Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh attends a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. President Bush was presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Limbaugh, who suffered hearing loss as a result of autoimmune inner ear disease, wears a cochlear implant, a powerful hearing aid that is implanted in the inner ear of an individual with nerve deafness.

Limbaugh: You'll pry my foreskin from my cold, dead hands

Circumcision -- tool of the coming fascist, penis-hating regime

Gabriel Winant
August 27, 2009 9:35PM (UTC)

If you had to whip up a too-good-to-be-true story for the right-wing pundit class to freak out over, what elements would you include? There would have to be, of course, an element of command-and-control socialist-fascist invasion and regulation of the most private parts of our lives, in the name of some spurious "common good." But that alone is a little pedestrian nowadays, so you'd want to add a nice dollop of male sexual neurosis to really kick it up a notch. Then  add just a hint of racial fear and beat to a froth.

What are we talking about here? Officials at the Centers for Disease Control, showing touching naiveté about the current political environment, are weighing an initiative to encourage male circumcision, with the idea that there are probably some minor health benefits. Says Dr. Peter Kilmarx, the head of epidemiology for the H.I.V./AIDS Prevention wing of the CDC, "What we've heard from our consultants is that there would be a benefit for infants from infant circumcision, and that the benefits outweigh the risks."


Seems straightforward. Sure, there are reasonable people on all sides of the general arguments about circumcision, but if the CDC takes a rigorous look and decides to encourage the surgery, what harm can they do?

Only a little bit, it turns out, but in a place where it really hurts. Ed Morrissey of the conservative blog Hot Air writes, "If the CDC -- which is part of the same government that will control health care -- decides that circumcision is beneficial and cost-efficient in the long term, that same mechanism would create pressure on doctors and patients to perform them."

Morrissey's argument has the same basic flaw that animated the "death panel" fears: an inability to distinguish between advice and force. If this CDC proposal goes into effect, it, like the now-dead end-of-life counseling proposal, would make available some valuable medical advice. There's nothing on the table to penalize doctors who don't circumcise newborns, or parents who decline the procedure. To have a "mechanism [that] would create pressure on doctors and patients," you need, well, a mechanism. Morrissey can't come up with one.


But when was the last time that stopped these guys? Two days ago, Rush Limbaugh claimed, "It is President Obama who wants [to] mandate circumcision ... And that means, if we need to save our penises from anybody, it's Obama."

So now that we're talking about Limbaugh's penis, all of a sudden, we're in a world where the tiniest measure of government suggestion about sexual health equals a full onslaught against privacy. Expect to see the radio talker at the next march to protect abortion rights with a "Keep your government hands off my private parts" sign.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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