Friday, February 1, 2008

The Redemptive Power of Apology

In last night’s Democratic debate between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton (hardly a debate, more a very civilized and elegant discussion), the only thing that I can’t get out of my mind was the briar patch Hillary got into over her vote to give President Bush the authorization to declare war on Iraq. I remember the debates about that authorization. I remember her justification then, and it still doesn’t fly. When she cast her vote, I said aloud to myself, “Oh my God, we’re going to war!” I paced around my house saying it over and over. I’m not half as smart as Hillary Clinton, so how is it I knew we were going to march right into Baghdad? We all knew it. If we knew the consequences of that vote why didn’t she? Many of her colleagues read the classified intelligence reports on WMD, and Enriched Uranium, Terrorist ties to Bin Laden and voted “NO”. If no other Democrat had voted against the Authorization for War, we might buy her rational for that vote. But that wasn’t the case. It was a mistake. It was the biggest vote of her life. And we deserve to hear her say she’s sorry. Now, sadly, it may be too late.

Did Hillary Clinton learn nothing from the scandal surrounding her husband’s relationship with Monica? We are a forgiving people, and if a public figure confesses to making a mistake, especially a very public mistake, we are are pretty quick to forgive and forget. The reason the Lewinsky scandal still sticks in our collective craw, is the sentence, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” We don't like lying. I’m not Catholic, but it’s a pretty universal bit of wisdom that confession is good for the soul. None of us is perfect. Once Bill apologized, came clean with us, we were quick to forgive. His reputation and place in our hearts is secure. He has been rehabilitated, and we love him still. We all make mistakes. But it’s the trying to explain it away and rationalize a mistake, without ever admitting that what you did was a mistake, now that really pisses us off. It's often not the sinning that makes us so mad, it's the lying about it. It's the justifications we don't like.

John Edwards admitted his mistake, apologized and moved on. His lack of viability in this race has nothing to do with his vote on Iraq or his populist message. It is the super-star status of his rivals that is the problem for him. But super-star or not, we are waiting for Hillary to say, “I made a mistake to vote yes on that authorization, and not saying so early on, in the wake of how it all turned out, has just compounded the mistake.” Now we want interest on that political debt.