John Leo

The accusatory conditional. ?If, in hindsight, we also discover that mistakes may have been made . . . I am deeply sorry,? said Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, while apologizing (sort of) for bishops who failed to deal with sex scandals in the Roman Catholic clergy. ?Hindsight? means that the critics are just second guessers who weren?t there.

The accusatory nonconditional. ?Your government failed you. . . . And I failed you,? said Richard Clarke at the 9/11 hearings. But his book makes clear that he doesn?t believe he failed any­one. What he means is that President Bush failed the nation. No one has ever buried a severe accusation in a pitch-perfect Oprahfied apology like Clarke.
The historical apology for what other people did. President Clinton apologized for U.S. support of dictators during the Cold War and for the deposing of Hawaii?s Queen Li­liuo­ka­lani by the Cleveland administration in 1893. Most of these apologies are low cost or cost free. For instance, I would like to apologize here for the U.S. invasion of Canada in the War of 1812. There. I feel better already.
The ?it happened? nonapology. After 14 years of denials, Pete Rose finally admitted he had bet on baseball games. He wrote: ?I?m sure I?m supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty . . . . Let?s leave it at this: I?m sorry it hap­pened, and I?m sorry for all the peo­ple, fans, and family it hurt. Let?s move on."

The sincere but responsibility-shrinking apology. Last fall, Arnold Schwarzen­egger met the barrage of sexual accusations against him by saying, ?I was on rowdy movie sets, and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. . . . I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize because this is not what I?m trying to do.? This is the most effective political apology any of us will probably live to see. The problem is that Schwarzen­egger was ac­cused of much more serious offenses against women than the words rowdy and playful can reasonably cover. He mini­mizes while apologizing. Quite brilliant, really.

John Leo

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

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