Much space has been devoted in this blog to the discussion of technology. How rapidly the times they are a changin' and not necessarily in the way that Bob Dylan intended. Indeed, technology seems to advance at such warp speeds that it's nearly impossible to monitor. Still, even with my limited knowledge (and interest) of this kind of advancement, I am willing to risk that modern medicine has not yet progressed to the point that women can now impregnate themselves. Sure, a woman with financial means can visit a doctor and pay to be artifically inseminated. But obviously, this woman is hoping to become pregnant and therefore not simultaneously seeking a prescription for birth control.
Understanding how babies are made does not escape even the youngest among us. Entire television programs are devoted to demonstrating the reproductive prowess of children. So why in the year 2012 do we still view birth control as a women's health issue? Shouldn't men be as concerned about their progeny? About their ability to assume responsibility for a life beyond their own? About the women they love whose health depends upon a little blue pill the way others depend upon injections of insulin or epinephrine? If birth control is a women's health issue - one that, as Rush Limbaugh suggests, is the business of the bedroom and not the federal government, then diabetes is an issue best discussed in the kitchen. People who would die from a bee sting should simply stay indoors.
During a press conference today, President Obama addressed Rush Limbaugh's comments about Sandra Fluke - sort of. He told reporters that he wouldn't comment on the advertisers who've pulled their dollars from Limbaugh's radio program. He wouldn't comment on the sincerity of Limbaugh's 'apology' to Sandra Fluke. He would say that the words used by the right-wing pundit had no place in the public discourse. For those of you who haven't heard, Sandra Fluke is a law student at Georgetown, who tried to testify before a congressional panel on behalf of the bill to include contraceptives in employer-provided health care. Limbaugh, as a point of reference, demonstrated his respect for the power of broadcasting, for the privilege of free speech and called this activist a slut. A prostitute. A woman whose agenda is to have as much sex as possible without consequence, seemingly for profit.
It just so happens that the focus of the classes I'm teaching this semester is argument. One of the first lessons about argument and its art, rhetoric, is that human tendency is to have the strongest opinions about the things we know least. Inflexibility and ignorance make smug bedfellows. And I suppose if the logic follows, then Rush Limbaugh is the least informed man in America. Here is what else Mr. Obama said during his press conference: "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 in a way that doesn't involve you being demeaned and insulted." The definition of argument - in my classroom - is mature reasoning. Defending not the first opinion that you have on a subject but the best opinion - arrived at through active listening, inquiry, and thoughtful consideration. What part of Rush Limbaugh's tirade involved thought? He's made a name for himself by spewing venom for public spectacle. Brandishing hate for entertainment. For years. And he's hardly the only one.
Sandra Fluke is a private citizen. She isn't running for President. She didn't deserve to be singled out, defamed for her bravery. In the end, she didn't even get to testify. The panel changed its mind and told her she would not be permitted to speak. She wanted to exercise her right to voice her opinion - calmly, intelligently, and with nary an expletive or personal attack on the character of the members of the panel. What she got instead was a phone call from Barack Obama. An appearance on The View. Over 280 million Google results. And hopefully, enough public outrage to call attention to the flagrant misuse of so many microphones. To reject the notion that the loudest voice is the most powerful.
Teddy Roosevelt was famous for saying "Speak softly and carry a big stick". It was something he'd heard in West Africa and though he wielded it as most politicians wield catch phrases: to advance his political agenda, I think it bears consideration. Speak softly, meaning be a mature reasoner. Be willing to listen - to change when presented with good cause. But carry a big stick - just in case you encounter a snake - earless and forktongued.