Do politicians ever apologize? Should they? And when?
What would happen if one said, “I thought my law would do this, but it actually did that, and at great expense to my constituents; I am deeply sorry”?
The question occurred to us while listening to our U.S. senator give a stirring speech this week on the need to get Washington off the backs of hometown businesses.
“When it comes to regulation, there are examples that just fill the book in terms of how businesses are having to spend more and more time filling out forms, complying with regulations, trying to understand the hundreds if not thousands of regulations that are being imposed on an annual basis,” the senator told an appreciative audience of corporate executives.
But the senator himself had written exactly that kind of stuff into the federal books.
To pull two examples — pretty bad ones — from the top of the head:
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he supported — sponsored, perhaps — legislation forcing manufacturing plants to give employees notice of closing. The effect was for managers to factor in the required notice and shut down plants (and jobs) that much earlier.
Later, in the U.S. Senate, he made a name for himself proposing a now sacred parental-leave statute. There was a promise, if memory serves, that the law would never be allowed to morph into paid parental leave.
It did just that, of course, as special interests pushed for required leave for husbands, partners, significant others and the whole gender grab bag.
Not that this was necessarily the senator's fault. He was trained as an attorney, after all. His staff should have provided more expert economic guidance. But early on there was cause to worry in that regard.
A constituent complained that legislation would be more economically sound if the congressman had the experience of meeting a payroll. The staffer yelled foul, strenuously countering that the senator had indeed made a payroll — every week on Capitol Hill for a large congressional staff.
From the tone of the senator's speech this week, he accepts Milton Friedman's distinction between spending your own money and spending someone else's. Yet there are those who might say the senator is just playing to a more discerning GOP crowd, that the only thing changed is what's rolling across the teleprompter.
We hope that isn't the case. This senator seems to be an honorable man.
An apology to his friendly audience for past economic misjudgments on complicated issues wouldn't have hurt his re-election chances. And if he intends to lead us, he will need the trust that such honesty engenders.
But if he intends to rule us — well, apologies are for the weak.