Limbaugh’s Clinton-Ratched Comparison

Bancroft as Nurse Ratched, Hillary Clinton

Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, Hillary Clinton


I have just caught a glimpse of what a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential race could look like and it’s not pretty. I had the insight after I came across a Rush Limbaugh reference to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Apparently Limbaugh, who claims that Clinton is in possession of a “testicle lockbox,” regularly compares her to Nurse Ratched. During the 2008 primaries when Hillary was running against Barack Obama, Limbaugh described her as

totally controlling, not soft and cuddly. Not sympathetic. Not patient. Not understanding. Demanding, domineering, Nurse Ratched kind of thing.

More recently, Limbaugh has turned the comparison into a condition, accusing Clinton of “Nurse Rachedism.”

The logical corollary, in Limbaugh’s mind, is that Clinton’s supporters are “new castrati.”

I’ll dig further into Limbaugh’s obsession with Nurse Ratched in a moment, but let’s look first at the Limbaugh-Trump connection. Moderate conservative Michael Gerson of The Washington Post recently blasted Limbaugh for having paved the way for Trump, and Heather Digby Parton of Salon did the same. Parton surmises that Limbaugh has always wanted to be Trump and says that if Gerson has been caught off guard by the radio host’s corrosive influence, he has:

not been listening to Rush Limbaugh over the past 25 years or he would know that the millions of conservatives who listen to his show every day are positively enthusiastic about casual misogyny, racial stereotyping, religious bigotry, cruelty and dehumanization. Those are Rush Limbaugh’s stock in trade.

Trump’s own brand of misogyny isn’t quite as crude as Limbaugh’s but, as Franklin Foers explains in Slate, it comes close. Foers makes a good case that, above all, Trump’s core philosophy is misogyny:

Women labor under a cloud of Trump’s distrust. “I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part,” he wrote in Trump: The Art of the Comeback. Working moms are particularly lacking in loyalty, he believes, and thus do not make for good employees. “She’s not giving me 100 percent. She’s giving me 84 percent, and 16 percent is going towards taking care of children,” he told Mika Brzezinski. (Further evidence of his dim view of working moms: Trump once notoriously blurted that the pumping of breast milk in the office is “disgusting.”)

Foers explains how Trump’s misogyny boosts his popularity:

This is one reason that evangelicals, both men and women, gravitate to Trump, despite his obvious lack of interest in religion and blatantly loose morals. He represents the possibility of a return to patriarchy, to a time when men were men, and didn’t have to apologize for it. While he celebrates his own sexuality, he believes that female sexuality has spun out of control and needs to be contained. The best example of this view is a reality show called Lady or a Tramp, which Trump developed for Fox but never aired. The premise of the show was that Trump would take “girls in love with the party life” and send them off for a “stern course” on manners. “We are all sick and tired of the glamorization of these out-of-control young women,” he told Variety, “so I have taken it upon myself to do something about it.”

It makes sense that Limbaugh would see himself in Randle P. McMurphy, the irreverent protagonist of Ken Kesey’s novel. The patients, as McMurphy and Kesey see them, are America’s emasculated white male middle class, brought to their knees by the welfare nanny state (or nurse state). The novel is racist as well as sexist—it shows the African American orderlies humiliating the patients and it romanticizes Native Americans—but its major target is Nurse Ratched.

Narrator Chief Bromden sees Ratched as Limbaugh sees Clinton—which is to say, unfeminine, power obsessed, and calculated:

Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils—everything working together except the color on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big womanly breasts on what would of otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.

Ratched desires above all to assert mastery over men, and Kesey appears to have borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s description of Moriarty as he describes how she controls the hospital:

Practice has steadied and strengthened her until now she wields a sure power that extends in all directions on hair-like wires too small for anybody’s eye but mine; I see her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful robot, tend her network with mechanical insect skill, know every second which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get the results she wants…

What she dreams of there in the center of those wires is world of precision efficiency and tidiness like a pocket watch with a glass back, a place where the schedule is unbreakable and all the patients who aren’t Outside, obedience under her beam, are wheelchair Chronics with catheter tubs that run direct from every pant leg to the sewer under the floor.

The novel is a battle for supremacy between Ratched and McMurphy. Just as Limbaugh’s aim is to get his listeners to “grow a pair,” so McMurphy aims to restore the manliness of the patients. His greatest triumph is helping sensitive Billy Bibbit break from his mother’s influence and sleep with a nurse. We see that Billy has stepped into his manhood by the fact that he no longer stutters.

Of course, it doesn’t last as Big Nurse returns and reasserts her authority, wielding maternal shame and driving Billy to cut his own throat. In response, McMurphy flies at her in a scene that has all the appearance of a rape. Rape, as we now know, is more about power than sex:

[Other doctors intervened only] after he’d smashed through that glass door, her face swinging around, with terror forever ruining any other look she might ever try to use again, screaming when he grabbed for her and ripped her uniform all the way down the front, screaming again when the two nippled circles started from her chest and swelled out and out, bigger than anybody had ever even imagined, warm and pink in the light…

This is the angry revenge fantasy of men who feel that they have been emasculated. It doesn’t ultimately matter, in Limbaugh’s view of things, that Big Nurse wins. In his self-pitying drama of victimhood, he has vented his fury, which is what he really wants:

[McMurphy] gave a cry. At the last, falling backward, his face appearing to us for a second upside down before he was smothered on the floor by a pile of white uniforms, he let himself cry out:

A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance, that if you ever trailed coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes at the dogs get him, when he finally doesn’t care any more about anything but himself and his dying.

Chief informs us that McMurphy is not just an individual but a spokesperson for emasculated men everywhere—which is how both Limbaugh and Trump see themselves:

We couldn’t stop him [from assaulting Ratched] because we were the ones making him do it. It wasn’t the nurse that was forcing him, it was our need that was making him push himself slowly up from sitting, his big hands driving down on the leather chair arms, pushing him up, rising and standing like one of those moving-pictures zombies, obeying orders beamed at him from forty masters. It was us that had been making him go on for weeks, keeping him standing long after his feet and legs had given out, weeks of making him wink and grin and laugh and go on with his act long after his humor had been parched dry between two electrodes.

So what will the fall election look like if it’s Clinton vs. Trump? Trump and rightwing radio will tap into this male anger and we will have a collective venting. Just as Americans directed their race hatred against Obama, they will direct their gender hatred against Clinton. Luckily there are many who are appalled by misogyny and I think they will carry the day, but we’ll see a lot of ugliness first.

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