Does backlash against Rush Limbaugh prove bounds of public discourse have shifted?
He's the guy who has spent more than 20 years calling feminists "feminazis," stating as one of his "undeniable truths" of life that "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society."
But as Rush Limbaugh reels from the pain of seeing 32 sponsors and two radio stations drop his broadcast after calling a college law student and prostitute and slut, even those of us who have criticized his rantings for many years can't help feeling a bit surprised.
I know some have noted that this time he went after an unknown woman using language even his conservative allies found disturbing, and that is true. Social media also played a huge part, allowing protesters to inundate Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of businesses trying to sell mattresses and computer tax programs with uncomfortable debate.
But I also think something has shifted in society.
We have the marriage of online media allowing instant contact with sponsors and a decreasing tolerance for prejudiced or sexist language in the public space. And the result is that shocking figures such as Limbaugh have been caught off guard by the force of people protesting statements he once used to say with no penalty.
I know some Limbaugh fans have brought up how liberal-leaning comic Bill Maher talks about women, and I agree that is a problem. But his words, awful as they are, don't focus on silencing an entire type of woman with ridicule and insinuations of moral failings. That kind of talk, which Limbaugh indulged more often, feels much more like oppression than Maher's vulgarities, bad as they are.
Just ask Don Imus, Ed Schultz, John Kobylt, Ken Chiampou or Randi Rhodes -- all radio and TV hosts suspended and/or fired for crossing the line in public discourse with comments which might have been tolerated on air 10 or 15 years ago.
Much as seems sometimes that we are moving backward socially, this time I think we took a solid leap forward; declaring that even the most powerful radio voice in America has to rein in the sexism if he wants to remain a mainstream media figure.
Of course, Limbaugh spent time on his show today attacking another woman, who he called an "authorette" for writing a book he didn't like. So maybe there's some more work to do.