Dana Milbank: The Democratic apology tour is a sorry spectacle

Washington • Forgive me, but would anybody mind if we declared a moratorium on Democratic apologies?

I don't doubt many public servants have done things worthy of regret. But it's becoming difficult to keep up with the sorry spectacle.

"From the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry," Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement Wednesday expressing the "greatest shame" as he acknowledged wearing blackface in college when he went to a party as a rapper.

Five days earlier, Herring had demanded Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) resign for doing much the same. "I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo," Northam said before reversing and claiming he wasn't in the just-found 1984 blackface photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, meanwhile, was just accused of a sexual assault in 2004 (which he denies) and of dropping an F-bomb at a meeting about it (which his office confirms). A new apology watch has been declared for the Richmond area.

If it comes, it will collide with a national apology tour now underway by Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) apologized Wednesday for identifying herself as a Native American, expanding her previous apology for taking a DNA test to prove her ancestry. "I am sorry," she told The Washington Post.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) said she "really regretted" some of her previous pro-gun and tough-on-immigration positions.

Former Vice President Joe Biden regrets his “big mistake” of backing tough-on-crime legislation. Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) expressed “regret” over decisions made (by others) when she was a prosecutor.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) produced an apology video, saying she was "deeply sorry" for old remarks about "homosexual extremists."

Apparently, being a Democrat means always having to say you’re sorry. Maybe the party could issue a group apology? Oh, sorry — it already did.

"I am sorry," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a blanket apology for taking African-Americans for granted.

This is a sorry situation, because the person who has the most to apologize for shows no regrets. "Under my administration," President Trump said in Tuesday's State of the Union address, "we will never apologize for advancing America's interests."

Nor for anything else!

Asked once about clearing up various falsehoods, such as claiming President Barack Obama tapped his phone, Trump replied, "Why do you say that I have to apologize?" Told that he could boost his legal argument for his travel ban by disavowing his anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric, he replied: "There's no reason to apologize."

On the other hand, he has demanded apologies from, among others, Hillary Clinton, Warren, bearish forecasters, the "fake news" media, CNN, ESPN and the cast of "Hamilton." He has hailed an apology The New York Times didn't offer him. And he expressed jealousy that ABC apologized to Valerie Jarrett for Roseanne Barr's racist remarks but not for "the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC."

Trump's few apologies tend to be ironic: for bringing jobs back too quickly, for calling women beautiful, for the "terrible pain and suffering" Democrats caused Brett Kavanaugh, for insulting the real Pocahontas by calling Warren that name.

For Trump, apologizing is weakness. After years of mocking Obama's "apology tour," Trump boasted at a campaign event a year ago: "Last eight years, we've seen a lot of apologizing. Not any longer. We don't apologize."

His refusal makes sense. Narcissistic types don't often apologize. At the other extreme, profuse apologizing can be a sign of anxiety and sometimes comes from abusive relationships. Democrats lately are tending toward the latter.

The problem with the Democrats' apology binge is in the volume. Genuine contrition is one thing. But if a politician appears to be apologizing for getting caught, or for political gain, that's regrettable.

This leads us back to Virginia. Northam invalidated his apology when he retracted his admission that he was in the photo. Herring's apology could work out better — if he did it to clear his conscience and not because it was going to come out anyway.

If both apologists fail and Fairfax also succumbs, the governorship would go to the House speaker — who, as The Post's Mark Berman pointed out, has the job because a Republican's name was pulled from a bowl to break a tie.

I'm sorry, but this is no way to run a government.

Dana Milbank | The Washington Post

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. He sketches the foolish, the fallacious and the felonious in politics.


(Disclosure: This columnist’s wife, Anna Greenberg, is an adviser to former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who is considering a Democratic presidential candidacy.)