Barack Obama faces a test of character in this unending race for the Democratic presidential nomination: Does he continue to take the high road, saying he aims to unite rather than divide the country, or does he respond in kind when his opponent throws every low thing she can at him?
It's not a test Hillary Clinton is likely to face. By now surely no one doubts her ability to plumb the political depths. A veteran of many a political campaign, hers is not the politics of unity but of the war room. To sum up her guiding philosophy: Attack, attack, attack. And one more thing - take no prisoners. She's not about to apologize for some of the stunts her campaign has pulled in this campaign, whether it's distributing a picture of her opponent in Somali dress, accusing him of plagiarism, or hubby's trying to dismiss Barack Obama as just another black candidate a la Jesse Jackson.
All those tactics backfired, which is the good news. The bad news is that, on the basis of such tactics, her fans continue to praise Clinton femme as a "fighter," even if it's a dirty fighter. For Americans in the Vince Lombardi tradition, it's not how you play the game but whether you win or lose. And of late - see Texas and Ohio - Miss Hillary has had some big wins. And winning means never having to apologize.
It's all in accord with the macho American tradition. "Never apologize," said John Wayne, perhaps the macho American hero. "It's a sign of weakness." Or to quote the title of Jim Belushi's book back in 2006, Real Men Don't Apologize.
To some of us, making a proper apology when we've wronged another, or just screwed up, is a sign of strength, not weakness. It demonstrates an ability to overcome false pride. One of the many lessons I learned - or was supposed to learn - in that graduate school of conduct called the U.S. Army is never, never try to weasel out of a mistake.
The best response when called on the carpet is a simple "No excuse, sir." Not "I'm sorry but . . ." or any other attempt to evade responsibility. An honest confession of fault clears the air and doesn't let the wrong fester. It's an effective course in civilian life, too. And, more important, an honorable one.
When one of Barack Obama's close advisers, Samantha Power, described Hillary Clinton as a monster who'd stoop to anything to win this election, Ms. Power was obliged to resign her post. Fair enough. Accountable enough. A resignation remains the most sincere from of apology in public life. And there aren't nearly enough of them.