In the old Happy Days episode, the Fonz spends the whole show trying to apologize, but the word “sorry” just won’t come out. His attempts to say it (“Ssssss…,” then “Sssssorrrr…”) fall flat, as his lips refuse to form the word. Many politicians and celebrities have the same verbal affliction, until their consciences (or publicists) instruct them otherwise. However, instead of a full fledged Ellen DeGeneres, we’re usually treated to one of several less satisfying varieties.
For example, the “quasi-apology” is not an apology at all, but a sophisticated way to make the speaker look sympathetic — for example, when Martha Stewart was sorry some of her employees lost their jobs because of her “unfair prosecution.” Then there’s the “spin-apology,” as when Former Gov. James McGreevey apologized to his wife and children over his homosexual affair and subsequent resignation from office. (The apology was to obscure the fact that McGreevey annually paid his lover $100,000 of taxpayer money for a job he was unqualified to perform.) Winona Ryder chose the unique yet unconvincing, “my-director-made-me-do-it” apology, after being caught shoplifting $5,500 worth of Beverly Hills merchandise while supposedly doing research for a role.
Gov. Huckabee used a different type of apology when he told Gov. Romney he was sorry for slurring his religion. Actually, that’s not quite right. He said he was sorry the New York Times took him out of context when it reported he asked whether Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers. According to Politico:
“…he [the reporter, Zev Chafets] was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney’s religion.
“And I said I don’t want to go there. I don’t know that much about it. I barely know enough about being a Baptist. And I really didn’t know,” the GOP presidential candidate continued.
Huckabee went on to say that Chafets was telling him “things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is fairly well-schooled on comparative religions. And so as a part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that… “
So, to be accurate, Gov. Huckabee’s was a “sorry-I-was-taken-out-of-context” apology, one that Gov. Romney graciously accepted (even though Huckabee’s press secretary Alice Stewart raised no concerns about the quote when she learned of it prior to publication). While I’m compassionate for people whose words are twisted, all apologies are not created equal. Are we really to believe the New York Times reporter knew more about religion than the candidate with a theology degree? Isn’t there anything the man knows? He’s already admitted he knows nothing about foreign policy, in a joke I found less than hilarious, as my husband’s stationed a few miles from the Iranian border. But now he expects us to overlook his lack of discretion by saying – aw-shucks — he “barely knows enough about being a Baptist,” so what can he know of Mitt’s faith?
In 1970, the movie “Love Story” had an erroneous tag line which became part of the modern vernacular: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” indicating people are entitled to forgiveness, even if they don’t ask for it. And so politicians forge through bad press cycles until handlers determine it’s best to offer some sort of penance. Whether Gov. Huckabee’s apology was prompted by personal conviction or damage control is between him and God. But since he apologized and promptly announced it in the post-debate media room, it forces us to assess the situation from our living rooms.
Whether we like it or not, we’re a part of the constantly unfolding drama, participating in the daily campaign dramas of people we rarely encounter. This makes our relationship with candidates both strangely passionate and detached. They ask us for our votes, our money, and a place on our bumpers to put a campaign sticker.
In exchange, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a little honesty.