Anonymous asked in last Friday's edition of BFFFFA:
"American apologies. Why are many conservatives so against it?"
This seemed like an interesting question, so I figured I'd run with it. Let's take it a little bit at a time.
Question 1--For what would we apologize? I'll start by saying that I am not prepared to make a statement suggesting that America should never apologize. If American forces shoot down a civilian airliner, an apology is required. If the American government sponsors an aid program in some impoverished part of the world, and the program goes awry--either fattening the coffers of some potentate or causing death and illness to the population, we should apologize. These two examples indicate the general guidelines for "national" apologies; the event being apologized for should be a discrete circumstance and the apology should come as near to the event as possible. Additionally though, no apology should be made unless there is broad-based consensus within the American public to do so.
Question 2--Who does the apologizing? Like it or not, if the US is going to issue an apology for something, it ought to be the President who does it. But the President should not apologize for events that did not happen while he was President (see the temporal guideline above), under most circumstances. Many of the things that Presidents are pressured to apologize for are policies and programs instituted by their predecessors in what we must continue to believe (for the success of our form of government) was that person's best efforts to deal with contemporaneous issues. Judging those actions (which after all, an apology is a form of) out of the context of time simply doesn't make sense.
Which brings us to a discussion of recent moves for national apologies. Let's start with slavery. Slavery is and was evil. It destroyed lives, stole futures, ruined families and simply defied every moral and ethical norm that exists or has ever existed. Yet it endured from almost the dawn of civilization, and continues in pockets today. Slavery is illegal in this country and nearly 650,000 Americans died in order that it might be expunged. Nothing we do today--a day in which there are neither living former American slaves or slaveholders--can adequately or appropriately account for either the evil done or the deaths piled up in its destruction. An apology today is empty and meaningless, mass psycho-analytic babble designed to further the real-time political interests of narrowly focused victimization merchants.
What next? Mr. Obama's apologizing to the world for the Bush Administration's foreign policy? Again--this falls into the category of failing to comprehend the times in which one's predecessor governed. Mr. Bush did so with the sanction of the American people, and with the complicity of their representatives in Congress.
So, to answer the direct question--why are Conservatives against national apologies? Well, I think at some level of abstraction, Conservatives "get" what I wrote above--apologizing for things that no one alive had a role in is empty. Apologizing for the general misdeeds of previous governments is ungenerous.
But there's more to it than that. Conservatives tend to be American exceptionalists. They truly do believe that this country was founded on bedrock principles that made it different and nobler than any other. They respect those principles. They believe those principles are immutable, not subject to the periodic reinterpretation of fashionable times--except through the process of amending the Constitution. They presume that their governments act in the best pursuit of those principles, and they are wary of apologies that tend to weaken the perception that our country and government does not govern with wisdom. Yes--past governments have made mistakes. Some of them were DOOZIES. But the cycle of apologizing for past sins sets up the precedent of apology, insidiously weakening the perception that others may have of the noble ends of current action. Put another way, who's going to trust us if they think that whatever we're doing today is only going to be something we regret--publicly--later.
Americans basically get it. We should learn from history--not apologize for it.