Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh recently apologized for calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute". Apologizing was certainly the right thing for Limbaugh to do, because what he said about Fluke was derisive, false, and unacceptable.
But notice how Limbaugh, in apologizing, describes the nature of his misbehavior:
"I want to explain why I apologized to Sandra Fluke in the statement that was released on Saturday. … I don't expect -- and I know you don't, either -- morality or intellectual honesty from the left. They've demonstrated over and over a willingness to say or do anything to advance their agenda. It's what they do. It's what we fight against here every day. But this is the mistake I made. In fighting them on this issue last week, I became like them. Against my own instincts, against my own knowledge, against everything I know to be right and wrong I descended to their level when I used those two words to describe Sandra Fluke. That was my error. I became like them, and I feel very badly about that. … The apology to her over the weekend was sincere. It was simply for using inappropriate words in a way I never do, and in so doing, I became like the people we oppose. I ended up descending to their level. It's important not to be like them, ever, particularly in fighting them. The old saw, you never descend to the level of your opponent or they win. That was my error last week. … I acted too much like the leftists who despise me. I descended to their level, using names and exaggerations to describe Sandra Fluke. It's what we have come to know and expect of them, but it's way beneath me. And it's way beneath you. It was wrong, and that's why I've apologized, 'cause I succumbed. I descended to their level. Don't be mad at them or mad at her. Everybody here was being true to their nature except me. I'm the one who had the failing on this, and for that I genuinely apologized for using those words to describe Ms. Fluke."
His failing, Limbaugh says, was that he behaved like Democrats, liberals, progressives, and leftists. Because they -- and not Republicans, conservatives, and right-wingers -- are the ones who are truly inclined to resort to name-calling, caricature, and demonizing.
But this itself is just more name-calling, caricature, and demonizing. People often like to say that it's really only the other party than engages in name-calling and invective. In truth, there is so much name-calling in American politics that -- practically speaking -- it's impossible to comprehensively count it all up and come to a definitive conclusion about which side is worse, Republicans or Democrats.
So, for Limbaugh to act like incivility is really only applicable to Democrats, or to depict himself as someone who doesn't resort to name-calling and distortion, is simply false. Both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, left-wingers and right-wingers produce a lot of invective, and Limbaugh is no exception. Anyone who wants to assert that one side does it more than the other should provide a rigorous empirical survey to prove their claim.
Limbaugh's apology reminds me of a speech given by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), in which he said Republicans and conservatives should avoid the "venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day", in particular because Democrats are "better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally. Power to them is everything, so there's nothing they won't say to get it."
Like Limbaugh, Daniels was demonizing Democrats by describing them as the ones more likely to resort to demonization. (As is typical, Daniels offered no evidence.) He was essentially saying, "Those S.O.B.s aren't civil, like we are."
In calling Fluke names, Limbaugh wasn't behaving like "the left"; he was behaving a lot of people in politics, Republican and Democrat. He was calling people names while at the same time pretending he doesn't routinely do the same thing.