The XX Factor

What if the President Did Apologize All the Time? It Would Be Really Annoying.

President Barack Obama makes a heart with his hands

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages.

I agree with Dave Weigel that Romney’s post-Libya statement, which accuses the president of “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks,” was not the rash, campaign-killing mistake many deem it to be, but one more sorry episode in his long-term play for voters who think Obama’s primary presidential activity is “apologizing for America.” My mercifully brief stint covering the Republican primary in Iowa has me convinced that these phantom apologies are of great concern to large numbers of Republican voters. Romney, who obviously has better information, apparently thinks so as well.

Here is a Sean-Hannity-endorsed highlight reel of Obama apologizing in which, you will notice, Obama never apologizes. He makes what we might call “admissions” that the government of the United States has made mistakes. What these mistakes consist of remains mysterious, because Obama declines to give the kind of specifics that would provide such an admission any rhetorical force. “The United States,” he says, “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” This counts, in some quarters, as an apology, but it’s a statement even the people most worked up about “apologizing for America” would probably agree with, should it come from someone else. Perhaps the reel is better termed, “things Sean Hannity finds galling when they come out of Barack Obama’s mouth.” I take it to be the case, in watching these clips, that it’s hard to find footage of Obama actually saying he is sorry.

One can imagine a world in which the Republican caricature is true—an Obama who apologizes, compulsively, whenever he comes in contact with a foreign national. There is, after all, so much to apologize for. To account for it all would take weeks of regretful press conferences, perhaps deputy apologizers, a Secretary of Regret. And the enormity of the crimes is such that the apologies would seem comically, insultingly inadequate. It would make for good television, until it didn’t, and the only person still paying attention was Sean Hannity.