USA Today, April 29, 2014
Limbaugh: Men can reinvent themselves, women can't
Radio host's attack on Marlo Thomas' new book mocks women for wanting
to start over.
By Bruce Kluger
Jane Alderman, an executive at Viacom in
Washington D.C., was frantically texting her
brother Peter, who was trapped at the top of
the World Trade Center in New York.
“There's a lot of smoke,” Peter texted. “I'm
“Can you get out?” Jane typed back.
“No,” wrote Peter. “We are stuck.”
Those were Peter’s last words to Jane; and
his death, moments later, devastated her.
But nine months into her grieving, Jane made
a decision. Rather than permit the horrific
quit her job and, along with her parents, created a global foundation that cares for
victims of trauma and terrorism. That organization still thrives.
Jane’s story appears in Marlo Thomas’ new book, It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, a
collection of 60 profiles of women who, finding themselves at a critical crossroads,
reinvented themselves and reclaimed their lives.
I worked with Thomas on the book for more than a year, and it changed me, too.
Whether it was the newly widowed 71-year-old who launched a company that
manufactures safe cooking stoves for imperiled Latin American families, or the
assembly line worker at an aeronautics plant who, at 50, discovered her true calling
as (wait for it…) a sculptor, I found myself continually inspired by the durability and
resilience of the human spirit.
Which made it all the more perplexing that Rush Limbaugh would take to the
airwaves last Friday to angrily denounce the concept of the book and the five
dozen women who appear in it.
“Why are you trying to better yourselves, Marlo?” Limbaugh fumed. “What about
these other 60 women?...Why did they start over? Why weren't they happy with
what they had? Why were they being greedy?”
Really? That Limbaugh did not read the book is obvious, but that’s to be expected.
What’s most confounding is why anyone would find anything objectionable about
women (or, as he prefers to call them, “babes”) who had reached a point in their
lives when they wanted—or needed—to make a meaningful change.
In her book, Thomas found women whose journeys exemplify the best we can be.
Like Sue Rock, 51, from Brooklyn, NY. After her friend was murdered in a tragic
case of domestic violence, Sue rebooted—and re-rooted—her life by launching a
charity that now provides clothing and other essentials for victims of domestic
Or Robin Béquet, 54, of Bozeman, Montana, a technology sales manager who lost
her job when the tech bubble burst. Seeking comfort in the warmth her kitchen,
Robin rediscovered a favorite old caramel recipe that was so good, she began to
test-market it. Today, Robin’s candy sells in 900 gourmet food stores around the
Or Kara Gorski, an economic consultant from Virginia, and her sister Kristin
Gembala, a homemaker from Kansas. Kara and Kristin were both stricken with
cancer that required double-mastectomies. During their recoveries, the sibs
decided to use their experience to invent a special reconstruction bra for those who
had undergone similar surgeries. This has become their life’s work.
America has always been a place of reinvention. From the first explorers to settle
on this soil, to the colonists who crafted our government, to the modern wave of
entrepreneurs who now help drive our economy, ours is a citizenry that rejects
complacency. This is why we’re called the “land of opportunity.” We never stop
trying to seize new destinies.
And yet Limbaugh denounces the women in Thomas’ book for exercising this
freedom. At one point in his screed, he predictably characterized them as “elite,”
caustically asking, “Why did they want more?” Because, Rush, the majority of them
simply needed to survive in this new millennium. Like many Americans, more than a
few of them had fallen victim to corporate downsizing. Several had sick children and
needed to find a new source of income—and insurance. And all of them had a soul-
deep desire to embrace whatever time they had left on Earth as something fulfilling.
So there’s your big crime, Rush. They believed in the pursuit of happiness.
Ironically, Limbaugh should be championing the women who appear in Thomas’
book, because he’s not all that different from them. Before the success he now
enjoys, his life, too, was critically stalled: a college drop-out; a failed radio disc-
jockey, a failed sales director for a baseball team and, eventually, one-half of three
And yet Limbaugh dug deep and triumphed over adversity. And his career—
however dubiously won—is a testament to that work.
So the question is: If Rush Limbaugh can reinvent himself, why can’t he
acknowledge the same accomplishment by those featured in Marlo Thomas’ book?
Oh, wait. That’s right. It’s because they’re “babes.”