Two- No, One Apology
Sometimes it seems like everyone is doing it.
No, not sex, which Rush Limbaugh believes is rampant among liberal American women, resulting, he thinks in a birth control pill being taken before each act. No, it is the apology demanded far and wide by celebrities and non-celebrities alike.
An apology need not include the word "apology" or "apologize"; in fact, saying "I apologize" does not constitute in itself the statement of sincere regret for having erred which is the essence of an apology. Neither does adding the word "sincere" or "sincerity" constitute an apology. If someone actually is apologizing, it will be obvious without insertion of the term.
When American soldiers recently burned copies of the Koran at a military base in Afghanistan, President Obama sent President Hamid Karzai a letter in which he wrote
I convey my deep sympathies and ask you and the people to accept my deep apologies. The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.
This was a complete apology. Although Obama noted, accurately, that the offending action was inadvertent, he also termed it an error, assured the reader that he would act to avoid a recurrence, and promised accountability.
Significantly, the President avoided assuming any of the blame himself because, in fact, he was not to blame. Assuming blame himself, rather than promising to hold accountable those actually responsible, would have, paradoxically, been a way to evade responsibility.
Case in point: whenever the Philadelphia Eagles lose a game, head coach Andy Reid tells the assembled media "I have to do a better job" (in those exact terms, or very nearly so). He never specifies how he has to do a better job, nor does he hold anyone else specifically responsible, either in his statement or subsequent decisions. He merely claims responsibility for something he knows no one holds him (but rather the players) responsible.
His act is wearing thin but after 13 years, almost everything does. All in all, it has been an effective, though extremely disingenuous, tactic.
In steps Rush Limbaugh, a large man like Andy Reid and far wealthier with a much easier job. Responding not to the furor over his remarks about Sandra Fluke and contraception but rather to the withdrawal of a few advertisers from his show, Limbaugh wrote
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.
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.
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.
Rush deserves credit for two things: 1) he expressed regret for "insulting word choices," constituting an apology (solely) for the language he applied to Ms. Fluke; 2) he used the words "sincerely apologize," thereby allowing the right-wing and the mainstream media, and the remaining sponsors, to claim that he "apologized."
For the most part, of course, this was no apology. Even before Limbaugh tried, in the second paragraph, to justify virtually everything he said other than "slut" and "prostitute," he tipped us off by two claims in the first paragraph. First, he claims status as a sort of Colbert-style comic, contending that he was utilizing absurdity which, ironically, is absurd. Second, he maintains "I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke."
A speaker need not intend for something to be personal attack for it to have been a personal attack. Suggesting someone is a "slut" or "prostitute" clearly is a personal attack, unless Limbaugh's values are even more aberrant than he regularly demonstrates. Moreover, claiming good intentions as a rationalization for one's actions while refusing to acknowledge the ill will they would inevitably cause is nearly the antithesis of a sincere statement of regret. Limbaugh clearly did mean "a personal attack"- and acknowledging that the remarks would have such an impact would have suggested a measure of sincerity obviously lacking.
Still, Limbaugh's statement, while far less sincere or helpful, was more effective tactically than the President's statement. Obama's use of the word "apologies" was unnecessary and gave fodder to Republicans who claim, inaccurately, that he "goes around the world apologizing for America." By contrast, even though Limbaugh's continued attack, embedded in his second paragraph, on Fluke and the DHS policy is by turns misleading, inaccurate, and willfully blind to his own on-air history of obsessiveness with sex, he was wise to claim for himself a sincere apology. That is all the more the case because the remarks were not sincere and in most ways a sharp contrast to apologetic.