John Leo

In a deeply therapeutic culture, apologies function like secular sacraments. But more and more people demand them, while fewer and fewer are willing to give them. So instead of ?I did it and I?m sorry,? we get fake apologies and conditional ones.  Some examples: 
The basic conditional apology. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said to the National Education Association, ?If you took offense at anything I said, please accept my apology.? If? He had said the NEA is a terrorist organization.
The misdirection conditional. Sen. Christopher Dodd claimed that Sen. Robert Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan,  would have been a great senator at any time in history, in­cluding the Civil War. Dodd?s ?if? statement said: ?If in any way, in my referencing the Civil War, I offended anyone, I apol­ogize.? This made it sound as though someone was hound­ing Dodd for mentioning the Civil War.

The I-gotta-be-me conditional. After turning a press confer­ence into a brawl, boxer Mike Tyson explained: ?I respond­ed as I saw fit. In the process, things that I said may have of­fended members of the audience. To these people I offer my apologies.?
The subject-changing, head-scratching conditional. In 1985, after saying that South African bishop Desmond Tutu was ?a phony,? Jerry Falwell said he meant that Tutu could not speak for all South Africans. Falwell offered an apology if the bish­op thought he was being impugned as a person or a minister. Oh. So that?s it.
The subject-changing, head-scratching nonapology. When Jane Swift served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, she used state employees to baby-sit her infant daughter. Asked to explain, she said: ?I won?t apologize for trying to be a good mother.?
The I-was-misunderstood non­apology. Sen. Trent Lott blamed ?a poor choice of words? for his sug­gestion that the segregationist Strom Thurmond of 1948 should have been elected president.

The incomprehensible conditional. Rep. Corrine Brown recently called U.S. policy on Haiti a racist policy concocted by a ?bunch of white men.? When a Mexican-American assistant secretary of state object­ed, Brown issued a conditional apology to Hispanics, saying that she meant to indict whites only, adding, ?You all [nonblack people] look the same to me.? Luckily for her, Brown is a Demo­crat so her remarks went nowhere in the media.
The ?regret? nonapology. In finally acknowledging his per­jury and the Monica Lewinsky affair, President Clinton said: ?I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.