Why Bill Maher is no Rush Limbaugh

In order to deflect attention from the implosion of Rush Limbaugh after his barrage of personal attacks on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, the right wing has now turned its attention to liberal comedian Bill Maher.

Maher, who has publicly defended Limbaugh in the wake of the Fluke flap, recently gave $1 million dollars to Priorities USA, which is the Super PAC backing President Obama’s re-election efforts.

The argument of the right is that if President Obama wants more civility, as he said in his recent news conference, he should set an example by returning Bill Maher’s donation, because the cable host and comedian has said sexist and controversial things in the past.

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This week, when asked about Limbaugh’s horrible attacks on Sandra Fluke, President Obama said, ”[W]e want to send a message to all our young people that 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 that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.”

Key words: private citizen. An attack by Rush Limbaugh on Sandra Fluke is not the same thing as a sexist attack on Sarah Palin by Bill Maher, as many on the right have claimed. Sandra Fluke is a law student who testified at a congressional hearing about an issue, the affordable access to contraception, which matters to her as a student of a Catholic institution. Sarah Palin is a public figure whose status and notoriety, not to mention her lack of shyness when launching personal attacks on others, makes her open to ridicule and criticism.

While it’s true that sexist attacks on any woman are wrong, a comedian attacking a former candidate for vice president and an influential shock jock radio show host attacking a regular person are in no way the same thing.

Secondly, the power that Bill Maher has on the left and among elected Democrats and the power that Rush Limbaugh has on the right and among elected Republicans can hardly be compared. Bill Maher is a liberal comedian who has a history of controversial statements. Maher was forced out of his ABC show during the Bush years after making offensive comments about the 9/11 hijackers.

If Maher says something sexist or offensive, which is pretty much par for the course, no elected Democrat is calling him out on it, because if they did, it would be a weekly routine. No Democrat has criticized Bill Maher and scurried to apologize to him for fear of losing support among the Democratic base. Bill Maher is not the left’s Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh is a Republican leader. Limbaugh wields actual power and influence among both conservative politicians and voters. When he says something offensive and is called out by Republicans, there is what Talking Points Memo refers to as “hang time,” that period before a Republican is forced to drop down and beg Limbaugh for forgiveness by taking back their initial comments that critiqued him. Former RNC chairman, Michael Steele, made it almost 48 hours, which is the longest “hang time” clocked to date.

Lastly, Bill Maher gave a Super PAC that is supporting the president’s re-election a donation. Legally, Super PACs aren’t supposed to have any official contact with a campaign, and it would be wholly inappropriate for the president to ask the Super PAC to return a donation.

Furthermore, in an election year where estimates of $1 billion dollars have been thrown around as the needed amount for the president to win, a million sounds like a drop in the bucket.

If every Super PAC were required to return every donation of every supporter who said something sexist or offensive, it would get a little ridiculous. Foster “gals used to put aspirin between the knees” Friess is the head of Rick Santorum’s Super PAC. Donald “birther” Trump endorsed Mitt Romney, and the GOP frontrunner didn’t see anything wrong with promoting that endorsement with a joint press conference.

The right-wing media needs to give it a rest with the calls for the return of Bill Maher’s Super PAC donation. The ongoing “war on women” and contraception debate has evolved into a winning issue for Democrats, and this fact is causing right wing panic. The comparison of Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher is a false equivalency, which is a patented tactic of conservatives to deflect and distract from legitimate criticism, and it shouldn’t work this time.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell