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Saturday, January 16, 2010
 
THE DESPICABLES - NOT A TV DRAMA SERIES

There are almost no words to describe the way Rush Limbaugh has used the tragedy of Haiti and the US aid efforts as little more than a convenient springboard from which to launch a few more days of his unique brand of broadcast hate. While most conservative on air pundits are at least speaking of the tragedy with some degree of sympathy, some even guiding their viewers and listeners to places to donate money, Limbaugh is using it as an opportunity to attack the president in racist terms while discouraging his listeners from making aid donations via the White House. We’ve grown used to Limbaugh and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. We know there is no pit for this "thing" as Keith Olbemann so aptly named him the other night - too deep for him to crawl into. And we know he has an audience to whom this filth appeals, so perhaps it is useless to expect a negative reaction from them. But I have to ask - as I have done here before, what of his sponsors? Tiger Woods is revealed as a philanderer and his sponsors can’t drop their association with him fast enough. Limbaugh preaches hate day in and day out, spews lies on a regular basis and has chosen to use the occasion of one of the worst tragedies in recent history to trivialize the outpouring of the American people’s physical and monetary help to the people of Haiti and to attack the motives of our president - and his sponsors say and do nothing because he is able to persuade his audience to buy their products and services. Pat Robertson says that the Haitians are suffering because they made a pact with the devil to help them throw off the shackles of French domination. If there is such a thing, it would seem more likely that the sponsors of the Rush Limbaugh program are the ones who have made a pact with a devil and if they continue to not do or say nothing about his current behavior while millions of Americans react, as we always do in times of such tragedies, with sympathy and generosity, they - his financial enablers - should be ashamed to call themselves Americans.

I list Pat Robertson as a fellow "despicable" but in a sense, he has lots of company in people who do not consider themselves and who are not considered by others as despicable. Just as we have come to accept Limbaugh for what he is, we shouldn’t be surprised when Robertson uses a tragedy such as this to make one of his ridiculous pronouncements. But I doubt that it’s much more ridiculous than what can be heard on any given Sunday or Saturday or any other day in houses of worship as ministers of various faiths hold forth on the workings of their version of a deity. I have to wonder how many people of faith who find Robertson’s remarks disgusting, un-Christian or in any of a hundred ways unacceptable, also believe that all that happens, does so as a result of "The will of God."

How many times have we heard - and will continue to hear people give "thanks to God" for the miraculous rescue of some child from beneath a pile rubble when no one thought it possible that anyone could still be alive after so many days. But what does this really say about religious belief? That it was "God’s will" that the earthquake took place in the first place but that there were certain people that he had decided to spare from death? Or perhaps that the earthquake was a natural disaster having nothing to do with the will of any deity but that once it occurred, God stepped in to save a certain number of people?

Pat Robertson is far from unique in expressing a belief that great human tragedies occur as a result of God’s wrath at some form of human misbehavior. There are plenty of examples of such belief in the Bible. It’s just that Robertson has more of a bully pulpit than other so called religious leaders - and he is also a nut case, so more prone to making ridiculous and harmful pronouncements at the most inappropriate moments in history. He should be tarred and feathered and run out of the700 Club at the business end of a pitchfork. And his organization’s tax exempt status should be removed immediately. It won’t happen of course. We’ve allowed religious organizations and their leaders to get away with murder for years and there’s no sign of us changing how we view their place in society.

And yet the words of Robertson and Limbaugh - and perhaps those of others who have less of the public’s attention - beg the question - what do we do about people like this, particularly Limbaugh? How long does a civilized society put up with the likes of a Rush Limbaugh? We live in a free society, a bedrock of which is the right of free speech, so we can’t look to government to take him off the air and lock him away in a padded cell. (The padded cell wouldn’t be to protect him from self harm - just to protect others from the sound of his voice). And it’s pretty clear that we can’t look to his sponsors to withdraw their financial support or for radio station owners to be overcome with a terminal case of decency and replace his daily invective with a Beatles marathon. They are all in this together. Money, by way of mass appeal to the information deprived, trumps all sense of decency and fealty to truth. It is a three ring circus display of America at its worst. The ugliest of Americans as exalted spokesman for the ignorant and bigoted among us.

I don’t have an answer to the questions I have posed that would pass legal muster but I would imagine that millions of my fellow citizens have had some of the same dark thoughts that this man has stirred in me. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who I have quoted above, said the other night that there would be "consequences" for what Limbaugh has said about the tragedy of the Haitian people. I don’t know what he thinks they might be but I hope that there are consequences. This excuse for a man does not deserve to be any part of a civilized society.