August 3, 2011

A sorry lot, indeed

By Paul Slansky

After death and taxes, the next surest thing is that the discovery of sexual misbehavior by a public figure will be instantly followed — as New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is merely the latest to confirm — by a public apology: ” … so sorry … deeply sorry … profoundly sorry. … ”

Of course they’re sorry! They’re sorry they got caught, and now the fun has to stop, and they’re being publicly humiliated, and their spouses have to stand up there grimacing — think about how hard it must be to be forgiven for that — and on top of that they might even lose their jobs. Who wouldn’t experience pangs of regret?

But how sorry would they be if they hadn’t been caught? Remorse, one feels certain, would be the furthest thing from their minds. So the apology extorted by such circumstances is by definition meaningless, a perfunctory bleat of contrition designed to buy some time while the damage is assessed. It is never eloquent and never as memorable as the acts being repented. But for apology aficionados, it is that very combination of trite mea culpas for often lurid deeds that makes it all so satisfying .

Some choice examples:

“I sincerely apologize for any pain my actions may have caused. This has been damaging to my family, and I don’t want to subject them to any additional pain that might result from carrying out this matter under the scrutiny that comes with holding public office.”

Rep. Richard Curtis, a reliable anti-gay vote in the Washington State House of Representatives, apologizing in October after it was alleged that he’d dressed as a woman and performed fellatio on a customer at an adult book store, then — still wearing the female get-up — went to a hotel and had sex with another man.

“Good evening, Detroit. I want to start tonight by saying to the citizens of this great city, I’m sorry.”

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, apologizing in January after the Detroit Free Press revealed the existence of thousands of sexually explicit text messages between the married mayor and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. The mayor had previously denied under oath having an affair with her. Among the less explicit of the messages: “I’ve been dreaming all day about having you to myself for 3 days. Relaxing, laughing, talking, sleeping and making love.”

“I want to, again, offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past. I am completely responsible. And I am so very, very sorry.”

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, apologizing in person in July for his phone number turning up in the phone records of the “D.C. Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, after his earlier apology — read by a spokesman — was deemed inadequate.

“My conduct that evening was inappropriate. … It violated the values of the person I strive to be.”

Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside, apologizing in 1994 for being caught in “an extremely embarrassing situation” that consisted of his being found sitting in a parked car receiving oral sex from a prostitute. He claimed for a year that nothing had happened, even though the police officer who caught them had reported seeing him covering his unzipped pants with his hands and rearranging himself back in his dress slacks.

“I’m sorry — so, so sorry that mistakes in my judgment made this day necessary for us all.”

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, apologizing in 2004 for having had an extramarital affair with a man who he then appointed as his homeland security advisor, despite the man’s utter lack of qualifications for such a position.

“Am I sorry? Of course. If I did the things that they say I did, am I sorry, do I apologize? Yes.”

Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood in 1995, conditionally apologizing — if he did these things — to the score of women who’d been on the receiving end of more than two decades of unwanted sexual advances (or, as he put it, “the conduct that it was alleged that I did”).

“I’m sorry that I made a mistake. It happened three years ago. I’m human. …”

Illinois Rep. Daniel Crane, apologizing in 1983 for having sex several times with a 17-year-old female page. His press secretary, William Mencarow, was out the next day apologizing for telling reporters that “if they required the resignation of all congressmen who have slept with young ladies, you wouldn’t have a Congress.”

“I made a serious mistake. I should not have been in the company of any woman not my wife who was not a friend of mine or my wife.”

Colorado Sen. (and instantly former presidential candidate) Gary Hart, apologizing in 1987 for having spent the night in his D.C. home with model Donna Rice — a rendezvous that only became public knowledge because the widely suspected-of-philandering Hart insanely challenged the media: “Follow me around. I don’t care. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” They did, and they weren’t.

“I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family, and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong. I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, to whom I promised better.”

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who prosecuted at least two prostitution rings while he was New York State attorney general, apologizing Monday after he was overheard on a federal wiretap allegedly planning an assignation with a prostitute at a Washington, D.C., hotel last month.