What made Romney’s statement and press conference disturbing, however, was his repeated use of the words sympathize and apology to conflate three issues the Cairo embassy had carefully separated: bigotry, free speech, and violence. The embassy had stipulated that expressions of bigotry, while wrong, were protected by freedom of speech and didn’t warrant retaliatory violence. Romney, by accusing the embassy of “sympathizing with those who had breached” the compound, equated moral criticism of the Mohammed movie with support for violence. In so doing, Romney embraced the illiberal Islamist mindset that led to the embassy invasion: To declare a movie offensive is to authorize its suppression.
“The Embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles,” Romney asserted at the press conference. “It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. … An apology for America’s values is never the right course.” Lest anyone miss his buzzwords, Romney called the embassy’s comments “a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.”
What, exactly, does Romney mean by “American values”? The embassy never apologized for free speech or diplomatic sovereignty. The only American offense it criticized was the movie’s “bigotry” and “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Does Romney regard this criticism as an “apology for American values”? Is bigotry an American value? Is it weak or un-American to repudiate slurs against Muslims?