Friday, Jim Geraghty wrote of the “No Apology” style, as exemplified by Ann Coulter, and expanded on it in his Friday Morning Jolt. As Geraghty points out in the Jolt, when in leadership, the apology can be problematic:
In the 1949 film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, John Wayne declares, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.” Jethro Gibbs, the zen master of masculine toughness on CBS’ top-rated NCIS, echoes Wayne’s line as one of his rules.
An apology puts power in the hands of the person or people to whom the apology is addressed, as it seeks forgiveness or absolution of some sort from them. Webster defines “apology” with the characteristic of regret – from which the appearance of weakness can flow, and undermine leadership. I understand why leaders in all senses of that word do not always apologize.
Buy there is a related word that is not used enough – confession. “Confession,” Webster defines as
: a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime
: the act of telling people something that makes you embarrassed, ashamed, etc.
This can be useful for the leader and has its roots in Christian thought.
Lawyers hate confession, they hate the admission of wrong doing of any sort, for it removes any possibility of defense. But confession has two characteristics that can be useful in the political sense. For one, a confession is factual not regretful. Often when we apologize, we apologize for a perceived offense that may or may not be real, and in doing so we give reality to the perceptions of the apology’s recipient. But a confession is a statement of facts, “I did x,y, and z.”
That leads to the second characteristic. In confessing, the confessor demonstrates full understanding of the wrong done and thus the capability to avoid it in the future. An apology clears the air, a confession is a lesson learned. This is why Hillary Clinton’s apology for the email scandal has not gone anywhere. Clearly she regrets it, but we all knew that before – what we are looking for is an understanding on her part that she did something wrong and will not do it again. She may have apologized but there is not hint of confession there at all.
It is the lessons learned that matter here.
It is fascinating that perhaps the greatest example of confession in literature was composed by the greatest leader in the history of the nation of Israel – King David. I am discussing Psalm 51. David wrote this Psalm after causing the death of the husband of a woman with whom he committed adultery. Or as we might say these days, he was guilty of a “conspiracy to commit murder.” That is no minor offense. And yet history still judges him the greatest leader his nation has yet to see. Confession did not harm his leadership, rather it improved it.
That is something worthy of deep reflection as we choose our next president.