Are you as sick of the knee-jerk demands for apologies as I am? This political season has had only one real constant — the whining cries for apologies after politically stupid statements that should stand as testaments to the vapidity of those who made them. Every campaign has engaged in this practice, and it has gotten so prevalent that even an obsessive blogger would have trouble tracking all of the emerging demands for retractions.
The latest case in point comes from our friends at the RNC, who rightly object to Howard Dean’s remarks about John McCain but fall into the victim trap in their response:
A senior Republican Party official demanded that Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean apologize late Friday afternoon for calling Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “a blatant opportunist” who has “cast aside his principles.”
Frank Donatelli, the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), sought to drive a wedge between Dean and Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) over the comments.
“Howard Dean owes John McCain an immediate apology and both Senators Clinton and Obama should unequivocally denounce this disgraceful attack,” said Donatelli. …
“John McCain can try to reintroduce himself to the country, but he can’t change the fact that he cast aside his principles to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush the last seven years,” said Dean. “While we honor McCain’s military service, the fact is Americans want a real leader who offers real solutions, not a blatant opportunist who doesn’t understand the economy and is promising to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years.”
Dean, of course, sang a different tune in 2004. When John Kerry ran for President on the basis of three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star — and not much else — Dean asked, “Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?” Now, all of a sudden, talking about military service makes a candidate a “blatant opportunist”, a rather offensive allegation against someone who spent over five years being tortured by the enemy in that conflict.
Donatelli, who’s normally sharp and incisive, simply takes the wrong approach. Victims demand apologies and give power to their victimizers. If Dean doesn’t apologize, what happens? The RNC has just given him the power to re-emphasize his attack and make McCain a victim all over again. James Carville demonstrated that when he refused to apologize to Bill Richardson for calling him a Judas, leaving Richardson fuming — and giving Carville the last word.
Americans don’t elect victims to office — not if they have another choice.
Besides, how effective are demanded apologies? They’re meaningless; usually they just take the form of condescension, saying, “I’m sorry if you took offense to my brilliance.” They are never sincere and only rarely take the form of admission of wrongdoing.
Instead of demanding apologies and playing the victim, campaigns should respond by highlighting the stupidity of the comment. Don’t ask for an apology; just ask, “What kind of jackass would consider McCain’s military record ‘opportunism’? The head of the party who’s mascot is the jackass!” Pull out every quote in which Dean lauded Kerry’s military record and denigrated George Bush’s military service and ask, “Who’s the opportunist?”
The demanding for apologies is just passive-aggressive whining. Go on offense and use the ridiculous statements of opponents against them. Don’t let them off the hook with insincere and snickering “apologies”. Make them pay for their stupidity every day. And maybe — just maybe — we can get past this victim mentality that has no place in politics.