Sometimes, in politics and government, apologies are in order.
“Back in high school,” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said today, “I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize.”
At the same time, Romney maintained in an interview on Fox News Radio that he couldn’t recall the incident for which he was apologizing: As reported in the Washington Post, the accounts of several then-teenage classmates of Romney at the all-boys Cranbrook School in Michigan recalling him and a group shoving and cutting the long hair of a student presumed to be gay.
“I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual,” Romney said of the fellow prep school student. “That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”
He questioned how much of a candidate’s past is fair game, too. “There’s going to be some that want to talk about high school,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “Well, if you really think that’s important, be my guest.”
Later today on Fox News Channel, Romney was asked about the incident again and said: “First of all, I had no idea what that individual’s sexual orientation might be. Going back to he 1960s, that isn’t something we discussed or considered… There is no question that I did some stupid things in high school,” he said, and if anyone was hurt by it, he apologizes.
In the context of this week’s events, in which President Barack Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage and Romney maintained that marriage is for a man and woman, the question of any bullying in the candidate’s past carried a certain timeliness. While Obama looks “forward,” his election campaign said in a Web video today, Romney will take everyone “backwards on equality.”
It turns out, according to an administration official, that Vice President Joe Biden, whose statement in support of gay marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday advanced the timing of Obama’s own announcement of support, apologized to the president yesterday for putting Obama in what George Clooney called in the film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” a tight spot. (Obama is raising money tonight in Los Angeles with Clooney’s help.)
It’s true that a lot of memorable apologies in politics involve more contemporaneous fouls than Romney’s belated high school amends, like that of Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who called out ”You lie” at Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
Not long after the speech ended, Wilson issued an apology: “This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill,” he said. “While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” Wilson also called the White House to apologize.
Then there was former Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who issued an apology in 2002 for a speech in which he had praised Strom Thurmond’s segregationist campaign for president in 1948. He repeated that apology several times, asking for ”forbearance and forgiveness.”
The Rev. Jerry Falwell apologized in 2002 for calling the Prophet Muhammad a ”terrorist.” And Muslim leaders welcomed the apology.
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell apologized by telephone to Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono after the American submarine Greenville collided with a Japanese fishing boat off Hawaii in 2001 — but he did not apologize to China for the collision of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet a couple of months later, saying ”there is nothing to apologize for.”
There have been some historic apologies of global proportions: in 1998, Japanese Emperor Akihito apologized to Britain for World War II. Earlier that year, President Bill Clinton apologized for inaction during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. But in April 1995, Clinton said, “The United States owes no apology to Japan for having dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
In 1970, at the site of the Warsaw ghetto, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees to express guilt and sorrow and acknowledge the responsibility of Germany for the Holocaust.
Follow this trail far enough and you’ll see that a judge and 12 jurors in 1697 apologized for the Salem witch trials of 1692. (And in 1711, Massachusetts paid compensation to the families of the victims.)
But high school?
That’s going pretty far, Romney suggested today, in apologizing for something which, he says, he cannot even remember.