HOW TO SCREW UP AN ARGUMENT EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE A POINT

Posted in Rants on March 6th, 2012 by Ed

So, Rush Limbaugh. By this point you know what he said, so I'm not going to recount it here. Here is the laundry list if you're curious, uninformed, or a glutton for punishment. Let's momentarily ignore the fact that Limbaugh is a sad, sad excuse for a human being who has to keep ratcheting up the shock factor to get attention because he's not relevant anymore, and therefore we're playing into his hands by talking about him. Let's also ignore the fact that I'm pretty goddamn sure he doesn't understand how birth control pills work, as he apparently believes that one can have "so much sex, she’s going broke buying contraceptives and wants us to buy them." This strongly implies that he thinks that birth control pills are taken each time a woman has sex. I think he's got them confused with his limp dick pills. But we digress.

After his half-assed non-apology, forthcoming only under the direct threat of having his radio show advertisers abandon him, the conservative media have gone into overdrive trying to turn this story to their advantage. This has taken the tried-and-true "But nobody complains when libruls do it!" format for the most part. As usual, this has involved collecting cherry picked quotes, misquotes, and totally irrelevant statements and presenting them as evidence that "the liberals" are every bit the misogynist pigs that Rush Limbaugh is.

Kirsten Powers has put together one such list, one that has achieved fairly wide circulation on the internets. One thing caught my eye:

During the 2008 election Ed Schultz said on his radio show that Sarah Palin set off a "bimbo alert." He called Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut." (He later apologized.) He once even took to his blog to call yours truly a "bimbo" for the offense of quoting him accurately in a New York Post column.

Thus Powers starts off with a fair point. Whether it's Ed Schultz, Rush Limbaugh, or Walter Cronkite, media commentators can certainly do better than calling women bimbos and sluts. Shame on Ed Schultz. And as much as it pains me to say it, Powers is correct in pointing out that there was little to no outrage surrounding Schultz's comments (although he was suspended by MSNBC). While we could argue qualitative points about whether Schultz's comments are as "bad" as Limbaugh's, the point holds. This could have turned into a good column for Powers.

Then she remembered her agenda, and things went downhill in a hurry.

Keith Olbermann has said that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp should have been aborted by her parents, apparently because he finds her having opinions offensive. He called Michelle Malkin a "mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick." He found it newsworthy to discuss Carrie Prejean’s breasts on his MSNBC show. His solution for dealing with Hillary Clinton, who he thought should drop out of the presidential race, was to find "somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out."

OK. That stuff really isn't misogynist. It's mean. It might be over the line of good taste in Cupp's case. It might just be unnecessary and irrelevant with the Prejean story. It might be juvenile to make cracks about Malkin's (ghastly) appearance rather than focusing on her (idiotic) ideas. But I think you would be hard pressed to label those comments misogynist, either in a vacuum or compared to Limbaugh's recent rants.

Left-wing darling Matt Taibbi wrote on his blog in 2009, "When I read [Malkin’s] stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of balls in her mouth." In a Rolling Stone article about Secretary of State Clinton, he referred to her "flabby arms." When feminist writer Erica Jong criticized him for it, he responded by referring to Jong as an "800-year old sex novelist."

Hmm. I guess the balls-in-mouth thing is borderline at best, but the other two comments are about age and appearance. And the number of instances in which Taibbi has mocked the appearance of male political figures is longer than the phone book. So perhaps a better criticism would be his shallowness. Those quotes make pretty meager evidence for woman-hating.

Then things go completely off the rails.

In Taibbi’s profile of Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann he labeled her "batshit crazy." (Oh, those "crazy" women with their hormones and all.)

Wow. OK. That's really reaching. Like, that's possibly the lamest effort to paint someone as a misogynist that I've ever seen. It's akin to calling Al Sharpton an asshole and then scare-quoting "asshole" as evidence that you hate black people.

Chris Matthews’s sickening misogyny was made famous in 2008, when he obsessively tore down Hillary Clinton for standing between Barack Obama and the presidency, something that Matthews could not abide. Over the years he has referred to the former first lady, senator and presidential candidate and current secretary of state as a "she-devil," "Nurse Ratched," and "Madame Defarge." Matthews has also called Clinton "witchy," "anti-male," and "uppity" and once claimed she won her Senate seat only because her "husband messed around."

This is weak sauce for so many reasons. First, do you really want to play the "Let's look at what pundits have called Hillary Clinton over the years" game, Kirsten? Second, I agree with the general consensus that Chris Matthews is a condescending, chauvinist asshead who would have fit right in with the media of the 1950s. This laundry list of words uttered about Clinton, however, hardly provide much evidence of that. I mean, calling someone "Madame Defarge" is hardly the sort of thing that would get the interest groups in a tizzy, even if Glenn Beck said it. Then she really stretches things:

Matthews has wondered aloud whether Sarah Palin is even "capable of thinking" and has called Bachmann a "balloon head" and said she was "lucky we still don’t have literacy tests out there."

Once again, those quotes have absolutely nothing to do with the main argument in this column.

The author then devotes a paragraph to Bill Maher quotes. We are all inescapably aware of the fact that Bill Maher is a jagoff. He's a paranoid, attention starved conspiracy theorist who thinks Jenny McCarthy is an authority on vaccination. After trying to suggest that Bill Maher is really important and well respected among liberals, she notes:

Maher has called Palin a "dumb twat" and dropped the C-word in describing the former Alaska governor. He called Palin and Congresswoman Bachmann "boobs" and "two bimbos." He said of the former vice-presidential candidate, "She is not a mean girl. She is a crazy girl with mean ideas." He recently made a joke about Rick Santorum’s wife using a vibrator.

Again, anyone who thinks it's appropriate to call women twats, bimbos, and cunts in any setting is an asshole. Point taken. The rest, once again, is irrelevant. He called Sarah Palin mean? Heavens!

So basically the take home points here are: A) Ed Schultz called someone a slut and a bimbo, for which he was rightfully suspended, and B) Bill Maher uses words like cunt and bimbo to describe female political figures. Everything else here, including the implication that Maher is held in great esteem on the left, is tangential at best and irrelevant at worst. She could have focused on Schultz and Maher, recounting in detail how various feminist figures and blogs failed to make the same stink that they have made over Limbaugh. That would have been a point earned and taken. Instead she got greedy, presumably because she didn't think two examples would be enough. She needed a parade of misogynist comments to give this argument gravitas. The finished product is so full of red herrings and flat-out lousy reasoning that the valid points she could have made end up lost among the nonsense.