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Commentary: What's Rush Limbaugh really about?

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Too bad the Republican candidates had to comment on Rush Limbaugh's flaming attack on a female law student at Georgetown University. El Rushbo plays troubadour to the party's right wing from his home in its entertainment wing. The business of the entertainment wing is show business. That means making money off talk shows, books and TV appearances -- and running the publicity machine at hysterical volume. It does not mean keeping the interests of the Republican Party foremost.

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My take on Limbaugh is that he was losing his spotlight tan and needed a UV blast of attention. Thus the "conservative" radio personality called the self-possessed Sandra Fluke "a slut" and "a prostitute" for testifying in favor of requiring all employers to cover birth control. Elaborating further, he suggested that mandating coverage for contraceptives amounted to the public paying women to have sex. In return, the women should tape themselves in the act, he ventured, "and post the videos online so we can all watch." Attention he got.

President Obama called Fluke and said he'd stand by her, while his press secretary characterized the attacks as "reprehensible." But the Republican candidates -- though already in hot water with many women voters -- so feared Limbaugh's wrath that they issued mild responses. Mitt Romney squeaked out that "it's not the language I would have used." Rick Santorum offered that "an entertainer can be absurd." (Not just entertainers, Rick.)

Full disclosure: Limbaugh targets me on occasion. But though he's said such unflattering things as "she might be stupid," I don't mind much. She who dishes it out should be able to take it. In any case, my right-wing friends are so mightily impressed when the Great One finds me worthy of notice, they invite me to lunch and pick up the check.

I confess to a tiny soft spot for Rush. In top form, he can amuse as well as irk. Meanwhile, he faces stiff competition, as others crowd the stage El Rushbo once dominated.

Sarah Palin was the Republican choice four years ago to stand one heartbeat away from the presidency. She's now on Fox talking about the media getting "wee-weed" over Santorum's Satan talk. Then there's Ann Coulter, the late Andrew Breitbart and an army of industrious online provocateurs.

Climbing the greasy pole of the 24/7 right-wing news cycle requires finding increasingly violent ways to express contempt for liberals and their attitudes. But having been at this for a quarter of a century, Rush is getting a bit old hat. Next to what else is out there, his Angry White Male riffs seem almost staid. Hence, the graphic amplification at the expense of a poorly chosen victim.

It's one thing to gargle vile things into the mike, even if they ultimately hurt the cause one purports to serve. It's quite another to offend advertisers. When advertisers go, so does the money. Several advertisers, perhaps having eyed the exits for some time, pulled out after the offensive remarks. That alone explains Limbaugh's eagerness to issue a rare regret.

Whether his media empire fully recovers remains to be seen. Abject apologies didn't work too well for talk radio king Don Imus. In a similar verbal belch, he called the splendid Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

As for Limbaugh's intended target, I imagine that she's tougher than he is. And women not in the business of responding angrily to swipes at their gender are laughing at the shtoopidity.

Which makes me want to end with a gem from the Rush Limbaugh Treasury of Humor: "Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud." Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.

Froma Harrop's email address is fharrop@wctrib.com.

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