Rush Limbaugh, the bigoted talk-radio host, is worthy of our collective loathing. But cancer is not a form of righteous punishment.
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Rush Limbaugh is an absolutely horrible person.
He is, in fact, possibly one of the most wretched people who has ever lived. He hasn’t killed anyone—that we know of. But I think he’s worse than most murderers. He has made an entire living out of stoking people’s most atrocious instincts, of inuring them to racism, sexism, homophobia, and nurturing in them just about every hateful quality a person could possess. He has made the world an evil place for all of us. If he has any redeeming qualities, I do not know about them, nor should they matter.
The press release announcing his Presidential Freedom Award read: “His radio show has been on the air for more than three decades and has had an incalculable effect on American politics and government.” And that certainly is true. The brutal cruelty of the Trump administration would likely not be possible were it not for the brutal cruelty of Rush Limbaugh.
But: Rush Limbaugh does not “deserve” cancer. And saying that he does is pretty awful.
Do I mean this as some kind of beautiful, hippy-dippy gesture of civility toward … Racist Rush Limbaugh? Heavens, no! I wouldn’t spit on him if he were on fire. And I will not shed a tear for him when he is gone.
It’s not that.
It’s that when I shoot, I want to directly hit my target, without any civilian casualties.
There are a lot of people out there who are going through hell with cancer. There are a lot of people going through hell watching people they love go through cancer. The last thing any one of them needs to hear is that cancer is a kind of righteous punishment for shitty people.
Cancer is such a devastating, traumatic illness, and it dredges up so much heartache—is it worth dredging up those kinds of feelings only for the sake of having a go at Rush Limbaugh? I don’t think so.
Cancer is not a form of righteous punishment. That is just not how cancer, or any other terminal, devastating disease works. That is magical thinking of the worst kind.
There is something especially insidious about suggesting that there is anything anyone can do to deserve cancer when we live in a country where healthcare is not considered a basic human right.
Anyone, good or bad, can get sick or hurt, through absolutely no fault of their own. They can be hard workers, they can be kind, they can pay their insurance on time every month, and be the most “personally responsible” person on Earth—and with the system we have, they can still lose their homes because their health took a bad turn. Understanding that disease and injuries are not punishments is key to understanding why universal healthcare is the only just option for all of us.
There’s another kind of equally awful magical thinking happening on the Right, with regard to Rush’s diagnosis—the idea that it somehow eradicates all of the harm he’s done, and redeems him, actually turns him into a saint. That now that he is sick, bringing up the horrible things he’s said about people is just déclassé. Not that they’d extend such magnanimity to ill folks on the Left, as we’ve all seen every time Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has so much as a sniffle.
Now, you find out someone you know (who is not a monster) has cancer, you don’t immediately bring up the time they ditched you to go hang out with some dude who didn’t return your crockpot for a year. That, obviously, would be a rude and extremely off-putting thing to do.
But just as Rush Limbaugh getting cancer doesn’t mean cancer has gained a sense of morality, neither does it mean that Rush Limbaugh getting cancer has suddenly been endowed with a sense of morality.
In fact, since it is extremely unlikely that Rush Limbaugh, on his deathbed, will express any regret or remorse for the things he did and said, there is not the slightest ethical or moral issue with repeating them. He should always be remembered as the person who said women who receive subsidized birth control should be required to post videos of themselves having sex online. He also called what happened at Abu Ghraib “fun” and “like a fraternity prank.” And let us not forget: He repeatedly called President Obama “Barack the Magic Negro,” and said watching football was like watching the Bloods and the Crips.
To not mention these things would practically be an insult to the person he aspired, even strived to be: a wretched, loud-mouthed bigot. He always wanted to be that person, and we should remember him that way.
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