04 March 2012

Taking non-apologies to new heights

There's been some great pragmatics examples popping up in connection with "Slutgate", which has already been attached to the Rush Limbaugh "slut" comments on Sandra Fluke's Congressional testimony. The responses from the three four Republican presidential candidates have been interesting, if underwhelming, and Limbaugh own "apology" is a gift that keeps on giving. The interesting thing, though, is that this is not the typical non-apology apology situation ("non-apology apology" is the terminology that has now been adopted by commentors and bloggers alike and is the unofficial formal reference to such things).

I'm not going to repeat the original insult--it's widely enough circulated.

Mark Kleiman titled his post on the subject, "Romney grows a pair", qualifying it immediately, "The world's smallest pair". [Emphasis--both kinds--here and throughout is added.] He then pointed out that Santorum's pair is only marginally bigger: "Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has millimeter-sized stones rather than micron-sized stones."

Here's Romney's comment:

I’ll just say this which is it’s not the language I would have used. I’m focusing on the issues I think are significant in the country today and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio.

And here's Santorum's:

He’s being absurd, but that’s you know, an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am.

The first one is ridiculous--my immediate response when I heard Romney's statement was, "So he wouldn't use the same words, but he thinks it was the right idea to express?" And my opinion remains on this remains unchanged. Santorum is using the "entertainer defense", which justifies Kleiman's description. Even without the entertainer defense, I am not sure "absurd" would pass muster--"I would never say it as he did, but he's just being ha-ha funny."

But the most telling is the fact that Limbaugh himself adopts language similar to Romney's--they must have the same publicist. But there is also a part of the statement that echo's Santorum's entertainer defense:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

Again, the concern is about the choice of words but not the content that they communicated. This is an enhancement of the traditional non-apology apology--the expression of regret that someone has been offended without the regret for having uttered the expression that caused the offense. In this case, that's only a part of the convoluted statement.

Oh, he was just trying to be humorous (as an entertainer), so he did not mean to insult the subject (Sandra Fluke). She is insulted by the words, not the insinuation. This is actually a bit closer to the traditional non-apology apology than I initially estimated--"I thought I was being funny, but you got offended, so sorry (that you have no sense of humor and actually care about the words I choose)."

And, between the two word-choice paragraphs, there is a more personal statement.
I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.
Shorter Rush--she may not be a slut, but she's a sex fiend and I don't want to pay for her sexcapades, damn it! The parallel is also telling--if someone wants to be a runner, should the government pay for his sneakers? This is a clear continued justification of the content of the remarks, so, again, only the "wrong word choice" is highlighted.

This is one of the most skillfully constructed, multi-level non-apology apologies. The Democrats' response is right on the mark. Begala's tweet hits the bullseye.
In ‘apology,’ Rush compares birth control & women’s health to govt buying sneakers for workouts. Insulting?
But also note that this is only the apology for the initial statement that mentioned "slut". It does not offer an apology for the follow-up:
So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
Oh, yeah--this is just the entertainer being absurd. Adele Stan, substituting for Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly (Steve Benen's replacement), rips into David Weigel over his backhanded defense of Limbaugh. Weigel's defense is a feeble one:
But let’s be clear about what this is. Limbaugh is a private citizen who has not endorsed any Republican candidate. (The closest he’s come is praise for Santorum, which the candidate quotes on his campaign lit.) There is not a pressing public interest here.
Stan hits Weigel on this part of his statement.
Call me crazy, but I consider health care for women “a pressing public interest” — and not just for the majority of the public who happen to be women. I also find the legitimization of hateful rhetoric to be “a pressing public interest.”
She then goes after the second part of the same passage that attacks the "Democratic media complex", which I am going to skip here.

Of course, this was hours before Limbaugh's apology--Stan's post is time-stamped just before noon, while TPM apology post is at about 7 pm. Otherwise, Stan might have been able to connect Limbaugh's apology to the statements by both Romney and Santorum, as I tried to do above.

I did mention three candidates (I have not seen anything from Ron Paul prior to writing this), but, so far, I've only mentioned Romney and Santorum. TPM posted a late addition, following their cornering of Newt Gingrich.

TPM caught up with Newt Gingrich after a speech at Bowling Green University in Ohio and asked about Rush Limbaugh's apology to Sandra Fluke.

"I'm not paying attention," he responded.

Asked whether he thought he felt Limbaugh misspoke, Gingrich turned the question on President Obama.

"I'm not paying attention," he repeated."I'm paying attention to the president apologizing to people who killed Americans."

Like the second part of Romney's statement, this is just a deflection, an attempt to derive personal political gain from the situation. So, if Romney's pair is only a micron, Newt's is basically invisible--he says, it's not his problem.

It turns out that Ron Paul did offer a comment, although it took me some time to track down the CNN post.

"It sounded a little crude the way it came across to me," Paul said. "I don't know why it has to be such a political football like this, so you have to ask him about his crudeness."

This is not even the size of Romney's pair--and you have to love Paul's attempt to stay out of "political football". The response from a comment on Free Republic that posted the link is pretty obvious:

Ron Paul joins Liberal chorus

And there you have it, in a nutshell. Any criticism of the bloated radio-jock is a part of a "Liberal chorus". In fact, the apology itself, however feeble, is unprecedented for Limbaugh--he normally blows off all demands for apology. But this one hit home--a number of advertisers have turned away from the show in the 24 hours prior to the release of his statement.

What you have at the opposite end from the "Liberal chorus" is even more absurd than the slut comment. Ed Kilgore picked one conservative post (of many, as it turns out) that devolved the discussion of contraception and birth control pills to the condom count.
I really did think another conservative had mistakenly cut and pasted a piece from The Onion, or that some mischievous intern had sandbagged the writer with an ironic topper. But no: the headline non-ironically reflected the views of columnist Craig Bannister, who in addition to being a big-time wingnut, clearly thinks of himself as a clever dog.
What's so clever?
Apparently, four out of every ten co-eds are having so much sex that it’s hard to make ends meet if they have to pay for their own contraception, Fluke’s research shows.
$3,000 for birth control in three years? That’s a thousand dollars a year of sex - and, she wants us to pay for it.
I did mention that Bannister was not alone. The following gem is buried deep in the comment thread.
Do the math $3k, 3 condoms for $2 = 4500 condoms. 365 days in a year = 12.3 times a day.
Furthermore, Ed Killgore flagged a comment by Erick Erickson that sort of suggests a mild pushback against Rushbo.
Well of course Rush Limbaugh was being insulting. It is not something I would do and I do think we’re going to now focused on what he said for a while and that it will be a distraction from the central argument, but he was using insult and sarcasm to highlight the absurdity of Sandra Fluke and the left’s position.
Erickson essentially admits what I noted above--that this is not about the insult, but about the message, but he actually laments that everyone is focused on the dressing and not the content. Of course, Erickson is himself a bomb-thrower who used to operate in a vacuum, but he can't allow himself to cheer on such insults any longer, now that he's a CNN employee.

UPDATE: A late entry from George Will.
It would've been nice if they had shared that with the larger public, the Republican leaders," Will said on ABC's This Week. "Instead, Mr. Boehner comes out and says, Rush's language was inappropriate. Using a salad fork for your entree, that's inappropriate. Not this stuff. I mean, and Rick Santorum says well, what he says was absurd, but an entertainer is allowed to be absurd. No. It is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right in its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses in their own side. And it was depressing, because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh.
So Will does get it.

No comments: