We live in a world of apologies and atonement. Each time a politician or public figure says something that could be remotely construed as offensive, the person’s comments are instant fodder for television pundits. Few will forget what Rush Limbaugh said about the now-famous Sandra Fluke. East Haven mayor Joseph Maturo inspired a dialogue about race – and tacos – after a quip he made to a reporter. But should we get so hung up about these spontaneous comments?
Noting this, comedian Bill Maher declared today, Sunday, the “National Day of No Outrage.” In a New York Times op-ed last week, he gave instructions: “One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.”
Maher’s reason for sounding off against pseudo-offensive comments stems from a joke Robert De Niro told about first ladies last week at a Democratic fundraiser. He said, rather simply: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”
And as soon as De Niro’s comments hit the airwaves, the pundits began squawking, leading to a copious clearing of blame. Michelle Obama’s press secretary called the comment “inappropriate” and Newt Gingrich called it “inexcusable.” The backlash, expectedly, resulted in De Niro issuing an apology: “My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone – especially the first lady.”
But Maher claims that the actor’s joke was hardly deserving of such backlash, which inspired him to call for the “Day of No Outrage.” His message invokes a “sticks and stones” mentality that one’s words can be easily taken back. A simple and humorous joke about politicians’ wives – one of Maher’s so-called “tiny thing[s]” – is hardly worth crying over in comparison to the larger issues of today.
We’re in the midst of an assault on women’s rights – a controversy, to be sure, that Rush Limbaugh helped stoke. The battle over mandatory insurance reimbursement for contraception and some states’ requirement to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion have caused understandable outrage nationwide. The murder of the unarmed 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin in a Florida subdivision has roiled millions into protest. The alleged sexual abuse of more than a dozen young children by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has led to a major national dialogue about the handling of child abuse. And that’s just in the U.S. There are hundreds of other examples outside our borders. Perhaps Maher is right in calling for society to tone down the outrage for “tiny things”. That way we can appropriately direct our offense to situations that truly require it.