Of Actions and Accountability: A Tale of Two Apologies

1 May

Isn't it ironic which one we say is on the "right"?

Cast your mind back two months. Remember when right-wing millionaire bloviator Rush Limbaugh attacked a law student for speaking facts when invited to a Congressional hearing? Limbaugh grossly misrepresented the situation and avoided any factual information in his character assassination of Sandra Fluke: he called her a slut, said she wanted Federal money so she could be promiscuous, and demanded that she post sex videos online so he could see what he was paying for. When reasonable people expressed concern, rising to outrage, at his behavior, he doubled down, spending three days of broadcasts generating further lies and more hysterical behavior. Fortunately, Fluke stood her ground, public pressure cost Rush advertisers, and his eventual non-apology was too little too late. What’s telling, however, is that he thought he could use his bully platform to say whatever he wanted, shaping reality to his own ends, and suffer no consequences.

Fast forward to last week. Gay rights advocate, writer, and It Gets Better founder Dan Savage appeared at a high school journalism conference to discuss the issue of bullying. Reasonably pointing to the all-too-frequent use of religious faith to defend homophobic bullying, he pointed out the many inconsistencies between biblical teaching and modern “Christian” practice, using the robust defense of slavery in the Bible as a repeated example. His references to outmoded biblical requirements as “bullshit” outraged some attendees, who walked out of his presentation. As he transitioned from this part of his presentation to his broader theme of bullying, he commented on the walk out.

You can tell the Bible guys in the hall that they can come back now, because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny, as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back.

Cue the right-wing outrage machine. Savage was attacked for his use of language and for belittling the faith of his audience. Now for the real point of contrast between his story and Limbaugh’s. Rather than react immediately to the furor, Savage took the time to reflect on the situation. He then crafted a smart, careful response, addressing all the nuances of the situation. He accepted responsibility for the name-calling use of the term “pansy-assed” and apologized to the students who had walked out while making an excellent point

I wasn’t calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. But that’s a distinction without a difference—kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Nicely done, Mr. Savage. He then wittily stood by his thesis

I didn’t call anyone’s religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—”untrue words or ideas”—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue.

It’s an interesting study in contrasts isn’t it? On one side: lies, hyperbole, and false outrage defended and compounded for days on end; on the other: a careful analysis of the situation, a reasonable (if somewhat unnecessary) apology and a careful restating of the thesis.

Sadly, this contrast plays out all too often. Calling out bigoted actions and unreasonable behavior by people ranging from right-wing pundit Juan Williams to narrow-minded “celebrities” results in their digging in their heels, counter-calling for apologies, and refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Vice President Biden reminds Americans that Mitt Romney said going into Pakistan after Bin Laden would be a horrible mistake and Romney adopts a “how dare you repeat exactly the words I said!” attitude. Yet Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, who caught hell for merely repeating Ann Romney‘s own claim that she did not work, looked carefully at what she said and how she said it, then responded to the criticism directly and honestly.

I apologize. Working moms, stay at home moms, they’re both extremely hard jobs… I’ve fought my whole life for women to have the choices that Ann Romney talked about. What I meant was that Mitt Romney is using his wife as an economic surrogate. He himself said it. And I just thought that that was off-base.

Denial, finger-pointing, lying, and dodging responsibility for one’s own actions or thoughtful responses and personal accountability — it shouldn’t be hard to determine which of these is the more desirable approach from our leaders, role models, and commentators. Looking at the examples sure makes the gridlock in Congress snap into focus, doesn’t it?

10 Responses to “Of Actions and Accountability: A Tale of Two Apologies”

  1. David Brodeur May 1, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Excellent analysis. This will fall on deaf ears in the Right Wing. But careful readers will know the difference.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 1, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Thanks, David. I do believe in building coalitions, but we must call out hypocrisy where and when we witness it.

  2. bradfairchild May 1, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    very good post, michael. too often, people who don’t want to engage with the truth claim that “both sides do it”. there is a false equivalency of the actions of the left and right that seems to pervade the discussion.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks, Brad. I think the juxtaposition of Savage’s apology and intent was quite striking to the inflamatory non-apology of Limbaugh.

  3. prideinmadness May 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    They can dish it but they can’t take it!

  4. nevercontrary May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    You didn’t get the memo the right wing is called right because they are always right and we are always wrong.

  5. Jay May 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    The Economist magazine has also come to Savage’s defense, and they made at least two crucial points. One is that bullying is when the strong attack the weak (as when Christians abuse gays)–when the weak attack the strong, it is satire. The second is that Savage was not engaged in bullying or name-calling at all: however intemperate his language, he was making an argument about the context and application of Biblical passages regarding homosexuality. Saying that there is bullshit in the Bible–like the passage in Leviticus that calls for death by stoning for women who are not virgins on their wedding night–is an argument (using admittedly strong colloquial language), rather than an insult.


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      That is great. Funny, I was just explaining it in similar terms (but using the language of power/oppression) to several people. How bizarre that I was in line with the Economist, a magazine of which I’m not particular fond. Thanks for the link!

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