Let's quickly review what a "Macaca" moment is. Back in June I wrote about the elements that go to make up the kind of meltdown suffered by former Senator George F. Allen last year. Those elements are:
- Someone must say or do something that deeply offends a deeply held belief or value system. The speech or act must be perceived to be fundamentally indefensible. As we have seen, this kind of offensive speech is usually based on overt racism or a perceived attack on the men or women serving in the U.S. military.
- Then there must be an attempt to deny or avoid the consequences of the first element. Few things anger an offended person more than being told that they have no right to be offended, that the action they found offensive was not offensive at all. The reason why a "Macaca" moment becomes disastrous instead of merely damaging is that the bad actor attempts to defend the indefensible. The original offense may be inadvertent, a mistake: the real self-destruction occurs with the willful denial of obvious wrong-doing.
What about the second prong? Has there been an attempt to deny or avoid the consequences? Well, let's consider the possibilities: 1) either Limbaugh meant what he said; or 2) Limbaugh very badly mis-spoke in the heat of the moment and did not mean what he said. There is no third possibility.
If Rush Limbaugh meant what he said, he should probably be fired. His statements were too over the top, too direct an attack on the approximately 60-65% of our troops who oppose the president's policies even as they serve in harm's way. On the other hand, if Limbaugh mis-spoke, then he should have quickly apologized, retracted his comments, and better explained what it was he was trying to say. But Limbaugh is one of those Republicans who pretend to infallibility, he cannot admit a mistake.
Instead of apologizing, Limbaugh and his Republican supporters have been attempting to create a third possibility: they claim that Rush was only talking about a tiny handful of people who have actually pretended to be soldiers. These claims simply don't stand up to scrutiny: we have the tape and the transcript. We know what Rush said and what the plain meaning of his words was. Limbaugh and his supporters are attempting a massive spin campaign, and nothing more. So we do in fact have an attempt to deny or avoid the consequences of serious misconduct: a classic "Macaca" moment.
The only question now is how badly this will damage Limbaugh, and by extension the Republican brand, and when--if ever--Limbaugh will apologize. Limbaugh's statements are far more damaging than anything Moveon.org has done or said. Moveon.org insulted a single, highly political general participating in a highly political hearing. Limbaugh attacked hundreds of thousands of ordinary American service men and women. His actions cannot help but damage the Republican brand as the war grinds on.
In the meantime, the entire Republican noise machine, from national talking heads to local bloggers, is tied down in a futile attempt to defend the indefensible.