All apologies

>> Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's terribly hard, in these last weeks before the election, to catalogue everything wrong with Mitt Romney, and at this point there's quite a lot one would rather just ignore, you know?  I start feeling like this dog:

But I came across something while I was wandering the Internet, a post at some conservative blog where the author was pimping the "Obama Apology Tour" meme, and I realized that this is something that's floating around even above and beyond Romney pimping it at the debates and his whistlestops.  Oh, and I guess Romney was pimping this one even at least as early as two years ago, when he published something called No Apology as a preamble to officially running for President.

The writer at Hot Air takes the tack that the "Apology Tour" line is defensible and not, as it's sometimes been characterized, a total lie.  Not because the President ever actually expressed an out-and-out, you know, apology or remorse or anything like that, but (the writer argues) because the President said things that are semantically indistinguishable from an apology, like:

In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic Union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

...which the writer goes on to characterize as, "...a mode of behavior that should have been odious and offensive to every American," concluding:

It would have been had the speaker been someone other than a man in whom so many invested hope. The unwillingness of those on the left now, after four years, to concede that Obama’s words were not only apologetic but wrong-headed just shows how partisan and small-minded they are.

See, what I find simultaneously interesting and confoundingly stupid about this whole thing isn't that I actually care whether or not Obama's words are technically or semantically or essentially or whatever an "apology", but that I don't really care if they were.  What I mean is, even if I stipulate that comments like the one quoted were in fact an apology and that the President is now misrepresenting what he said or even lying about it, I still don't understand what's so awful about apologizing in the first place.

Maybe it's because I was raised in the South.  Maybe it's because my parents did some things right.  Where I come from, anyway, we were brought up to apologize when we screwed up.  Or even, sometimes, when we didn't, though the standard Southern formality for that is the classic unapologetic pseudo-apology, "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way."

America has shown arrogance, been dismissive, and even derisive.  Especially during the Bush years, when Donald Rumsfeld gratuitously insulted our French and German allies by dismissing them as "Old Europe" during the build-up to the Iraq War, another Administration official disparagingly called the Belgians "chocolate makers" and the Heritage Foundation recommended the Bush Administration treat Europe as a "toolbox".  Assuming, just for the sake of an argument, that Obama making conciliatory overtures was, indeed, a quote-unquote "apology", I kinda think we had some things to apologize for.

It isn't like the President, I dunno, did something like fly to Japan and go door-to-door to express his regret that we so antagonized and intimidated them in the Pacific and mainland Asia in the 1930s that we're sorry the Japanese had to go to all that trouble to bomb Pearl Harbor and we're so sorry if we got needlessly upset and firebombed Tokyo or anything like that when any hostility should have been directed back at ourselves for supporting Chiang Kai-Shek and deploying forces to the Pacific instead of allowing the Japanese to just go ahead and establish strategic and trade monopolies over almost the entire Pacific Rim as was clearly their own Manifest Destiny.

No, the President just sort of acknowledged--in speeches addressed to some of our closest traditional allies in Europe and to some of our trade partners and geographical neighbors in Latin America--that we'd kind of been dicks lately and implied we wouldn't do that quite as often in the future.  Honestly, I kind of wish he'd gone farther and simply flat-out said, "Yeah, sorry about that."

Or I would have kind of liked this, for instance: "People of France, I really hope our being assholes over the Iraq thing won't change our BFF status with France.  Sometimes buddies argue.  But you guys saved our asses in the American Revolution and we saved yours in World War II, so let's sit down with beers and baguettes instead of staying pissed at each other, 'kay?  We're sorry.  Pals?"

The pseudo-manly "no apology" crap is one of the least attractive things about the right-wing mindset.  Gentlemen apologize.  Assholes don't.  But I think it also ties in very tightly with another ugly thing about the mindset: see, being able to apologize means being able to at least consider that you might have been wrong about something, and admitting you might be wrong about something is to admit the capacity for doubt, for fallibility, for uncertainty.  In a way, it's admitting that there are diverse viewpoints about things.  That there are, in fact, shades and perspectives, and that the world isn't just not black-and-white, but that it's polychrome, and not just polychrome, but (much like the iridescent scales on a butterfly wing or the sheen of oil floating on water) polychrome that may change in shade, tone or even hue if you change your angle of incidence, sometimes by as little as a few degrees or inches--take a full step left or right, and the red becomes purple or the blue turns indigo, something as bright as polished silver suddenly turns blacker than midnight at the bottom of a well.

For the majority of American conservatives these days, it seems like the acknowledgement of uncertainty is anathema.  You can't have it in your economics or your religion, it better stay out of your politics.  Right and wrong, Jesus and Satan, totalitarian communism and libertarian laissez-faire, guns and slavery, religion and science; it's not just that there's no middle ground between any two supposedly polar absolutes, there's not a sliver of deviance.  A theist who suggests evolution is God's standard operating procedure might as well be Richard Dawkins; a staunchly pro-business CEO who hazards that one or two banking regulations might not be the worst thing that ever happened to anyone is clearly an inveterate Marxist.

The little minds of these folks are haunted by hobgoblins (riffing on Emerson).  They cling to clouds of foolish inconsistency and auras of absolutism with ferocious terror, and it's ugly.

Of course they can't apologize--right or wrong, they're always right, and anything else is weakness.  Not perceived weakness, actual weakness, because if they were ever wrong, it would mean they stepped from the solid stone of their beliefs and principles into an endless void of possibility where they would have no hope of balance or leverage--better to stay on their crumbling plateau than to risk falling.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.  It's weak and despicable and unbecoming.  It's a form of cowardice in a sealed-off bunker fronting as bravery under fire.

I have no idea what's going to happen in a couple of weeks, whether Romney will be elected or Obama will be.  But the last thing in the world this country--this world--needs is more preening, self-righteous, overconfident arrogance from those who represent us to the world and make decisions about how to act in it.

Suppose we agree Barack Obama apologized for the United States and Mitt Romney promises he never will: all that tells me is one of these men is a fool.


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