This is the time of year when my perusal of The Boston Globe and other US media outlets is even more intense than normal. Not, or not solely, because baseball has returned, but because it’s election time in the States and today is Super Tuesday, the pivotal day after which Republicans may know who will represent them in their efforts to unseat Obama.
One man with very firm views on the issue is Rush Limbaugh, a ‘Conservative opinion leader’, who hosts a radio show on Premiere Radio Networks across the US. More than 15 million people tune in to each show. That's 15 million people who listen to a man who believes feminists are ‘feminazis’, who characterizes military people who have doubts about war as ‘phoney soldiers’ and who famously accused Michael J Fox of faking his Parkinson’s Disease in order to promote stem-cell research.
Just recently, he has targeted a law student called Sandra Fluke, who believes that contraception should be covered by student health insurance. This seems to me to be a reasonable proposition, but you can argue it both ways. Limbaugh, however, doesn’t argue; he rants. This woman is actually a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’, he shouts down his microphone.
Encouragingly, the insults were too much even for his own audience and he has ‘apologized’. How? By asserting that his comments were intended to be ‘humorous’. It was ‘a joke’.
Now, it is easy for those of us in the UK to adopt a slightly superior air when faced with the rantings of the American Right. As I’ve pointed out before, we smile condescendingly when Republicans spell incorrectly, commit malapropisms and go over the top with their evangelical tirades against what they see as Big Government.
We shouldn’t be so smug. We have our own version over here.
Jeremy Clarkson has an audience even larger than Limbaugh. He is a winer and diner with the Prime Minister. And he has the same casual racist, sexist, homophobic attitude to the world beyond his eyrie in Chipping Norton as Limbaugh does to the world beyond the Tea Party.
There is another parallel. When Clarkson is forced to apologize, as for example when advocating that striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families, or for his gratuitous insults to India and its people over Christmas, he responds as a Limbaugh. The comments were intended to be ‘humorous’. It was a ‘joke’.
And this, as my friend Charlotte Ford pointed out recently, is the behaviour of the school bully. Racist, sexist, homophobic, oafish behaviour is actually a joke that the rest of us don’t get.
It’s not. It’s racist, sexist, homophobic, oafish behaviour. And it needs to be stopped.
Today’s listening: The Further Festival at Mountain Aire, CA, from May 2010. Two days of joyful recreation of six of the Dead’s greatest albums.