I don’t know about you, but I’m totally exhausted by the public’s obsession with the vice-presidential debate. Everywhere I go, people are babbling about Mike Pence and Tim Kaine! Who knew it would be so electric? The world can’t stop talking about Veep Vitriole.
OK, I made that up. I’m sorry. Nobody is talking about the vice-presidential debate at all. This was really just a sneaky way to introduce the subject of apologies.
It came up in the debate, during an argument over who had the most “insult-driven campaign.” Pence saw an opening to mention that Hillary Clinton had once described half of Donald Trump’s followers as a racist, sexist, homophobic “basket of deplorables.” Kaine retorted that at least Clinton had apologized.
Which is true. Clinton said she regretted being “grossly generalistic, and that’s never a good idea.” It would have worked if she had not prefaced her original “deplorables” remark – made at a private fundraising event – with, “To just be grossly generalistic …”
You can’t say you’re sorry for something you admitted was wrong when you were saying it. Clinton needs new material. A truly sincere apology would probably have been something along the lines of: “I deeply regret having said something at an off-the-record fundraiser that I wouldn’t want taped and broadcast to the world. You’d think everybody would have learned that lesson by now.”
Still, certainly not the worst apology of the era. That might have been the time a radical rebel group in Syria put up a statement expressing regret for having beheaded the wrong person.
Also, possibly former Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose’s ongoing attempt to apologize for his seamy past by selling balls on which he’d written “I’m sorry I bet on baseball” for $300 and up.
(Cincinnati still has a downtown street called Pete Rose Way, which illustrates the importance of not naming major pieces of infrastructure after people who are still alive. I always found it amusing until I ran across New York’s Donald J. Trump State Park.)
But about apologies: Other rules include not blaming the problem on the hearer (“I’m sorry if you guys were offended”). And not using your apology to repeat the original infraction. Perhaps you remember the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who apologized for making racist statements about Magic Johnson in an interview during which he told Anderson Cooper “some of the African-Americans, they don’t want to help anybody.”
We need a president who will know just the right thing to say if our drones accidentally hit somebody’s presidential palace, or the new ambassador to France gets drunk and demands to know why Parisians aren’t friendly. Clinton’s own apology record is mixed, although lately her comments on the emails have been sounding less like expressions of regret for having been caught.
On this point, like so very many in the current campaign, Clinton’s failings tend to vanish when compared with the behavior of her opponent. If you’re having an argument about who does an apology better, it’s not much of a contest when one of the two parties doesn’t seem to ever admit he was wrong about anything.
A Trumpian apology would be the thing he did recently in Washington, when he retracted years of birtherism by blurting out “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” Then trying to claim he had done the president a favor by pushing the matter so hard. Then blaming the whole thing on Hillary at the end of a promo for his new hotel.
People, we are being deprived of our God-given right to complain about both presidential candidates. Every time someone comes up with a Hillary flaw, someone else will do a comparison. Yeah, while Clinton was secretary of state the Clinton Foundation took money from foreign bigwigs to help fund its work with impoverished people overseas. But the other guy spent his charity’s money on a 6-foot portrait of himself. Any more questions?
For Trump surrogates like Pence, the best response is to deny the original offense ever occurred. During the debate, Kaine pointed out that Trump had said women who seek an abortion should be punished. Hard to deny, given the fact that he made the comment on MSNBC. But Pence said Trump “would never support legislation” along that line.
And it’s true that hours after the MSNBC taping, the Trump campaign issued a statement saying he only wanted to punish doctors, and adding a comment from The Man himself: “My position has not changed – like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
We have here the perfect encapsulation of the current Republican presidential campaign:
1) Trump says something very strange.
2) The campaign says he didn’t really say it.
3) Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan.
Pence, cornered by Kaine, finally blurted out, “Look, he’s not a polished politician like you and Hillary Clinton.”
Well, that would be one way of putting it.