Saturday, March 10, 2012

Republican Racism Example #34: Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke And Mike Lester's Racist Cartoon


This would seem to be one of those intentionally impossible-to-solve Zen riddles like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” How would it be possible to make hate radio host Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic attacks on Georgetown University law student Sandra Flake as a “whore” and a “prostitute” more offensive?

If you are the mentally challenged syndicated editorial cartoonist Mike Lester of Rome, Georgia, the impossible comes in two easy steps: combine Rush’s cowardly attacks on a smart, assertive women with caveman racist  stereotyping of President Barack Obama.

Last week, Lester released a cartoon portraying Fluke sitting smugly at a table while Obama stands nearby dressed as a1970s Superfly-style pimp.  “She just wants to have recreational sex and you to pay for it,” the Obama caricature, wearing a fur jacket, a dollar sign chain and a hat with a big feather says. “It’s not exactly a new concept.”


Georgia cartoonist Mike Lester exploits the Sandra Fluke-Rush Limbaugh imbroglio to reveal his inner Klansman, portraying President Barack Obama as Superfly.  (Cartoon posted  the Angry Black Lady Chronicles at http://angryblacklady.com/2012/03/06/wont-be-long-now-folks/)

The image of the president of the United States as a black pimp is racist on its surface.  It taps into stereotypes of black men as oversexed, amoral criminals.  It also evokes the fear of black sexual control of white women that provoked so many murders of African American men by white mobs in the late 19th century to early 20th century.

Lester’s cartoon completely mimics a line of attack launched earlier by Limbaugh against Fluke, a Georgetown University law student.  For those of you who hide from all news of Limbaugh to preserve your mental health, the self-proclaimed “epitome of morality and virtue” last week went on a relentless three day tirade against Fluke, who was not allowed to testify February 16 before a U.S. House committee chaired by Republican  Rep. Darrell Issa.  The California politician, who has been arrested in the past for weapons charges and auto theft and investigated for arson (for more on this, see http://www.newser.com/story/109882/darrell-issas-criminal-past-back-in-the-spotlight.html), held a hearing of his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate President Obama’s proposed rules requiring businesses to provide their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.


The Issa hearing: a group of men deciding women's fate without listening to their intended victims.  (Photo from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2102411/Birth-control-hearing-Capitol-Hill-led-male-panel.html)

Republicans attacked these rules as a “war on religion” because the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, owns businesses like hospitals whose insurance plans for employees would have to provide such coverage.  (Houses of worship, retreats and other institutions whose purpose is primarily religious, by the way, would be exempt from the rule.)

Many of the employees of Catholic-owned hospitals are not Catholics or are Catholics who don’t accept the church’s teachings that birth control somehow equals murder.   (About 98 percent of Catholic women at some point who are sexually active take birth control, according to a recent study by the Public Religion Institute.  According to the survey, 58 percent of Catholics “believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception.”  For more, see http://www.freep.com/article/20120208/NEWS07/120208008/Survey-Majority-of-Catholics-support-including-birth-control-in-health-care-plans).

By the way, the Catholic Church operates 12 percent of the hospitals and other health care institutions in this country – some 600 – and sometimes they control the only hospitals in town.  Giving these businesses an exemption would mean that a significant number of health care professionals, including Catholics who dissent on the contraception ban, Protestants, Jews, atheists and others would be forced to bear an expensive medical cost because of the religious beliefs imposed on them by a church.  (See http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/topics/healthcare/documents/2005factsaboutcatholichealthcare.pdf).

Fluke wanted to tell Issa’s committee that paying out of pocket for such medication would cost Georgetown employees and students up to $3,000 a year.  She wanted to share the story of a friend who needed the oral contraceptive for treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that leads to irregular menstruation, and can cause infertility and the development of facial hair among other problems.  She said the friend was repeatedly denied coverage for this treatment by Georgetown University’s health insurers who claimed the friend was using the pill primarily for contraceptive purposes.  (Birth control pills are often effective treatments for a range of conditions including endometriosis, menstrual cramps, irregular menstruation, and PMS.  For more, see http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/med-uses-ocp.html.)

Denied a chance to testify before Issa’s committee, Fluke spoke instead a press conference arranged by Democratic members of the panel.  This provoked Limbaugh’s jihad and later Lester’s racist cartoon.  Note that Fluke was not talking about the cost of oral contraceptives, but a friend’s medical need for the pill.  This was not about sex.  But Limbaugh and Lester have their minds in the gutter, and used the opportunity to make leering accusations against the young woman.

 (This sexual obsession is not surprising for Limbaugh, who in March 2009 was detained by authorities at Palm Beach International Airport with a bottle of Viagra not prescribed to him after he returned from the Dominican Republic, an infamous sex tourism spot featuring brothels with underage prostitutes.  For more, see http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-1753947.html and http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/rush-limbaughs-dominican-stag-party.)

On a February 29 broadcast, Limbaugh bellowed, “What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], 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? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.” At another point, Limbaugh said, “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills.” 


Rush Limbaugh: sometimes it's not just a cigar.  (Image from http://media.photobucket.com/image/rush%20limbaugh/rachelellenspics/limbaugh.jpg?o=20)

Rush – and the cartoonist Lester -- are so dumb they apparently don’t know that for birth control pills to work you have to tale them daily and that the yearly cost would be the same whether you never had sex or had it ten times a day.  In any case, Fluke’s sex life is irrelevant to the case she was making.  Again, Fluke was not talking about birth control  in relationship to sex (as if that’s Limbaugh and Leste’s business anyway) but for medical purposes. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/rush-limbaugh-sandra-fluke-slut_n_1311640.html.)

Limbaugh continued to make big assumptions about Fluke’s personal life even though he’s apparently never met her, spoken to her, or knows anyone who knows her.  He repeatedly said that Fluke wanted “taxpayers” to subsidize her sex life, when she as talking about health insuance coverage at a private university (with Lester aping this dishonest claim.)  Limbaugh licentiously sneered, “she is having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk.” The radio host continued this verbal assault for three days, and displayed a disturbing prurient interest in the Georgetown student, at one point making this creepy suggestion:

“So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch it.”  (See http://mediamatters.org/blog/201203010012#wednesday)

Limbaugh has made vile, gutless attacks on women, gays, immigrants and African Americans for years.  His talk show has been frequently racist.  He started his radio career as a disc jockey under the pseudonym “Jeff Christie” and once told a black caller to “take the bone out of your nose.”  On a January 19, 2007 broadcast, Limbaugh compared black professional football players to criminal street gangs, "Look it, let me put it to you this way,” he bellowed. “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.”  (I will outline Rush’s racism in more detail in a subsequent post, but for more on this topic, see here: file:///Users/michaelphillips/Desktop/Limbaugh's%20%22colorblind%22%20history%20of%20racially%20charged%20comments%20%7C%20Media%20Matters%20for%20America.webarchive). 

Through more than 20 years of on-air gay bashing, women hating and ugly white supremacist blather, advertisers stuck with him and Republican politicians and operatives  were eager to praise Rush and link their names to him  Just this February 15, on Hardball, Ed Rogers, a “mainstream” Republican lobbyist defended the radio host who had claimed that Democrats hate children because they “abort their own,” proclaiming with no obvious embarrassment that, “Rush Limbaugh is a good man and a wise man.”  (See http://video.msnbc.msn.com/hardball/46403982#46403982).   The so-called reasonable wing of the Republican Party always enabled Rush Limbaugh’s extremism and the hate of his even less capable imitators like Lester.

Lester is not a marginal figure.  His cartoons are syndicated across the country.  He is an award-winning illustrator of children’s books.  Lest you believe the myth that liberals dominate the media, this troglodyte won the 2007 Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartoons.  (SDX is a journalism professional fraternity.  (This tribute to Lester represents further proof of the right-wing bias and the intellectual and moral deterioration of 21st century American journalism.)  To give you another example of Lester’s attitude towards race, this cartoon records his response to racially inflammatory remarks made by two celebrities in November 2006.


A Mike Lester cartoon that illustrates the concept of "false equivalency."  (Cartoon from the Cracked.com website at http://www.cracked.com/funny-4833-political-cartoons/)

That month, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, an African American, suggested during an ESPN broadcast that white Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s athletic skills might stem from an  unknown African American ancestor.  "[There might be] some brother in that line somewhere,” Irvin said. “ . .  [A]  great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma pulled one of them studs up out of the barn  and got down to business. . . [saying] `Come on in here for a second.’”  ( See http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=solomon_george&id=2681869) .
The same month, Michael Richards, who achieved almost a decade of fame playing the character Kramer on the hit comedy show Seinfeld, made headlines with an obscenity-filled rant aimed at a pair of African American hecklers attending his standup act.  Pacing maniacally back and forth, Richard yelled:

"You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now motherfucker. Throw his ass out. He's a nigger! He's a nigger! He's a nigger! A nigger, look, there's a nigger! Oooo! Ooo... All right, ya see? It shocks you, it shocks you, to see what's buried beneath, you stupid mother fuckers!" (The rant can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pp6WC1Ocz4).

Right-wingers, of course, love the concept of “reverse racism.” If they can somehow prove that African Americans are as racist as whites, then whites need not apologize for slavery, segregation, lynching, environmental racism or the other injuries inflicted over the entire duration of American history.  By extension, America need not make an effort to address educational and economic inequality suffered by African Americans and Latinos.  Lester wants you to think that a dumb remark by a black man that African Americans are better athletes than whites carries the same dangerous hurt as a white man screaming “Nigger” at a black person. 


Syndicated cartoonist Mike Lester doesn't think that a white man calling black people "niggers" is particularly racist.  (Photo from Mike Lester's home page at http://www.mikelester.com/profile.html)..

Perhaps if we lived in an alternative United States located in an alternative universe where a black Ku Klux Klan terrorized entire white communities and burned crosses in white people’s yards; if thousands of blacks had regularly gathered to hang white people for alleged crimes without benefit of trial; if black people in America had spent more than two centuries selling white people like barnyard animals; if a black-run America for decades provided whites only shabby, minimally funded schools; if white people were paid less money for doing the same job as black people; and if black-run city councils routinely placed highly polluting industries that pumped toxic lead  and other poisons in in the air and soil in white neighborhoods, Lester might have a point.

Back on the real Planet Earth, the sound of the word “Nigger” often accompanied the snap of a cracking whip or a the clap of a gallows trap door suddenly opening.  A dumb joke crediting Tony Romo’s athletic talent to supposed black ancestors is not the moral equivalent of saying the “N-word.”  Lester and Limbaugh want it to be, to encourage collective amnesia about America’s sinister racial past, so they can advance a vicious Social Darwinist agenda of shredding social programs, a budget-cutting orgy that would claim African Americans as its primary victims.   It would be easy to dismiss Lester’s cartoons, and Limbaugh’s on-air vitriol as more monotonous, brain-dead provocation from the Republican right.  Unfortunately, such overheated rhetoric carries a blood-soaked historical burden.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:


White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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