Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apology Excepted

Our politicians are always reminding us that an apology has a fairly strict form. They remind us by not following it.
Most modern apologies take the form, "We're sorry if you were offended..."

Firstly, any apology that contains the word "if" is not an apology. If someone is truly sorry, it isn't contingent on anything.

Secondly, any apology that personalizes the offended party is not an apology. "Sorry if you're offended" casts the offended party at least as a part of the problem. Is the problem that I was offensive, or that you were so thin-skinned? That's left unclear, and a good apology leaves nothing unclear.

However, such apologies can *sound* very close to a real apology, which is probably why politicians employ these bogus mea culpas.

Our Education secretary, a Mr. Arne Duncan, takes a more sophisticated route to the non-apology. He has been getting some pushback from critics of his "Common Core" initiative. Rather than answering them substantively, he said, according to the Washington Post, that he was fascinated by the fact that some opposition to the standards was coming from “white suburban moms” who fear that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.” (No word as to what Common Core has to say about the use of argumentum ad hominem.) This frames their criticism as something unsubtantive without itself offering anything of substance, and in passing relies on a stereotype and a racial slur.

All this is fine and dandy, but unfortunately, some of the thin-skinned, white suburban moms took offense. An emergency like this calls for an excellent non-apology, and Arne's went something like this:
"I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret — particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success... I want to encourage a difficult conversation and challenge the underlying assumption that when we talk about the need to improve our nation’s schools, we are talking only about poor minority students in inner cities. This is simply not true. Research demonstrates that as a country, every demographic group has room for improvement."

As non-apologies go, this one is a masterpiece. Firstly, Arne expresses no contrition, but only "regret". "I feel remorse for my statements" is what the aggrieved party wants to hear -- whereas "I regret my statements" is more neutral.
E.g., I may regret my sins, and I may regret leaving my sunglasses at the restaurant.  But I don't have remorse for forgetting my sunglasses.

Then he admits to some "clumsy phrasing" when the real problem is that his phrasing was perfectly clear: a bunch of spoiled white suburban soccer moms who think they're kids are geniuses have the temerity to question the Secretary of Education... sniff.  A pox on them and their insufferable spawn.  I'm paraphrasing.

Then, Arne poses as someone who is sincere and means well, but has just been so misunderstood.  He says he wanted simply to "encourage a difficult conversation"... but then goes on to impute a lack of comprehension to his critics. Of course, difficult conversations don't get any easier when you lead off with a couple of insults. And it begs the question to insist that it's his critics who misunderstand the education process, and not him.

Ah well. We probably shouldn't criticize him at all. He is our public servant, you know. It's not our place to question our servants...
Update 11/20/2013:  I don't like Martin Bashir very much, and I certainly don't like his politics, but here he gives the world a lesson in how to deliver an apology (for an unspeakable thing he said about Sarah Palin)...


Anonymous said...

How would you rate this apology?

In a speech before the American Medical Association in June 2009, President Obama said: “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”

President Obama apologized earlier this month to Americans who are losing their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn’t, an unusual act of contrition for a president who has come under heavy criticism for misleading the public.

“I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me,” Obama said in an interview with NBC News.

Lee said...

Is that the entire text of it?

Seems half-hearted to me. He told that same lie some 37 times, even after the law was passed, after at least his staff knew better, and it strains credulity to seriously maintain he didn't.

Furthermore, nice use of passive voice. People are "finding themselves in this situation" not based on his assurances, but on based on legislation that he rammed through Congress with no bipartisan support.

Sorry, not impressed.