This article was last modified on March 21, 2012.

Empire Strikes First: Progressive Radio

Rush Limbaugh has come under fire recently for referring to a law student as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for using birth control. We have all heard about “Slutgate” by now, even if we have never listened to Limbaugh’s show. I do not wish to dwell on his words — enough editorials have done this — but I wish to point out that he is not the only offender. The Left has said just as many awful things as the Right.

There does seem to be a general difference in attacks: the Right tends to be more misogynistic, has a subtle use of racism, and will make their political points by disregarding facts. Their ability to blame rising gas prices on President Obama rather than OPEC is impressive, as is their complete denial of job growth or the success of the Detroit bailout. Liberal talkers may think themselves “better” than their conservative counterparts for being more cosmopolitan, but they never hesitate to insult an opponent’s intelligence or even their religion.

What a decent political discourse needs is civility, and the liberals have done little or nothing to promote this. If a caller disagrees with a point that is being made, rather than talk it through, the caller is shot down as “stupid” or an “idiot”. Stephanie Miller is guilty of this and Alan Colmes even more so. Most of us have not seen Colmes since his departure from Fox News’ “Hannity and Colmes”, and I daresay we have lost very little. Listening in to his radio show is like hearing a child rambling on with his fingers in his ears. Miller claims to be a humorist, so she is quick to call John Boehner “John Boner” and Mitch McConnell “Yertle” (because he apparently looks like Dr. Suess’ Yertle the Turtle). Is that adding decency to the political debate?

With regards to religious insults, on March 2, Mike Malloy went too far and made fun of tornado victims, saying, “Their God … keeps smashing them into little grease spots on the pavement in Alabama, and Mississippi, and Arkansas, and Georgia, and Oklahoma. You know, the Bible belt, where they ain’t gonna let no goddamned science get in the way… So, according to their way of thinking, God with his omnipotent thumb reaches down here and so far tonight has smashed about 20 people into a grease spot on highway 12, or whatever the hell highway they live next to.”

Is there any defense for Malloy’s insensitivity? Insulting strong Christians without cause is already inappropriate, but to mock people who have been killed in a natural disaster? Whether we think it was science or God that caused the tornado, it makes their deaths no less tragic. If any religious group deserves spite — and I am not sure any do — it would be a group like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church and their continued assault on dead soldiers and homosexuals. Does Malloy even know who died in the South? Maybe several atheists or progressives?

On March 14, Ed Schultz said he has “no more kindness” for the Southerners after polls show that many of them still think President Obama is a Muslim. Putting aside the issue of Obama’s faith, which is well-established, Schultz is making a similar comment to Malloy’s, albeit to a lesser degree. Because some Southerners want to believe Obama is a Muslim they must all be disregarded by Schultz? The reasonable man from Georgia is now despised because his neighbor is ignorant? How very mature of you, Ed.

During his show on May 24, 2011, Schultz called conservative talker Laura Ingraham both a “right-wing slut” and a “talk slut”. There are huge differences between Schultz and Limbaugh on this, most notably that Limbaugh attacked a private citizen and then demanded a sex tape from her, but progressives are not avoiding crude language against their opponents. Schultz has called Santorum a “fraud” and a “wackjob”, and those who oppose President Obama are “obstructionist asshats”. Schultz, always the Obama apologist even when he should not be, may be right to call the Republicans obstructionists. But is it necessary to throw “asshats” in there?

Randi Rhodes is the worst offender of all, with comments she made back in 2008. In one brief rant, she called Geraldine Ferraro “David Duke in drag” and repeatedly referred to her as “a fucking whore”. Rhodes quickly added that Hillary Clinton “is a big fucking whore, too.” I am no fan of Hillary Clinton myself, but is this the professional way to go on air and discuss your views? Is this civility?

What I hear on the progressive radio is not far removed from what I hear in the progressive community. Sit in any coffee shop where left-leaning individuals are having a conversation and you are bound to hear them insult the intelligence of a Republican candidate or the Republican voter. And I confess I am not innocent in this charge. I have wondered how people can vote against their financial interests, or for a candidate who is pro-life when it is common knowledge that elected officials cannot make abortion illegal. I have called these people stupid. But even if this is true, the throwing of insults does not solve this matter. A reasonable discussion is what solves this. But we hardly ever see this, and the reason is obvious: as much as liberals accuse conservatives of being closed-minded, they are often every bit as closed-minded themselves. If not more.

I have known my share of closed-minded Republicans who are set in their ways and will not change regardless of evidence presented to them. But I have also known my share of closed-minded progressives. And it seems to me that the further left on the spectrum you get, the more closed your mind tends to be. If you believe that you have the answers to life’s problems and most other people are wrong, this probably means you are wrong.

What is the solution to this? How do we gain a sense of civility? We cannot expect Rush Limbaugh to tone down his rhetoric even if all his sponsors desert him. We cannot expect liberals to stop calling Limbaugh a “big fat idiot”. I do not have the answer. Beyond talking with someone you disagree with and actually listening, or reading an editorial you would normally skip because of their views, try seeing this from both sides. We did not get to this vile, polarized world overnight and we will not return to a constructive, civil society overnight either. We must make the first step.

Gavin Schmitt ( is working on books about the Mafia in Milwaukee, Madison and Kenosha. He would appreciate receiving stories and photos.

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