When Trent Lott was caught saying things that implied admiration for the racist past of Strom Thurmond, he quickly apologized and began the normal ritual of damage control. Nonetheless, critics hounded him out of office, his apologies ignored.
But now when Helen Thomas is caught saying things that imply the crudest kind of anti-Semitism, her apologies are quickly accepted by some of the same people who refused to even consider apologies from Lott. And the same people who kept pointing out that Lott had apologized now mock it from Thomas.
Why the different treatment? The obvious answer is that Helen Thomas is a heroine of the same side of the ideological divide that loathed Lott. The same pattern can be found over and over in political debates — the same statements or actions that get Republicans harshly condemned get a pass when done by Democrats. If the partisan dominance of the media and blogosphere were reversed to favor Republicans, there is no doubt that the same double standards would run in that direction as well. And what that does is bring into sharp relief the continuing role that double standards have in corrupting and debasing political and social debates.
I suggest a thought experiment. Imagine that Sarah Palin had said exactly the same thing that Helen Thomas did. Would you accept Palin’s apology? Do you think those that are accepting Thomas’ apology would accept Palin’s? Do you think those that are demanding Thomas’ head would demand Palin’s?
The answer to the first question differentiates the principled from the unprincipled. And the answers to the last two show the total lack of accountability from many of those who set themselves up as today’s opinion leaders.