Oh boy, it’s going to be a long campaign season…
Faced with what appears to be a losing fight over Rush Limbaugh, Republicans are trying to turn the tables in the condemnation game by urging President Obama to repudiate comedian Bill Maher, who donated $1 million to Obama’s super PAC and has said some nasty things about Sarah Palin and other Republican women.
Republicans think they’re really on to something here. And some observers agree.
If Obama wants to have credibility on the Limbaugh attacks, says Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund and a former Democratic House candidate, he’s going to have to show he’ll step up to all sexism when he sees it, even the sexism that comes from huge donors.
“They’re absolutely identical,” Bennett said. “It’s completely unacceptable when Maher said sexist things about Bachmann and Palin. It’s completely unacceptable when Rush called Sandra Fluke a ‘slut.’”
“If you attack one woman, you attack all women, period,” she added. “If it goes uncalled against, we’re saying it’s OK. It’s not.”
The WCF is a nonpartisan group that helps pro-choice women run for office. The group runs NameItChangeIt.org, a blog that tracks sexism in political coverage (and has taken on Maher in the past). Bennett said the media environment has gotten worse for women candidates in recent years — and she has data that proves that when politicians call out the sexism among their supporters, they benefit from it.
“Absolutely, in every case, unequivocally, research shows that if you speak out against sexism like this, everybody wins,” Bennett said. “You win as a third-party validator, the woman wins and of course the only one that doesn’t win is the bad guy who made that sexist statement.”
This is likely music to conservative ears, as they’ve tried mightily this week to deflect some of the Limbaugh fallout onto Maher. Conservative commentators have cried hypocrisy when it comes to Obama and Maher basically everywhere they can, and on Wednesday a group called ShePAC — dedicated to getting conservative Republican women elected — released a letter that condemned Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke and called on the super PAC supporting Obama, PrioritiesUSA, to give back Maher’s $1 million.
Obama’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. PrioritiesUSA would not go on the record. Maher’s representatives didn’t respond, though Maher tweeted support for Limbaugh’s apology Tuesday.
At his press conference Tuesday, Obama denounced the attacks and “horrible names” directed at women who speak out without mentioning Limbaugh or any liberal talkers directly.
“[W]e want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate, and we want you to be engaged, and there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen,” Obama said.
But Republicans urging Obama to turn on Maher may have skipped a step — some prominent members of their own party have avoided coming out and denouncing Limbaugh’s remarks unequivocally — even after Limbaugh himself denounced them. Mitt Romney has declined to condemn Limbaugh beyond saying that he wouldn’t have used the same language. A spokesperson for his campaign Wednesday said Romney wasn’t going to say anything more about Limbaugh because “We are not going to be distracted” from talking about the economy. Maybe Romney can avoid Limbaugh, but it’s harder for Republicans to get high and mighty about Maher while Romney and other Republicans celebrate rocker Ted Nugent. He’s said someepically offensive things about Hillary Clinton (not to mention Obama) and he’s a Romney backer.
The tit-for-tat game can go on and on, of course. But the Obama campaign may have made it tougher for Obama to ignore the harsh words thrown around by Maher, who is now (indirectly, to be sure) a major donor to his reelection bid. On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod had this to say about Romney and Limbaugh:
If you don’t have the strength to stand up to the most strident voices in your party [Limbaugh], how are you going to stand up to Ahmadinejad? … How are you going to stand up to the challenges of the presidency?
Bennett certainly thinks Obama’s facing a challenge of leadership, too.
“The best thing that comes out of this,” she said, referring to the Limbaugh episode, “is that it disturbs complacency and it wakes people up.”