The Supreme Court decided on Thursday that lying about medals and military service, while “contemptible,” is protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The court said the federal “Stolen Valor” law was overly broad and imposed a chilling effect on free speech. This news enraged Rush Limbaugh, who responded on is radio show with disdain, facetiously wondering, “I don’t know if they legalized pedophilia or not.”
An interesting non sequitur, but back on point: Limbaugh’s comprehension of freedom of speech has always been a crabbed affair, pretty much limited to the view that he and his conservative allies–people who enjoy more freedom of speech than most–are the targets of censorship, if not full-stop free speech martyrs.
But it’s worth asking whether, if Limbaugh thinks people should be prosecuted for lying about their military records, that sanction should include lying about one’s draft record?
It’s well-established that Limbaugh has told many contradictory stories about how he avoided being drafted during the Vietnam War. Here’s a sample of those accounts from FAIR’s 1995 book, The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error:
Limbaugh has made a career assailing Bill Clinton as a “draft dodger” whose evasiveness on the subject proves that he has a “character flaw.” But Limbaugh himself has been evasive about his own avoidance of the Vietnam draft. He’s offered this account: “Upon taking a physical, [I] was discovered to have a physical–uh, by virtue of what the military says, I didn’t even know it existed–a physical deferment, and then the lottery system came along… and mine [number] was high.” On another occasion, he said that he had a “pilonidal cyst” and a “football knee from high school,” and claimed: “I made no effort to evade it or avoid it.”
Limbaugh’s explanations, as biographer Colford has shown, are deceptive. Limbaugh never had a draft board physical. It was only after Limbaugh drew a lottery number that kept him in the running for the draft, records show, that Limbaugh himself provided medical information to the board of some minor problem that took him out of consideration for Vietnam. Limbaugh’s dad had the same kind of pilonidal cyst, but served in World War II. No evidence has surfaced of a football injury. Limbaugh once joked on the air that maybe his dad bribed the draft board to keep him out of Vietnam.
Others have weighed in on Limbaugh’s dishonesty on this issue, including the fact-checking site Snopes.com, which described Limbaugh’s comments about his draft record as “dissembling.”
Considering this, Limbaugh might have been relieved to see the court strike down a law against lying about ones military record. Indeed, if the federal government got into broadly prosecuting liars, Limbaugh might find himself on the 10 most wanted list.
Then again, calling for people to be put in jail for behavior he engages in regularly is not exactly a new thing for Limbaugh.