Rush Limbaugh apologized.
Those three words are big news because apologizing ain't Mr. Limbaugh's thing. The nation's top conservative radio talker got where he is today by making controversial and crude remarks, not apologizing for them. Soft, politically correct liberals issues apologies, not "Rushbo." He tells it like it is, scornful critics be damned.
In case you didn't hear the original remarks that forced Mr. Limbaugh to apologize — and yes, he was forced — he called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a "prostitute" and "slut" after she testified in front of a congressional panel about health care coverage for contraception. Here's what he said last Wednesday:
"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan 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? It 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."
The next day, Mr. Limbaugh suggested that Ms. Fluke tape her sexual encounters so that taxpayers who subsidize her contraception can watch. He also offered to provide free aspirin to all Georgetown women to hold between their knees.
Mr. Limbaugh's lion-like Wednesday sermon was followed Saturday by a squeaky, mouse-like statement on his website. "My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir," that statement reads. "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
Before discussing his apology, let's try to unpack Mr. Limbaugh's puzzling comments.
For starters, because women use contraception on a regular, often daily, basis doesn't mean they are having sex all the time, or even every day, week or month. After all, for birth control pills to function correctly, women have to take them most days regardless of how often they're having sex. Also, does Mr. Limbaugh not know, or example, that some women take the pill to help regulate their menstrual cycles?
And how can he not realize and acknowledge that men are, by definition, implicit and indirect consumers of contraceptives? Every pregnancy — wanted or unwanted, averted or not — affects some man, too.
Mr. Limbaugh, mind you, has been married four times and is childless. Perhaps his four marriages have been sexless — although this seems unlikely, given that Mr. Limbaugh was stopped by customs officials during a 2006 trip to the Dominican Republic, a known sex tourism destination, with more than two dozen Viagra pills.
It's possible that Mr. Limbaugh is infertile. It's possible he, his wives and any other girlfriends over the years successfully practiced the withdrawal method, among the riskiest forms of birth control. (The old joke is that there's a name for men who rely on this method: daddy.)
But the more likely scenario is that Mr. Limbaugh and his childless partners over the years have relied at some point on more traditional and effective means of birth control, such as condoms or the pill.
Mr. Limbaugh's sex life is none of my business. (Believe me: I really don't want to think about it.) But if he or any of his partners have ever used contraception, that makes Mr. Limbaugh not just an insensitive blowhard but a hypocrite, too. Maybe he should hold his Viagra pills between his knees.
What the talk show host should apologize for is his obvious and rather profound ignorance about contraception. Contraceptive use isn't just a "women's" issue: It's a couples' issue, and half of the people in those couplings are men.
As for his apology, let's face it: Mr. Limbaugh, who champions the power of markets, learned the hard way what happens when market power is unleashed against him. By Friday afternoon last week, three of his radio program's sponsors — two mattress companies and Quicken Loans — had announced they would no longer advertise their products on his program. (Five more sponsors have since done the same.)
And so, after trademark tough-guy resistance for three days, Rush Limbaugh apologized. He probably didn't want to, but in the end he did it for the money — you know, like a prostitute does.
Thomas F. Schaller's column appears every other Wednesday. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.