Love means never having to say you are sorry...

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ZZZzzzzzzz, Sep 1, 2006.

  1. Voters Hearing Countless Ways of Saying ‘Sorry’
    By MARK LEIBOVICH

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 — These are sorry days in American politics.

    The Maryland comptroller, William Donald Schaefer, a former governor and Baltimore mayor, released a radio advertisement on Wednesday in which he apologized to anyone he had offended in his 50-year career, sins that ranged from ogling a woman at a public meeting to complaining that immigrants were not learning English fast enough.

    Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, said Wednesday that the United States confronts a “faceless enemy” of terrorists who “drive cabs in the daytime and kill at night.” Despite a hail of criticism on Thursday, Mr. Burns has not apologized for this remark as he did after complaining in July that a group of firefighters did not do a “goddamn thing” to stop a wildfire east of Billings.

    Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, has been serially apologizing across Virginia since demeaning a man of Indian descent as “Macaca, or whatever his name is” at a campaign rally last month. Mr. Allen has been perhaps the most prodigious apologizer in what has been a spate of groveling across the political spectrum.

    The contrite caucus includes Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans (who said he was “very sorry” after calling the site of the World Trade Center a “hole in the ground”); Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, (who asked forgiveness after a C-Span microphone caught him saying “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent”); a Florida Republican Congressional candidate, Tramm Hudson (who might have sunk his campaign by saying that blacks were bad swimmers); and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a Republican, (after using the term “tar baby” not long after the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, deployed the same phrase, which some consider to be a racist epithet).

    When politicians make the ruinous mistake of actually saying what they mean in public — or, at the very least, breaching the talking-point orthodoxy that is demanded of them — they crack open an unintended window into their character. Public apologies are an effort to shut this window as quickly as possible.

    Politicians have been apologizing for as long as they have been getting in trouble, of course. But the recent wave has been remarkable in its frequency and sweep. A Washington Republican Senate candidate, Mike McGavick, stunned many last month when he apologized on his campaign blog for “the very worst and most embarrassing things in my life,” and then catalogued a roster that included a previously undisclosed drunken-driving citation from 13 years ago and a questionable campaign advertisement he allowed 18 years ago.

    “None of these apologies are effective because no one believes them anymore,” said Chuck Todd, editor of the daily political tip-sheet, Hotline.

    The notion of political apologies has become cheapened by the caveats that often accompany, and dilute, them, Mr. Todd said.

    Mr. Allen offers something of an object lesson. “I do apologize if he’s offended by that” was Mr. Allen’s first attempt in L’affaire Macaca before his mea culpas spiraled into progressive handwringing and culminated in a phone call to his victim, S. R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old volunteer for his opponent, James Webb. (The Webb campaign questioned whether the remark was a racist slur because macaca can refer to a monkey.)

    As a general rule, apologies lose their potency as time elapses, a principle articulated by Alben W. Barkley, Harry S. Truman’s vice president, who said, “If you have to eat crow, eat it while it’s hot.” This is especially true in a time of bloggers, live microphones and camera-toting “trackers” from rival campaigns, when any gaffe can immediately find its way onto the Internet.

    Ted Widmer, a Brown University historian who was a speechwriter in the Clinton White House, breaks political apologies into several categories. He lists one as “the expression of regret,” which is not quite an apology and is often recognizable by use of the passive voice (like Ronald Reagan’s “mistakes were made” during the Iran-contra scandal). A variant, he said, involves vague terms like “some people might think I’ve been insensitive,” and is often followed by an attack on “some people,” often the media for blowing the transgression out of proportion.

    Mr. Widmer also describes the “surprise apology,” a show of contrition that often occurs many years after the fact. The genre is epitomized by Lee Atwater, the bare-knuckled Republican operative who, just before dying of cancer, issued several apologies to opponents he had attacked during his career.

    Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University linguist who is an expert on political discourse, said public apologies began to proliferate in the Clinton era.

    President Bill Clinton brought in a confessional, talk-show ethic characterized by the early acknowledgment of “causing pain” in his marriage, a precursor to a sex scandal (and apologies) that marked his second term.

    President Bush, conversely, has been characterized by his refusal to admit mistakes, a quality his supporters laud as steadfastness and detractors call arrogant.

    But it was noteworthy this week when Mr. Bush said “I take full responsibility for the federal government’s response” to Hurricane Katrina. He did not apologize, however, as he did in June to a Los Angeles Times reporter whom he teased for wearing sunglasses at a press conference and who — unknown to Mr. Bush — was afflicted with a degenerative eye condition.

    Mr. Burns, the Montana senator, is both an accomplished apologizer and non-apologizer. He demonstrated as much in June when he joked that “the nice little Guatemalan man” working on his house might be an illegal immigrant. He has not apologized for the quip, as he once did after calling Arabs “ragheads.”

    “I can self-destruct in one sentence,” Mr. Burns, a former livestock auctioneer, recently told supporters. “Sometimes in one word.”