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Who's Sorry Now? The Unapologetic President and His Apologetic Appointees

By       Message Lynne Glasner     Permalink
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To President Bush being President means he never has to say he’s sorry. Even his loyal apologists don’t work their way up to the 'A' word until their jobs are clearly in jeopardy. By that time, the game’s over. Perhaps their apology is really subtext for an apology to the dear leader for not being able to stem the tide.

Like heck-of-a-job Brownie, Fredo, and now Wolfy, claim that they did nothing wrong, had only the best intentions, and have no reason to resign. Yes, of course, they admit that “mistakes were made.” After all, unlike their boss, they are mere humans and occasionally err. But in the world according to Bush, none of them did anything that would justify resigning from their positions of power and public trust.

When they finally do start to use the 'A' word, however, we know they are in the last throes of the Bush Administration; words of apology are used only as a last ditch effort to stay the course. They are words intended to mitigate the PR disaster created by their actions, an effort to sooth the ire of a confused citizenry that is losing more and more confidence in their government. But isn’t that the point? It’s hard to tell if it’s the government or the people who are being drowned in the bathtub of corruption. Is all of the Bush corruption and incompetence designed to execute the plan of the Norquist neos? The breadth of it takes your breath away. What’s drowning is democracy as we knew it.

The apologetic Brownie was forced out of town when it was clear that Bush couldn’t save him. It looks like Fredo will meet the same fate this week with Wolfy following on his heels. In the Bush World, it’s all seen through the lens of pubic relations rather than policy problems. When they can no longer be saved, they are condemned and discarded, like an ad campaign that isn’t working anymore.

The Iraq war was sold with carefully planned PR but the pre-emptive strategy wasn’t limited to the war itself. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to get in front of it by apologizing. His pre-emptive apology was designed to curb the outrage that was sure to follow. But what was he really sorry about? As Rumsfeld somberly directed his apology to the affected Iraqis and their families, he also warned Congress and the public that there were more horrors to come in the next round of photos that the press had yet to release. Rumsfeld had tried to pre-empt their release but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Rumsfeld was sorry all right—sorry and furious at those who dared to release the information that made public what previously had been private and secret. Those who broke their vows of silence were either blamed and prosecuted or demoted. Rumsfeld’s apology was not repeated after the scale of the scandal became public. He had done his duty and was allowed to keep his job. Support for the war, even with its extreme abuse out in the open, was still popular, helped along by continued recitation of the myth connecting Iraq with 911 and torture with enhancing security. And while those myths have been slowly eroding and the war has become unpopular, nothing else since then has changed. Torture continues under the watchful eye of the non-apologetic attorney general who thinks the Geneva Conventions are “quaint.” Apparently other things quaint include civil procedures for firing people, hiring people based on competency, and a non-partisan judiciary.

Bush didn’t dump Rummy until it was clear that he and Barney were the only ones left who still thought Rumsfeld was fit for the job. Interesting that tucked behind the fracas about lost emails Rummy is tucked away in his own office with a taxpayer-paid staff who are now combing through all his papers. This is before anyone (at least in the US; others don’t count, they are ignored) has asked for any possibly incriminating notes. Barney to the rescue.

Even among the lower ranks of administrative appointments, wrongdoing isn’t grounds for apology. Take for example Armstrong Williams, the Bush education consultant who was paid to promote the administration’s boondoggle legislation No Child Left Behind. After it was discovered that Williams was being paid for promoting the administration’s talking points in his syndicated columns, he wrote a column in January 2005 entitled, “My Apology.” In this column, Williams apologizes for exercising bad judgment, not wrongdoing and certainly not any problems in the ethics department. Ethics isn’t part of the Bush curriculum although the lack of ethics among the Bush team members surely toes the line of legal limits. Williams never returned the $240,000 he was paid to shill for the Bush team. That’s tax money, by the way. Ironically, Williams wrote a book entitled “Beyond Blame.” The title alone is symbolic of the pervasive attitude of the Bush administration, although it’s not the specific subject of his book.

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The only apologies necessary in Bush World are for any show of disloyalty. Such behavior is not taken lightly and is grounds for dismissal. No, the Bushies don’t have to apologize to the little people; it’s those in the administration who may have strayed from the message who must do so. They’re accountable for any hint of disloyalty, disloyalty being defined as not being on-message. Generals who dared to disagree—gone. Prosecutors pursuing cases not in line with the right objectives (i.e., make sure Republicans remain in power)—gone.

In the Bush World, everyone must march to the same drum beat. Even lower level appointments have the same mandate. Back in October, apologies were offered from the director of public diplomacy in the state department office of the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. What did Alberto Fernandez have to apologize for? He actually said that US Middle East policy displayed “arrogance” and “stupidity.” Wow, what was he thinking? Yes, he subsequently said he “misspoke.” Those words were not “his views or the views of the state department,” Fernandez said, eating his words. Apparently no one asked whose views they represented, other than the majority of the public. Apologies in the right places count for something: Fernandez still holds his job even though his boss is Karen Hughes, Bush spokesperson and loyalist since the early 90s and now the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs for the state department. In his favor surely was the fact that Fernandez is a career professional who speaks Arabic and isn’t gay.

If you think you are 100 percent right, as Bush does, there’s no room for doubt, and no apologies are necessary. Apologies are only forthcoming if you have offended the sensibilities of Bush or his loyalists with disagreement or even criticism. From the mistreated veterans to torture around the world, from the missing taxpayer billions in cash in Iraq, to the missing millions of emails in the ethernet, from the unprecedented debt of the government to the indebtedness of the political appointees who have been installed in every niche of the government, no apologies are forthcoming to the American citizens of a country that is being left behind.

But aren’t all of these merely self-serving apologies? Saying “I take full responsibility” but never doing anything different or responsible is hardly what might be considered a hallmark of accountability. And isn’t that what ultimately incensed the public enough to produce the critical mass that was the undoing of Don Imus? Imus over the years kept on apologizing but kept on trucking.

We have yet to reach that critical mass when it comes to the Bush regime. However, if we ever hear the President utter the 'A' word, we will know he’s on his way out. But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats are just treading water to keep from drowning until Bush runs out the clock.

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©Lynne Glasner 2007


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Lynne Glasner is a freelance writer/editor based in New York City. She has edited numerous books, fiction and nonfiction, many on political subjects. Her essays have appeared in Commondreams, MediaChannel.org, and Huffington Post as well as OpEd (more...)

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