David Axelrod’s moral-equivalence argument that Limbaugh’s smear is worse than Maher’s because the former is both more influential and more identifiable with Republican circles is a sad sort of sophistry. Limbaugh may have a larger audience, but I suspect if you googled “Rush Limbaugh” and compared it to “Bill Maher,” the so-called hits would be about the same, given the latter’s ability, through political profanity and contrived P.T. Barnum–like antics, to find enormous publicity and influence beyond what his mediocre talents as a comedian might otherwise earn.
Few think Maher is any less a liberal commentator than Limbaugh is a conservative one; I don’t remember the latter giving a million dollars to a PAC to help reelect George W. Bush in 2004. There is also one other element in this moral-equivalence argument. Popular culture is more likely to hold Limbaugh accountable as a conservative who insults a female in the news than it is a hip liberal Maher who does the same — given that Maher’s noisy support for his brand of feminism, abortion, etc. earns him a sort of medieval exemption from scrutiny, and he, and others such as David Letterman, of course, take for granted and manipulate that latitude.
If Limbaugh were to smear Christian evangelicals, he would perhaps be let off easier than would Maher, as one who supposedly did not really mean what he had said, given his professed support for them. In other words, Maher is serially using liberals to provide cover for him. And they should ask themselves why Maher in the first place has such a creepy habit of using vulgarity in deriding women — on the assumption that his puerile means will be justified by others as serving supposedly valuable partisan ends. When those in the liberal community wake up to how they are being used (and thereby embarrassed) to facilitate a pathological sort who really does seem to dislike women, then Maher will go the way of Keith Olbermann and be left ranting to the wind.