The Republicans' No-Apology Tour

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally with his running mate
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally with his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, at Wright Brothers Aviation in Vandalia, Ohio. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Well, of course: Mitt Romney would not apologize for implying that 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes are irresponsible moochers, which he did at a closed fundraiser for the super-rich in Florida and which, caught on secret video, ate the news cycle all last week. Apart from the fact that so many Americans don't earn enough so they can be taxed (though they do pay other taxes), it's a rich charge coming from a multi-millionaire who doesn't pay his fair share in taxes himself.

Nor would Romney apologize for the previous week's error -- making political hay, and hash, of a diplomatic crisis by mischaracterizing a statement from the American embassy in Cairo as "akin to an apology," then tagging President Obama with it. (The embassy's accommodating language sought to defuse a gathering protest outside its gates for an American-made anti-Islam video.) Next day Romney double-downed on the apology angle, saying, "It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for its values" -- an astonishingly obtuse remark in light of the killing just hours earlier of the American ambassador to Libya, a man admired by Libyans for helping secure their revolution against Gaddafi and for promoting the American (and universal) values of democracy and self-governance that Romney touts.

But then, this is the man who wrote a campaign book with the bombastic title, No Apology. To Romney, usurping the president in a diplomatic crisis, insulting half the American public as moochers -- these apparently are not sufficient calls for apology.

Then again, this phobia about apology afflicts not just one man, it afflicts the entire Republican Party of late. How often have we heard Republicans, especially the Tea Party faction, inveighing against Mr. Obama, sneeringly, for his various "apology tours" -- going around the world apologizing for "this great country"?

But that's the thing: It's a great country that can apologize, that has the magnanimity and humility and maturity to acknowledge when it has done wrong, as America has, then resolves to do better. Thus is stature enhanced.

But Republicans see apology, or anything akin to it, as a sign of weakness, a slight on America's exceptionalism, a surrender of authority (see here). Tellingly, the subtitle of Romney's No Apology book is The Case for American Greatness.

Often cited by Republicans as the launch of Mr. Obama's global "apology tour" is his Cairo speech in 2009, given five months after his inauguration. But if you actually study the speech, titled "A New Beginning," you see the new President doing what he'd promised -- and what was needed to repair the damage done by the Republican regime preceding him: a reset of relations with the Muslim world. In addition to Mr. Obama's reference to Western colonialism in the region, no doubt Republicans squirmed at his reference to the U.S. conducting a "war of choice" in Iraq. But it is fact, as is the ugly fact that America engaged in torture there and in Afghanistan, which Mr. Obama noted he declared illegal once in office. Perhaps Republicans can't see the attempted reset for all their guilt? (See text of speech here; text with applause lines here; text with word cloud here; video here.)

Which touches on why the Republicans have become so apology-phobic: They would have so much to apologize for -- where to start, where to stop? There is the Iraq War: While chesty Republicans crowed over the "shock and awe" bombardment of Baghdad, others of us hung our heads in shame for our country. There is the stain of torture -- for which Mr. Obama forgave and absolved the Bush administration by foreswearing prosecution, which charity Republicans seem not to remember. There is, embroiling us now, the wrecked economy, dumped on Mr. Obama by an irresponsible Bush administration, without apology, with Republicans continuing to deny responsibility and causing obstruction even now, without apology.

And while they're at it, Republicans could apologize for George W. Bush himself. And Dick Cheney. And, reaching back, Richard Nixon, whose criminality planted the worm of distrust in the public about their government. (Readers no doubt will have their own highlights to add.)

One could speculate on why a party or a person refuses to apologize, why apology is seen as weakness and not the means for a new start. Possible reasons are insecurity, immaturity, an alpha streak, guilt over a super-abundance of sins. What is especially puzzling is that many Republicans profess to be Christians and thus presumably understand the scriptural teachings about humility, pridefulness, and the imperfections of human beings, with only God Himself being perfect.

My own conjecture about Republican rigidity is that it portends a brittle party that is going down, not just in November, but permanently.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in their rigidity remain near-impossible to work with; bipartisan cooperation, we now see, is a fantasy. The only possible remedy is a big Democratic win in November -- the bigger, the better.

The great economist-philosopher Adam Smith, writing about the modern industrial state and its depth of resources, said, reassuringly, there is "a great deal of ruin in a nation." But, in the case of America, Republicans have just about run the board, and done so without apology. Democrats, now that they have learned how to fight, need to fight hard -- with no apology -- and rescue the nation.

Carla Seaquist is author of a book of commentary titled "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Also a playwright, she is author of the just-published volume, "Two Plays of Life and Death," and is at work on a play titled "Prodigal."