Thursday, June 24, 2004

For Want of a Nail...

By the time my niece was about four years old, she was running her parents and relatives like a drill sergeant preparing troops for inspection. It wasn’t just the nerve with which she approached such maneuvers, but her commitment even as a toddler that inspired such awe. I predict a future in politics.
One incident that captured my attention (instilling fear in my heart for my rather soft and sweet sister) was the occasion of the bath. While visiting a friend with like-aged children, after a day of games and treats my niece was popped into the bath for a quick sluicing off of grass, mud and chocolate. Much splashing and giggling of course, a few high pitched shrieks and fake drownings later, my sister told her she mustn’t pour the shampoo down the drain. She told her again – there would be consequences – she told her for a third and final time (Vidal Sassoon for Normal to Dry Hair now almost completely drain-bound) before heaving her out and demanding she say sorry to the friend. The niece refused; she even denied pouring out the shampoo. Demands for apologies continued, until in frustration, my sister placed her in a corner (still dripping wet – but it was a hot summer day) telling her she wasn’t to turn or move until she had apologized.
…two hours later, my sister gave up, yanked her out of the corner, dressed her and took her home. My niece is in her teens now, and sorry still seems to be the hardest word. There’s a terrible sort of power in refusing to apologize – but there can be an agonizingly high price too.
It’s interesting, the concept of apology – after all there are so many types, rarest of all being the sincere sort.
There’s the ‘forced to make it, sullen’, ‘forced to make it, fake’, ‘forced to make it, sarcastic’ and ‘forced to make it, ingeniously devised to imply exactly the opposite’ – and all the shades and colours in between. There’s also point blank refusal, and ‘over-the-top but completely crap’, which is just as annoying.
But sincere – not to mention unasked for? Don’t hold your breath (until your face turns blue.)
Why is it so hard for some people to say they’re sorry?
Political apologies, which should be the easiest (if greasiest) of the lot, are just about the blue moon, four leaf clover, hen’s teeth rarest; you don't have to be a four year old to approach them as sullenly and mutinously as a President in front of a congressional committee - but obviously, it helps.
W’s inability to say sorry became almost comical for a while; his ‘I’ll let you know when I think of a mistake I made, but I just can’t think of one now’ answer to questions from the press about responsibility in the Abu Grhaib abuse allegations was itself painfully tortuous.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld obviously made note of the public’s astonished reaction to the President’s personal ‘no fault’ policy, and decided to take responsibility when he testified before the house and senate committees, but couldn’t quite make the leap of actually admitting any decisions were regrettable or mistaken, deciding instead to blame the entire affair on the ‘few individuals’ we were led to believe were really the sole culprits, thereby by-passing any actually consequences – and any genuine responsibility.
Former President Bill Clinton may be the most artful dodger of the last century. His recently published book My Life performs the astonishing feat of seeming to apologize for Monica Gate, but falls at the last crucial fence, as he ‘but’s his way to blaming the entire affair on Ken Starr. The outrageous costs of the investigation, the stress and horror for the country (and in fact the entire world) of the impeachment proceedings, the endless, revolting descriptions of cigars and thongs and girlish gossip, the retelling of squalid stories of former girlfriends and pleasures taken at the expense of credulity, trust and honour – all of this we are to understand, was the fault not of the President, but of the investigator.
Lost in all of this is the fact that had the President told the truth – or even had he stonewalled instead of outright lying – ninety-nine per cent of the horror would have been avoided.
(Let us not forget – the reason for the Presidential probing was in order to ivestigate a possible pattern in a very real charge of sexual abuse against another woman; the sordid facts were relevant in terms of the law, however intrusive or insulting upon the Presidential person. Only when all was truly lost, did a small – though heavily qualified and agonizingly worded – apology squeak out. But much the same as a kid saying “Okay, I’m sorry I broke the window – but Kenny made me do it!” the admission loses considerable sincerity if not all actual meaning along the way.)
And now Steven Harper – as he stumbles and trips in this last crucial week of campaigning before the federal election on Monday – cannot bring himself to say sorry. Staking out the high moral ground (built on steadily shifting sand) the leader of the New Conservatives refuses to step back from accusing Prime Ministerial rival Paul Martin of actively supporting child pornography. This despicable insult, which even in the most broadly brushed interpretation of the facts is patently absurd, could well be reflected back upon on as the initial swipe that ripped defeat from the jaws of near certain victory as recently as late last week.
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost; for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
For want of an apology, the Liberals will win.

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