Friday, May 23, 2008

Thin American Skin

Sen. Hillary Clinton apologized for comments earlier today when she was explaining why she didn’t feel it was right or necessary for her to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination. In the earlier comments she pointed out that her husband’s 1992 nomination was not cinched until June and that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June (while he was still campaigning for the nomination in 1968).

Her analogies were fairly clearly intended to show that the timeline for campaigning has historically stretched all the way to the national conventions, though obviously to refer to assassination could be perceived as malevolent and predictive—if you happen to be paranoid or superstitious.

Now I’m no fan of Clinton and even nourish a certain level of distrust of the political machine she fronts.

I'm sure her political advisers wish she had stuck to the same sort of overly processed statements that have characterized her campaign thus far.

But are we really to believe the comment was some kind of "code" for an assassin's ears? I've seen The Manchurian Candidate, too, both versions. But come on.

Or are we to believe that the comment was a Freudian slip, revealing a deep, secret hope that someone will take out one or both of her competitors by June? Interesting theory, but what other proof have we got?

Isn't it more likely that what she was trying to get across was really that she's being pressured to pull out well before the race is over, and well before anyone would have suggested such a thing to Bill or RFK?

I take it as another sign of the thin skin of many if not most Americans that her words would excite any controversy at all—especially in the absence of other evidence of a physical threat against any of the candidates. The words are certainly not even remotely the equivalent of Mike Huckabee’s “joking” to the NRA that a sudden noise during his speech was Barack Obama cowering from gunfire.

[It's perhaps just that Clinton should be thus hoisted on her own petard, after the advantage she not long ago attempted to squeeze out of Obama's "bitter" remark, which she managed to feel deeply deeply offended by.]

I’m often reminded of Olive Oyl’s father in the underrated little musical film Popeye, who periodically mutters under his breath, “You owe me an apology,” over imagined discourtesies.

Americans get their rocks off on being offended and pressuring others to apologize. Even when the slight is real, such behavior is undignified and ignoble, even more so when a speaker’s words are twisted to squeeze out a possible offense.

Apologies have become part of American media ritual—whether getting Hugh Grant to tell the nation he’s sorry for hiring a prostitute or making James Frey repent of using The Oprah Winfrey Show as a vehicle for promoting a largely fictionalized memoir.

And frankly I don’t see the point. People seldom actually forgive and forget following such apologies—it’s not as if saying sorry really changes anything.

I’m more interested in an explanation or even a defense than a statement of regret. I find Clinton’s explanation adequate, if redundant, since I hold that her intended meaning was clear to anyone not trying to get his feelings hurt.

It’s worth noting that John McCain’s recent repudiation of John Hagee’s weird faith-based remarks on Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals was not even an admission that he (McCain) had made any sort of mistake in seeking Hagee’s endorsement. And Hagee himself claimed to have been misquoted by the audio recording of his sermon (!).

I can tell you that you won’t hear me calling for George W. Bush and cohorts to apologize for the fuckup they have made of the war, the economy, and the law. They should quite simply be impeached—in an international court for war crimes and in US courts for high treason.

Sorry means shit to me. And America needs to get over getting bent out of shape over every imagined insult that comes its way.

We need to grow a backbone, people. Eleanor Roosevelt, the subject of unmistakable and vicious name-calling in her day, said, “No one can insult you without your permission.”

It’s a sign of a weak nation—and perhaps a weak conscience—that in these days we are so quick to take offense.

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