Memo to misspeakers everywhere: You have to explain your intentions, not just apologize for your “actions”

People are always apologizing for their “actions,” or for “misspeaking.” In fact, the only time people use the terms “my actions” and “I misspoke” is when they’re making apologies.

Take this Richard Blumenthal fellow, the senatorial candidate who surrounded himself with veterans last week—an expected move, patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels—and said he “misspoke” on several occasions, purely accidentally making it sound as if he had fought in Vietnam, when in reality he did not fight, in New Jersey.

A week went by, and the criticism persisted, because he hadn’t addressed the main issue: Why he had misspoken. (Could he produce misspeaking examples that showed “totally unintentional” minimizations of his Vietnam service? Yeah, we didn’t think so.) A fellow traveler to boring political rallies told the New York Times that Blumethal’s service story got more and more exaggerated over the years.

And so today Blumenthal has issued an e-mail apology which sounds angry: “I have firmly and clearly expressed regret and taken responsibility for my words. I have made mistakes and I am sorry. I truly regret offending anyone.” You expect the next sentence to be, “Are you f***ing happy now?”

Well, no, we are not happy, because Blumethal hasn’t admitted (or directly refuted) what even the most sympathetic watchers probably think: He spent a lot of time with Vietnam veterans, built a mutually supportive political relationship with them and came to admire them. And eventually, in speeches talking to them, he preferred not to remind them that while they were taking fire, he was taking refuge in the Reserves.

He didn’t claim to be a war hero, he didn’t fabricate a whole Vietnam story; he just let them believe what they wanted to believe anyway.

That doesn’t make him an outlandish schmuck. It makes him a common schmuck, like the rest of us.

But then, maybe I give him too much credit: Because any common schmuck knows the ingredients of an apology.

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