Mitt Romney's 'Say You're Sorry' Demand of Obama Backfires

Romney is trying to paint the president as a hapless child in over his head.

President Barack Obama talks about the economy during an event at Fire Station #5 in Arlington, Va.

Barack Obama is president of the United States and one of the most powerful people in the world. But is he a full-grown adult? One would not think that many in the GOP see the 50-year-old president as a grown-up. Obama, and his campaign, have gone relentlessly after GOP contender Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of outsourcing jobs overseas when he was an executive at Bain Capital. The Romney campaign's response? They think Obama should say he's sorry.

There are surely points to be made by both campaigns. Romney contends he was not running Bain at all after 1999, when the outsourcing in question largely occurred, and there is evidence to back that up. However, Romney is listed as being in charge of Bain on Securities and Exchange Commission reports for the years 1999-2001. If Romney wasn't really running the company, then why is he listed as such on documents filed with the agency charged with overseeing corporate activity? Was Romney paid as head of Bain during that time? It's hard to know, since Romney refuses to release his tax returns for that time. Whether listing himself as CEO when he wasn't actually doing the job is a felony (as an Obama campaign aide suggested) or not may be irrelevant to voters. But if Romney got paid for the job he purportedly wasn't actually doing during that time, under- and unemployed voters might be even more annoyed.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The substance of these questions is worth discussing. But to call for an apology takes the argument down to a Little League level, and in particular, treats the U.S. president as though he were the same age as elementary-school ballplayers.

The purpose of an apology is unclear at best. Most of us, as children, were told by a parent to say we're sorry for something we had done. In many, if not most, cases, we weren't sorry at all. But the point was to teach basic manners—and it's also why I still apologize to a table if I accidentally bump into one of its legs. The training to say "sorry" is just too ingrained.

But if you are an adult and have to demand an apology, you do it knowing that if the person has to be goaded into it, it's not sincere. The same goes for asking someone to say "I love you." If you have to ask, the feeling isn't there.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

But Romney, most likely, isn't so emotionally wounded by the Bain criticisms that an apology would do anything to mollify him. And that's not the purpose of the request. It's to make Obama look like a little kid who is so in over his head that he needs to be scolded and disciplined like an elementary schooler. The trouble is, it doesn't make the Romney campaign look like the adults in this little drama. It makes them look petulant and ridiculous and a little whiny. Given the vitriolic nature of broadcast ads run by or on behalf of both campaigns, it's laughable that an apology would make everyone shake hands and go back to playing an honest game of ball.

The demand was made to make Obama look ill-behaved and immature. It's managed to give that image to the Romney campaign.

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