The ongoing sideshow that stands in for U.S. politics these days continues. This week's distraction from useful nation-building is the Rush Limbaugh - Sandra Fluke Slutstakes Contest, wherein a reasonable and composed Georgetown Law student testifying before Congress about the need for comprehensive female health care is labeled a "slut" and a "prostitute" by our nation's #1 radio personality. Please re-read that last sentence, and stop to consider that reality: Rush Limbaugh is the most widely-syndicated, most-listened-to radio broadcaster in America. Now, I feel pretty confident that most citizens would agree in principle that the ability we have to speak before our lawmakers is a precious right, and that America was formed to give that voice to all, to coalesce differences into shared visions, to benefit from our rich personal diversities without fear of reprisal from lords, kings, or fellow citizens. Furthermore, we are taught from preschool on that respecting others and refraining from hurtful, baseless name-calling is part of the Golden Rule that makes up the very foundation of a civil, functional society.

So why is it we have made Rush Limbaugh, who gleefully follows none of these cherished American tenets, into a millionaire with huge political influence?

What is it, exactly, that we believe is right? Who is it, exactly, that we wish to emulate? What need is it that someone like Limbaugh fills for so many here? It's simple (and correct) to place blame on Limbaugh for his smearing, strange attack on a private citizen, but what we forget is that in the end, he is nothing more than a reflection of his listeners. If his vitriol wasn't resonating with millions, he wouldn't be where he is today. He is no leader; he is a shrewd, merciless mirror. That Limbaugh chooses to profit handsomely off the bitter righteousness of those who support him isn't unusual; someone will always step in if there's money to be made. What we must face and reconcile is that the lessons of preschool behavior, the Golden Rule, and the idea that America's strength is based on respect and diversity and free will are utterly lost on a great swath of our citizens. They are the ones who feel victimized and voiceless, remember; they feel unheard and undervalued, so much so that a man like Limbaugh isn't seen as a bully, but as a hero.

Perhaps it was inevitable. For as much as we give lip-service to tolerance and kindness, our society isn't really set up to make that flourish. Bullies and extremists arise and thrive in climates of neglect and need; it might be no coincidence that the successes of "shock jocks" like Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and Don Imus coincide with a 30-year slide into massive American wealth inequity, and jobs that have disappeared into technological advances and human outsourcing. Add in a media-saturated public, whose attention can be assured in a choice-riddled landscape by salient programming: more sex, more violence, more outrageous behavior, more outrageous speech, acting as shameless, blameless comfort and catharsis. Top it with the lasting impressions such programming leaves, that traditional morals and values are circling the drain to leave the United States with nothing but welfare-abusing, sex-addicted, drug-gobbling, gang-banging single parents with non-white skin. Someone has to say something about it!! Someone has to do something before it's too late!!

Enter Rush Limbaugh. Let's deconstruct his "Fluke comment," from both sides. From his show transcripts:

"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan (sic) Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps."

Limbaugh knew what to hammer home here to his listeners: over the next few days, he repeated the sentiment that Fluke "wants to make you and me, the taxpayers, pay her to have sex" by including birth control as a required covered health benefit. If you go no further down the line with this reasoning, it's an easy sell. Despite the fact that 95% of all Americans have sex before they are married, there remains a persistant, church-fueled shame bomb hurled at women who have the responsible foresight to avoid unwanted pregnancy by using birth control. In the simplistic reasoning of Rush World, if ya don't want to get knocked up, don't have sex, or pay for your own whoring around! Supporters pooh-pooh the seriousness of Limbaugh's words, calling him "an entertainer" and "absurdist," to deflect intent and very carefully-chosen crosshairs. "He's just kidding! Get over it! What, Little Law Lady, dontcha have a sense of humor?"

But Rush World is not Real World, no matter what religious leaders or sexual hypocrites might wish. In the real world, and as it has been for all time, people have sex. They have sex for all kinds of reasons, at all different times in their lives, and with all different kinds of people. It's a basic piece of human life and natural biology. And even if it's a dumb thing to do, you know what? They are still gonna do it, no matter what. Can sexual urges and desires be controlled by willpower and cultural norms? Yes, and they are, of course. You don't really know too many drooling pansexual hedonists, do you? I don't either. Most Americans have pretty tame sexual histories, tending towards a low number of partners and serial monogamy. Birth control has not so much changed sexual behavior; people still like to fall in love and not be anyone's Flavor-Of-The-Month. What birth control has done is provide women (and the men who actually have the sex with them) control and choice over when and with whom they'd like to start a family.

So, hopping on the Logic Train, we know that:

1. People are going to have sex with people they aren't married to, and also have sex with the people they are married to but not want to have a child every single time.

2. No church, no political pundit, and no misogynistic laws have ever changed that, or will change that. Don't even bother suggesting people be celibate, have sex for procreation only, or give their unwanted children up for adoption. Not gonna happen, no matter how badly you think it should or how many times you can call one of the 95% a "slut."

3. Reproductive health is a huge part of every woman's life, and affects many different aspects of general well-being. Every women should be taught to be proactive and responsible, and given full access to birth control choices. Cost is part of what "full access" means.

4. Birth control and family planning has strong health and social benefits that impact us all. Unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children are socially expensive, costing taxpayers far more in health care costs, ongoing child support, and lost educational/economic opportunities for women. Birth control is cheap and effective, costing taxpayers far, far less.

5. Conservatives like to pay less in taxes and social services, therefore should support birth control in any insurance health plan.

6. All five points above aren't going to make a damn bit of difference to Rush and his listeners.

Why? Because they get more juice from shaming, blaming, ranting, and hating than they care about where their tax dollars go. It's not about money. It's about power, and how to feel a little piece of that in lives that, to them, feel increasingly powerless and frustrating. It's about finding someone else to push your own misery on to avoid facing a world that cannot, and never could, move backwards. It's the thrill of having some big fat morally-bereft creep say the words you wish you could say, but can't. Rush Limbaugh does the dirty work, gets paid very well, and the imitators and ignoramuses spread his message, a cancerous, threading, intractable tumor that threatens to take away our voices, one chokehold victim at a time.

What is it, exactly, that we believe is right? Who is it, exactly, that we wish to emulate?