Last week I attended a panel at The Tank in New York City, where Ari Melber of The Nation, Democratic strategist Scott Shields, and erstwhile John Edwards blogger Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon were giving a talk on progressive politics, netroots political activism, and how to combat the right-wing noise machine. (Majikthise has pictures for the interested – scroll down to March 4.)
The conference was attended by about seventy-five people, and of those, I’d conservatively estimate that 100% had their own blogs. I know this because everyone who asked a question made sure to mention the name of theirs. (Little bit of self-deprecating blog humor there! – although, in my defense, I didn’t ask anything). Really, this shouldn’t be a surprise; if we didn’t think there were others who were interested in what we had to say, we wouldn’t write for our blogs in the first place. The evening ended up being more like a conversation than a question-and-answer session, not that there’s anything wrong with that – although I could have done with a little less of the obligatory Kos-bashing.
In any case, I wanted to write about some thoughts that’ve been brewing in my mind on one of the evening’s themes. Amanda Marcotte in particular, recently retired from the John Edwards campaign after becoming a target of intense harassment and vituperation from bigots like William Donohue, spoke on the silly and pointless cult of apology that’s become one of the favorite tactics of the right-wing noise machine. The general theme is that, whenever a progressive does something that annoys conservatives, they and often everyone around them are subjected to a barrage of demands to “apologize”. This is not so much a request for a heartfelt expression of regret as much as it is a demand that the offender ritually abase themselves before the self-appointed guardians of decency and seek pardon for transgressing what those self-appointed guardians view as the bounds of acceptable discourse. Liberals do this too, but conservatives are particularly enamored of it.
The endless and insincere demands for apologies have grown to become one of the aspects of politics that annoys me the most. As Marcotte pointed out, what it’s really about is flexing political muscle and attempting to humiliate one’s enemies – along the lines of “I made you apologize, so therefore I am strong and you are weak”. The apology, if given, is not viewed as an expression of regret that clears the air, but merely an admission of guilt that can be more readily used to attack the giver in the future.
All of this came up in a discussion of the vote authorizing the Iraq war, which several Democratic presidential candidates voted in favor of – in particular Hillary Clinton. John Edwards, who was also in the Senate at the time, has publicly said “I was wrong” to cast that vote. Clinton, on the other hand, refuses to issue an apology and says that people who want her to admit that should choose another candidate, though she says that “if I knew then what I know now”, she wouldn’t have voted for the war.
As I said, I am no fan of the cult of apology, and I have not yet made up my mind which candidate I intend to support. But I’m very near certain that whichever one it is, it won’t be Hillary Clinton, and her stance on this issue is the reason why. This may seem to be a contradiction with the previous paragraphs, so permit me to explain myself.
Unlike conservatives who glorify a contrived cult of masculinity, I view apologizing not as proof of the giver’s ritual humiliation, but as a way for them to demonstrate what they have learned. It is appropriate in that context, when an opportunity for learning presents itself. To me, Hillary Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her vote authorizing war is evidence that she hasn’t learned anything.
Granted, she has said that she wouldn’t have voted for war if she had known then what she knows now. But what sort of statement is that? If she had known in advance that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with September 11 and was bound to fall apart in a bloody civil war in the aftermath of invasion, she wouldn’t have voted to invade? I would certainly hope so! But that isn’t a bold declaration of political principle; that is just proof of some minimal connection to reality. That should be the bare minimum required for any candidate who wants to be taken seriously. But it does not go nearly far enough.
In essence, by refusing to apologize, Clinton is asserting that Iraq isn’t her fault. She wants to place all the blame on Bush for feeding misinformation to Congress, and none on herself for being taken in by that misinformation. That is not how our government works. Congress is not a rubber stamp, blindly considering only the information which the president wants them to consider and then obediently voting however the president wants. Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government, and as such has not just the right but the obligation to exert its own authority by skeptically and critically scrutinizing any action the president wishes to take, and denying him the authority to take that action if the evidence does not hold up. In the runup to the war, unfortunately, Congress was taken in by hysteria and chose to abdicate that responsibility.
Yes, Bush bears the vast majority of the blame for lying and misleading this country into a bloody, disastrous war. But Congress is not free of blame either. Every member of Congress who voted to authorize that action bears a share of the blame as well. They can expiate that guilt in two ways. First, they should immediately introduce legislation to bring American soldiers home as soon as is reasonably possible. Second, at least as importantly, they should apologize forthrightly for their blind recklessness to lead us into war on dubious evidence in the first place. Again, this is not about ritual humiliation: it is about these congresspeople telling us what they have learned. They must prove to us that they now recognize Congress as a co-equal branch of government, one which has the authority and the obligation to act as a brake on the executive, and will not be blindly led into disaster by a warmongering president again. Hillary Clinton’s refusal to apologize, her refusal to shoulder her portion of the blame for the Iraq disaster, suggests to me that she has not learned anything at all from her part in this.
About the Author (Author Profile)I'm an author, skeptic and computer programmer living in New York City. I'm also an unapologetic atheist, and believe passionately that freethinkers deserve a much stronger voice in our culture than they've been given in the past. Since politicians and the mainstream media aren't willing to give us that, it falls to us to take our case directly to the public. Both on my own weblog, Daylight Atheism, and here on Dangerous Intersection, I hope to be able to spread the good news of freethought!
Sites That Link to this Post
- Daylight Atheism > New Guest Post on Dangerous Intersection | October 18, 2010