbaugh episode illustrates: "To form a more perfect union," we have repair work to do America.
The repair work should begin with each of us.
Tom Watkins has served in Gov. James Blanchard’s administration as deputy chief of staff to the governor, deputy director and director of the former state mental health department, 1982-90, and in the Engler and Granholm administrations, as state superintendent of schools, 2001-05. He was in the inaugural class of the Michigan Political Leadership Program (www.ippsr.msu.edu/MPLP ). You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.