So David Letterman has issued a more extensive and seemingly less qualified apology for telling a joke that — taken most charitably — suggested that Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol is a slut. That's a good thing. He ought to apologize. Bristol Palin had a child out of wedlock. So did David Letterman. For David Letterman to suggest that she's a slut because she had a child out of wedlock makes him a hypocritical asshat. Moreover, it's uncouth to attack the children of politicians to make a joke or score political points, even if they make mistakes in their private lives. (Attacking them for public actions as adults is perfectly fair game, of course. It's particularly obnoxious to attack them with racist or sexist tropes.
I say that even though I absolutely abhor Sarah Palin.
There have been some unqualified condemnations of Letterman from the Left. But there's also been a strong current of minimizing his behavior on the grounds that the Right's outrage is manufactured for political effect, or that the Right is exaggerating what Letterman said, or that the Right is hypocritical because figures on the Right have attacked the daughters of Democratic politicians (as both Limbaugh and McCain did with Chelsea Clinton, for example).
There are two things going on here. One is a mundane he's-one-of-us sentiment, the tendency to issue apologias for the bad behavior of people on "our side." E.D. Kain at League of Ordinary Gentlemen did an excellent job of discussing this in the context of the recent debate over whether conservatives should criticize right-wing commentators when they act like jackasses.
But the more insidious sentiment is that there's a limited amount of bad behavior to go around in any given the situation, and that if you assign a bunch to one side, there won't be any left for the other side. That's bullshit. That's the spirit at the core of thinking based on labels and group affiliations. Asshattery is not a zero-sum game. There's an infinite amount of it to go around in any scenario. That's why we can both call out Letterman for being a sexist dick who took a cheap shot at an 18-year-old who just happened to be the daughter of a politician, and simultaneously call bullshit on some of the carefully crafted and stage-managed outrage from some people who don't typically show much delicacy about how they talk about women. (Like John McCain. Really, John McCain? You feel comfortable running your mouth about this one, given the infamous joke you made about Chelsea Clinton?) One does not diminish the other. Pulling our punches on Letterman because some of his critics are hypocrites, or pretending that all of Letterman's critics must be sincere just because he did act badly, is to engage in sloppy thinking, and to value allegiences over ideas.
In that spirit, and on a related note, I rather like the blog Sadly, No. It's frequently quite funny in puncturing the inanity of the right-wing commentariat. I approve when they ridicule figures like Kathryn Jean Lopez, who is stepping down as the NRO's editor and whose views I frequently despise. But when Sadly, No decides to go with sophomoric "hyuck hyuck K-Lo is an ugly whore" approach, they're acting like sexist dicks. It doesn't matter that they have well-polished liberal credentials; they are indulging, as they occasionally do, in offensive misogyny. The fact that Lopez herself says appalling and/or idiotic things like clockwork does not diminish that, and does not excuse the folks at Sadly, No.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Hate Speech Debate on More Perfect Live - September 5th, 2017
- Popehat Goes To The Opera: Un ballo in maschera - August 19th, 2017
- Department of Justice Uses Search Warrant To Get Data On Visitors to Anti-Trump Site - August 14th, 2017
- America At The End of All Hypotheticals - August 14th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: Why John Oliver Is Anti-Diversity Now - August 11th, 2017