Pet peeve time - sorry for going into Andy Rooney mode, but I wanted to warn you up front, in case you want to find something more edifying. Otherwise, stay tuned for a rant.
To my mind, one of the most useless things in the world is the non-apology apology. You know what I'm talking about - someone says or does something that is offensive, the person offended complains, and the offender says something like this:
"I'm sorry if you're offended by that."
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the hell does that really mean? There's no regret for the offense; in fact, it's really a second insult couched in terms of an apology. The hidden message is this - well, dummy, you shouldn't have been offended by that, but since you're such a baby about it, I guess I'll put it back on you. You're not really entitled to your feelings, anyway.
I've been thinking about this in the context of two recent events: the controversy surrounding the MoveOn.org ad that referred to Gen. David Petraeus as "General Betray Us"; and the ginned up controversy about Rush Limbaugh allegedly calling soldiers who complain about war policy as "phony soldiers."
First, the Petraeus thing. In my view, MoveOn stepped in it by running this ad. It was intellectually shoddy at best, dishonest at worst, and clearly an insult. But having said that, it was also free speech. Immediately the calls went out for MoveOn to apologize for the ad. As of this writing, I don't think they have apologized. Any apology they would have offered would have been of the non-apology apology type anyway, so I'm glad that as of this writing they have not apologized for attacking Petraeus.
The ad clearly hurt MoveOn and its portsider allies. They received all manner of denunciations, including an official one from Congress. This was silly, of course, but it was instructive. It showed that the current Congress is a lot more interested in style points than in substance and the ad itself revealed the contempt that MoveOn has for the military. All in all, this bonfire of recriminations was perfect. And the Left was hurt by it.
Enter Limbaugh. During the course of his show last week, a caller brought up the case of Jesse McBeth, a soldier who had been drummed out of the army in basic training. McBeth had become a cause celebre on the Left because he had made a series of lurid (and false) charges about actions that soldiers had taken in the war. These charges were repeated and amplified in the news media for days before the truth came out. In discussing this matter, and a number of similar incidents, Limbaugh referred to "phony soldiers." Media Matters, which is a sister organization to MoveOn.org (both are supported by George Soros, among other things) immediately started beating the drums and claiming that Limbaugh had insulted the troops, especially those who had served yet did not support the war. Suddenly Limbaugh was on the defensive and was facing demands from the likes of Harry Reid that he apologize for his "slur" of the troops.
Limbaugh did not apologize, of course. His quote was deliberately taken out of context and used against him. Despite that, plenty of politicians jumped on the bandwagon, including Norm Coleman, who is currently in a tight re-election campaign against the highly silly Al Franken.
I am happy that, in both instances, apologies were not forthcoming. In my mind, Limbaugh has nothing to apologize for - he clearly didn't say what Media Matters claimed he'd said. As for MoveOn, there is no doubt their message wasn't garbled - they paid for the ad in question. But in both cases, the views expressed were worth hearing.
Here's the thing about free speech - we are free to speak our minds in this country. But that doesn't mean we get a free shot; by that, I mean that a dumb or mendacious statement can backfire on you. And it should. You get in the arena - you have to expect that you're going to take some shots. Our political discourse and our political culture would be better if we stopped looking for apologies and, more importantly, stopped accepting non-apology apologies. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Here's the irony - the two politicians in this country who actually say what they mean and mean what they say the most often are probably George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - especially Cheney.
There. I said it. And I meant it. And if you're offended, no apologies.