After an appearance of contrition as advertisers deserted him this week, Rush Limbaugh is back on comfortable ground. Whenever Republican opinionators like Limbaugh are condemned for something they say, their preferred defense is to accuse their accusers of hypocrisy, the assumption being that Democrats, liberals and leftists have no real consistent moral ground, but condemn their ideological opponents for words or acts that would be forgiven from fellow leftists. Limbaugh has raised the double standard by complaining that the President made no objection last year when the president of the Teamsters union, while sharing a podium with him, referred to Tea Partiers as "sons of bitches."
As George Will would write, "Well." I'm not sure if Limbaugh wanted Obama to chide the speaker for swearing, or if the radio talker really thinks that calling anyone a "son of a bitch" is morally equivalent to a man calling a young woman a "slut" and a "prostitute." While "bitch" on its own retains some malignant potency, and it would be beyond the pale for any Democratic orator to call conservative women "bitches," and maybe even more so to use that term for conservative men, "son of a bitch" is practically meaningless. How many people even envision a dog when using the epithet? If this is Limbaugh's best evidence of Obama's hypocrisy as a judge of rhetoric, he needs to try harder.
Limbaugh was further embittered by the President's comment on the talker's apology to the insulted college student. Asked whether he felt Limbaugh was sincere -- why his opinion on the question mattered was unclear -- Obama seemed subtly snarky when using the language of Franklin Graham to confess that he "did not know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart" and therefore withhold judgment. This provoked Limbaugh into invoking old Rev. Wright once more, reviving the forlorn Republican hope that someday, someone will care about the crackpot divine's condemnation of America. But as not all Christians in America go to anodyne megachurches, it's possible that most Christians have heard a pastor of theirs condemn America (or Americans) for some sin or another. So let the Limbaughs keep bringing him up; they only waste their own airtime.
As I wrote earlier this week, we should strive to avoid real hypocrisy in our outrage at controversial statements. We don't want to set a standard by which only statements insulting or seeming hurtful to liberals are condemned while conservatives have to endure every form of invective. But if we sit down to cobble together an informal code of etiquette, someone like Rush Limbaugh would probably be too interested a party to have a part in the negotiation. Those who agree with his position on collegiates' entitlement to contraception without condoning his slander of a student would be better suited for the job.