It seems that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney cannot get his act together. Prior to Romney’s latest blunder, where he cried out that he isn’t going to focus on the 47 percent of Americans who will probably not choose to vote for him, he levied a decent charge at the president during the crises happening in Libya and in Egypt last week.
He continued the line of attack coming from conservatives that President Barack Obama should not apologize for “American values.” Beyond the fact that this accusation happened as the crisis was ongoing, and typical opposition etiquette during such a situation is to be solemn and place politics aside, Romney’s line of attack was simply incorrect.
Indeed, Karl Rove’s original 2009 accusation was that the president had been going on a “worldwide apology tour.” He cited four instances where the president had somehow weakened our stance in the world by apologizing for the values we live by. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post did an amazing job in February 2011, fact-checking each of these instances and concluding that “in none of these cases does Obama use a word at all similar to ‘apologize.’”
One would think after the fact-checkers verified Obama never apologized, this case would be closed. But in a country where many on the far right are still challenging the legitimacy of the president’s birthplace, nothing in politics ever goes away.
Romney used the opportunity of an American Ambassador’s death to politically bomb the president for something that was not said. The “apology” that Romney speaks of never came from Obama. In fact, it was a press release issued by the embassy as the attacks were occurring, which expressed disdain for the anti-Muslim video that originally sparked the riots in Libya and Egypt to begin with. This is no apology.
But what if it was? Why is there a negative stigma attached to apologizing for something that we, as a country, do wrong? Why does the right think that saying “I’m sorry” when America makes a mistake is seen as a weakness?
We teach our children to apologize to others if they make a mistake. When celebrities say something offensive, we demand an apology. Even when politicians, including the president, politically push too far or get caught in a lie, apologies are asked for. And when other countries do something to offend the U.S., we expect an apology.
There is precedent for American presidents apologizing to the world when a mistake has been made as well. During the 1950s after an African diplomat had been refused service because of the color of his skin at a restaurant in Delaware, former President Eisenhower apologized for his treatment. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush issued several apologies during their terms in office. And even Ronald Reagan, the great conservative who can do no wrong on the right, apologized in 1988 for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
I assert that whoever is in the Oval Office should view apologizing for an American mistake as not showing weakness, but showing tact. I assert that apologizing for a misstep shows leadership, and respect for those we have offended.
And I assert that offering a good ole fashion “mea culpa” when we just plain screw up, helps to improve our standing in the international community, not diminish it.