The New York senator, who is in a tight race with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, struck several sorry notes at an evening forum sponsored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of more than 200 black community newspapers across the country.
Her biggest apology came in response to a question about comments by her husband, Bill Clinton, after the South Carolina primary, which Obama won handily. Bill Clinton said Jesse Jackson also won South Carolina when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988, a comment many viewed as belittling Obama's success.
"I want to put that in context. You know I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive," Hillary Clinton said. "We can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama."
"You know I am sorry if anyone was offended."
Using the qualifier "if" immediately degrades the sincerity of the apology, and creates what I call the "Neutron Apology". This is an apology that expresses regret to a specific group of people who were offended, while leaving the people who agree with the original offensive statement with the understanding that you still agree with them. The apology tacitly states that there are two groups of people, those not offended, and the cry babies who are. Any apology with an "if" in it, is an insincere apology made under duress, kind of like your mom making you apologize to your sister for hitting her, when you are not the least bit sorry.
"If" makes the statement logically conditional. Senator Clinton is only sorry under certain conditions.
Another way of looking at the conditional "if" is that if Bill Clinton's statement offended you, Hillary Clinton is sorry, if they didn't offend you, she is not. Thus in one instance, she regrets the implied racism, in the other she doesn't.
If the use of the Neutron Apology wasn't bad in and of itself, she began the deployment of the apology with a statement about the need to place her husband's offending remarks "in context", another way of saying that the offended party misinterpreted (for reasons of stupidity or malice) the original remark.
If one is going to invoke "context" for Bill Clinton's remark, one must place it into the aggregate context of all of the remarks made by her surrogates that had racist overtones that she was slow and/or reluctant to disclaim.
"Anyone who has followed my husband's public life or my public life know very well where we have stood and what we have stood for and who we have stood with," she said, acknowledging that whoever wins the nomination will have to heal the wounds of a bruising, historic contest.
As the great Lord John Worfin said,
"History is-a made at night.
Character is what you are in the dark."
It is great to fall back on your dedication to black civil rights, but when you are prepared to discard that dedication as soon as it interferes with your ambitions, one wonders how deep that dedication was in the first place. It is also worth noting that it was the Clinton campaign that decided to adopt the Karl Rove playbook, which will necessitate a "healing of wounds" by the eventual winner.
"Once one of us has the nomination there will be a great effort to unify the Democratic party and we will do so, because, remember I have a lot of supporters who have voted for me in very large numbers and I would expect them to support Senator Obama if he were the nominee," she said.
This is the first admirable statement in the entire apology.
Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton supporter and fundraiser Geraldine Ferraro gave up her honorary position with Clinton's campaign after she said in an interview last week that Obama would not have made it this far if he were white. Obama said Ferraro's remarks were "ridiculous" and "wrong-headed."
Of Ferraro's comment, Hillary Clinton told her audience: "I certainly do repudiate it and I regret deeply that it was said. Obviously she doesn't speak for the campaign, she doesn't speak for any of my positions, and she has resigned from being a member of my very large finance committee."
The word we were looking for was "denounce", not "repudiate".
re·pu·di·ate: to reject as untrue or unjust
de·nounce: to pronounce, especially publicly, someone or something to be blameworthy or evil
Ferraro's comments are certainly "unjust" and "untrue", but they are more so "blameworthy" and "evil".
The fact that Ferraro then went on to defend her vile comments on Bill O'Reilly was absolutely reprehensible.
rep·re·hen·si·ble: deserving censure
Ferraro was basically one step removed from appearing at the podium with George Bush and attacking Obama.
And before anyone starts bitching that I am over analyzing the apology, I would remind you that we ARE dealing with a politician and a lawyer. It's what they actually said, not what you think they said, that matters.
Overall, I have to give this apology a D+. My first impression was a D-, but her exhortation of her supporters to stand with Obama should he win the nomination, raised it from being the least possible apology to a lackluster apology.
The true sincerity of the apology will be indicated by what happens next at Team Clinton HQ.