There are any number of ways that a public official might handle backlash over something stupid that he wrote on social media.
He might, for example, admit he was wrong and issue an apology (or even one of those “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologies that politicians love). If his faux pas1 were relatively minor, he could also simply say nothing and hope the short-attention-span news cycle quickly forgot about the matter. Either of those options would probably work to minimize the response to your garden-variety, run-of-the-mill stupid statement.
A third option would be to double down on your original comments while simultaneously attempting to paint anyone who disagreed with you as “leftist liberals” who misrepresented what you said and who don’t love America as much as you do. The downside to this choice is that it is less likely to make the whole issue go away quickly, especially if you manage to make yourself look more foolish in the process like Sen. Jason Rapert did.
In his whining to his Facebook followers about the response to his original plan to nuke ISIS, Rapert wrote:
It is shameful that liberal bloggers Michael Cook, Matt Campbell and Max Brantley decided to play fast and loose with their false paraphrasing and suggested that I advocated an indiscriminate nuclear strike.
Oh, man! Do you hear that?! That theme music can only mean that it’s time to play Arkansas’s fourth-favorite listing game:
1. The Meaning of “Paraphrase.” Because, if Rapert knew what that word meant, he would also know that my posting of screenshots of his actual words was not a paraphrasing (false or otherwise) of what he said.
2. Nuclear Weapons. Rapert claims that he was never talking about using strategic nuclear weapons; he only meant tactical nukes. A couple problems with that. First, he specifically said “a nicely placed intercontinental nuclear weapon.” The only weapon that meets that description is an intercontinental ballistic missile, which is absolutely a strategic nuclear weapon, not a tactical weapon.
Second, even if we pretend like he meant tactical nuclear weapons, the comment (and his explanation) still show a lack of understanding. Tactical nukes in the form of gravity bombs or cruise missiles still have nuclear payloads in the tens- to hundreds-of-kilotons range, meaning they are hardly the smart, targeted weapon that Rapert seems to suggest. As for the very smallest tactical nuclear weapon (in terms of yield), the Davy Crockett recoilless rifle, it is well known for it’s lack of accuracy, leading to this description: “the shell’s greatest effect would have been its extreme radiation hazard. The M-388 would produce an almost instantly lethal radiation dosage (in excess of 10,000 rem) within 500 feet (150 m), and a probably fatal dose (around 600 rem) within a quarter mile (400 m).”
3. ISIS. What part of this description of the structure, geographic scope, and military resources of the group makes anyone think that a single nuclear strike — especially one of Rapert’s fictional strikes that are safe to all non-combatants — would end the conflict? Given that ISIS’s own videos repeatedly speak of America as evil, how can anyone honestly suggest that a nuclear attack, which would certainly leave many non-combatants dead or injured, would be a net positive for America or would not make recruiting for ISIS markedly easier?
4. Libel. Rapert took to whining on Twitter last night:
It doesn’t even matter which “liberal blogger” he’s talking about; there was no libel. Libel requires that the statement made about someone was false — pointing out that Jason Rapert thinks nukes should be used against ISIS was not false, no matter how much absurdly revisionist “explanation” Rapert has engaged in. Additionally, as a public figure, Rapert would have to show that the false statement was made with actual malice (e.g., with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not). Here, people made statements based on Rapert’s own statements, and his subsequent changes to what he thought he meant does not retroactively prove actual malice on the part of the people who commented.
UPDATE: It appears this list was incomplete. To it, let’s add:
6. Intellectual Honesty. At some point after his post blew up in his face, Rapert deleted it from his Facebook page. Of course, thanks to the magic of screenshots, the original post is still available:
Rapert, perhaps hoping that the people who read his Facebook page all collectively suffered a head injury and would simply take him at his word when he quoted himself, then wrote this explanatory post:
See the difference? The second post intentionally makes it look like Rapert wrote, “A strategically placed nuclear weapon (referring to tactical nuclear weapons developed as bunker buster bombs) would save the lives….” But that’s not what he originally wrote. He’s attempting to shoehorn his revisionist explanation into his original post, in an effort to make his followers think that the people who wrote about his original post intentionally distorted his meaning.
If he wants to write posts and Tweets for weeks, attempting to defend what he originally said, that’s one thing. Changing what you originally said in an effort to mislead people is something altogether different.
7. Nuclear Weapons (Again). I kind of love the fact that, in his distorted and misleading new version of the original post, he references bunker-buster bombs as the nuclear weapons that he was originally referring to. Why? Because this is supposed to be Rapert’s rebuttal to the idea that he advocated using weapons that would kill or injure many non-combatants in the area.
Earth-penetrating nuclear weapons (“bunker busters”), however, produce radioactive fallout in the form of dirt and debris that are kicked back into the air and settle as the wind blows. While the area over which this material will spread is less (as compared to a traditional detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the ground) the concentration of the radioactivity in the fallout is higher and more lethal for those who come into contact with it.
Oh, and there’s this: small-yield, tactical nuclear bunker busters don’t exist in the U.S. military, because the government pulled funding and scrapped development plans for such a weapon in 2005. So…that’s probably going to be a problem in Rapert’s hypothetical attack.
And why did they scrap the nuclear bunker-buster development? Because the United States already has a wide variety of conventional (read: non-nuclear) bunker busters, capable of deployment from several different delivery systems. Meaning that, if Rapert’s plan really does hinge on a targeted bunker-buster strike, there’s absolutely no need to use a nuclear version, even if one existed. Which it doesn’t.
UPDATE 2: I’m beginning to think that this list is limited only by the amount of time people are willing to put into it. Because, as some folks pointed out on Facebook earlier, we could also add…
8. Irony. Not long ago, Rapert gave a talk-radio-quality opinion about President Obama:
Yeah! There are problems in the world, and a true public servant would focus on those problems instead of wasting time with selfies!
Oh. Hmm. Maybe the problem is that President Obama’s selfies were obviously done for fun in a moment of levity. Perhaps the President should have posed to make it look like he was working, then uploaded them to his own Facebook page from his cell phone. I guess that’s the difference.
French? WE ONLY SPEAK FREEDOM ‘ROUND HERE!↩