Vice President Dick Cheney's recent apology for demeaning the citizens of West Virginia underscores a larger trend that has gone generally unnoticed in the presidential campaign. Politicians of all stripes are acknowledging mistakes more than ever. They seem to have finally realized that it's not a cardinal sin to say you're sorry. In fact, even candidates for president who don't like to admit goofing up have finally realized that taking responsibility isn't a bad thing.
On June 2, Cheney told an audience at the National Press Club that he has "Cheneys on both sides" of his family—"and we don't even live in West Virginia." When West Virginia officials complained that he had been disrespectful and derogatory, Cheney backed off. "On reflection, he concluded that it was an inappropriate attempt at humor that he should not have made," said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride. "The vice president apologizes to the people of West Virginia for the inappropriate remark."
Cheney is notorious for not admitting that he or the administration ever slip up. So when he does so, it suggests that something important is going on. Maybe it's a touch of much-needed candor or a puncturing, finally, of the self-importance that has given politicians such a bad name. But a new spirit of mea culpa has taken hold.
Look at the presidential campaign. The U.S. News library didn't have any trouble finding a long list of examples of candidate mea culpas. Last December, Mike Huckabee apologized to Mormon Mitt Romney after questioning his religion's theology in an insulting way. That same month, Hillary Clinton apologized to Barack Obama for an adviser's inappropriate remarks about Obama's teenage drug use. In March, Obama apologized for remarks made by a campaign adviser who called Clinton a "monster."
In April, there was another flurry of regrets. Obama apologized for calling small-town people "bitter." Clinton apologized for saying, falsely, that she had escaped sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia in 1996. John McCain apologized for voting in 1983 against creating a Martin Luther King Day. In May, Obama apologized for calling a reporter "sweetie," and Clinton said she was sorry for invoking the memory of Robert Kennedy's assassination to illustrate her point that running for president can be unpredictable.
And now, Cheney.
Maybe the candidates are just getting caught in more gaffes in the 24-hour news cycle. Maybe everyone is more sensitive about everything. Whatever the reason, the pols are taking responsibility for their mistakes. And that's a good thing.
Now, about that war in Iraq.