Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'm sorry that you feel hurt.

This little formulation is so common these days. It's a nice little non-apology, giving the first impression that the speaker is sorry, then knee-capping the sentiment by implying it's your fault for feeling hurt.
"Gee, I'm sorry if you feel hurt by my punch in your mouth."
This figure of speech is highly adaptable, allowing for all kinds of equivocation. Here's a perfect example: John Sidney McCain actively sought out the Reverend John Hagee, a noted evangelical, for his endorsement (J. Sidney has a small problem with the evangelical base of the GoP--they don't like him). Later, the world discovered that Hagee has been a rather vociferous critic of the Catholic Church, calling it "the apostate church" and "the great whore."

Whoops. J. Sidney needs those conservative Catholic voters. What to do? Under pressure, Hagee comes up with the perfecta: a double non-apology.
“I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful.” [Great whore and apostate, e.g.] “Neither of these phrases can be synonymous with the Catholic Church... .”
Skillful, eh? Remorseless remorse, non-retraction retraction. Nicely done: Doubleplus Good.

Unfortunately, this happens even when people are allegedly of good will. Take today's Bangor Daily News, for example, and its editorial entitled "The Highest Glass Ceiling."

The editorial seems to want to celebrate the fact that Hillary's sex wasn't raised as a bar to her candidacy, at least by Democrats:
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy raised a lot of questions, renewed some old criticisms and stirred plenty of new debate, but her fitness for the job, based on her gender, was never seriously questioned. That’s a milestone worth noting.
Yay! you might say. We're making progress! We focused on substance, not gender!

But then, bang:
Not everyone who would question a woman’s suitability as commander-in-chief should be dismissed as sexist. Sen. Clinton invited such questions when she teared-up during a campaign stop in New Hampshire; would a woman president get weepy about military threats, inhibiting her ability to respond firmly?

Clearly, men and women have different emotional responses in different situations. One might argue that men are better able, generally speaking, to set aside emotions and act. But the counter argument is that women are less prone to macho posturing, a response that could easily escalate into war.
Ouch! What? Wait! What was that? It's like a drive-by mugging! They came out of nowhere! Where'd they go?

Why, they went off to hide, over here:
The world has had enough examples of strong, decisive national leaders who happen to be women to disprove the stereotypes: Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher of England, Indira Gandhi of India, and Golda Meir of Israel. It’s not hard to imagine a President Hillary Clinton with a tough-as-nails response to a Hurricane Katrina or Sept. 11. And as Sen. Clinton said Saturday, that threshold having been cleared, the next woman who seeks the White House will have a slightly easier journey. For that, every woman — and every man — should be grateful.
I'm sorry if you feel hurt by what I said. Disingenuous in the extreme.

Let's roll back the tape:
Not everyone who would question a woman’s suitability as commander-in-chief should be dismissed as sexist. Sen. Clinton invited such questions when she teared-up during a campaign stop in New Hampshire...
A tear in the eye invites me to question a woman's suitability as commander-in-chief. That's not being sexist. If you tear up, you're probably not tough enough. You invited me to make that criticism. "She's so hot she's making me sexist?" Same thing.* "She was asking for it." Same thing.
One might argue that men are better able, generally speaking, to set aside emotions and act.
Oh. Really? "One might?"

"Some say the Bangor Daily News is an unreliable rag that fabricates the news, lies about its sources and sacrifices virgins in service to a Pagan god."


"Oh, you know. Some."
Clearly, men and women have different emotional responses in different situations.
No. People have different responses in different situations. You completely shatter whatever point you think you might be making when you give in to this kind of simplistic thinking. False, wrong, stupid. If you allow yourself to apply a wide brush to a specific individual, or to make a judgment about a specific instance based on a wide range of probabilities, you've wandered into perilous territory. That's one possibility.

Another possibility is that you charged over that line on purpose, and cloaked your intentions in a brace of fluff:

"I don't hate blacks; I just don't like niggers. There's a difference, you know."

Ever hear that? Bet you have.

"I think a woman could be President. As long as she wasn't one of those weak, emotional ones. You know, hysterical. 'Course, there's always 'that time of the month.' They all have that. But I love my mom!"

Here's my letter to the editor:
In re: The Highest Glass Ceiling

Wow. You started off so promisingly, but then crashed and burned extravagantly. Whoever soberly makes the hypothetical arguments you posit should have their head examined and their keys taken away. A woman shows emotion through tears and her grip on rational thought is legitimately up for questioning? Would you say the same for Robert Byrd, famously weeping in the well of the Senate? Of course not. John McCain is famous for his fits of rage. I don't read this column questioning his suitability as the C-in-C of the most deadly arsenal in the history of humanity.

One's emotional temper is an individual question. The ability to act rationally and soberly while in the grip of intense feeling is best judged on a person by person basis – not subjected to tired cliches. McCain may be able to see through the red curtain of his rage and not actually pull the trigger. Hillary may well be able to slyly calculate even with tears in her eyes (indeed, the balance of her campaign all but proved that). By endorsing these weak, sex-based arguments as credible – even while trying to put them to rest – you provide cover for the unreconstructed.

"Balanced" reporting and editorializing does not mean giving equal air time to mindless piffle. If one side asserts the sky is blue, and another stridently argues its greenness, giving equal play to the green-sky lobby is not balance. It's absurdity. This otherwise promising editorial is totally hamstrung by spineless temporizing.
Here's the part I left out when I sent it:
I suggest the following: The next time you feel a tingling in the basal ganglia at the back of your skull, and it threatens to overtake the higher functions of your fore-brain, slowly back away from your keyboard. Grab your coat and walk across the street to Hollywood Slots casino and pump some quarters into the one-armed bandit. Once the immutable rules of probability have slapped some sense back into your head, feel free to come back and finish the column.
It's hard to fake sincerity. Really hard. But scary people try to do it all the time, so does the media, so do sports stars and so do politicians. Be aware, be watchful.

"Some say that I'm sorry if you are hurt by what I said. [But I'm not.]"

Coming for YOU, BDN editorial board!

* Except when it's Bret in Flight of the Concords. Then it's funny. Seriously.


Adam said...

I'm sorry you were upset by my assertion that the sky is green. Maybe if you would have some respect for my sense of color non-conformity, you could see why I feel the way I do about the sky ;)

I feel sorry for the Bangor Daily News. Those poor bastards probably just got out of some 4-year school with a journalism degree. They are no match for a well researched reader. (hell that's what keeps me from replying to your comment on Republicans having hubris and being stupid).

I hate the non-apology apology. When I get one I go into super condescension mode because if that person was really sorry, they would have said so.

It's too bad many people in the news practice the non-apology apology. They are so common now, I can't think of a good one.

Anonymous said...

Bill Maher makes a good run on the modern refusal to be sorry in "New Rules."