Dana Milbank
Opinion writer February 17, 2012

When I set out to cover the confirmation of an obscure Hispanic jurist, I had no idea I would spark the Great Tex-Mex Takedown of the 2012 presidential race.

“Line of the day from WAPO’s Dana Milbank,” President Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted when the column appeared in the newspaper on Wednesday. “ ‘The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos.’ ”

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

The conservative Twitterverse ignited in condemnation of Messina’s dissemination of this “racist” and “insensitive” remark made by, um, me. The Republican National Committee and the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network demanded he apologize.

Holy mole sauce! The flap spread, to CNN, the Drudge Report, the New York Times, Comedy Central. “Chimichanga is the New Macaca,” said Michelle Malkin. Eventually, calls came from the blogosphere that “both Jim Messina and Dana Milbank should apologize.”

To those demanding my apology, I say: That’s nacho place. I flauta your demands. In the chimichanga wars, I will taco no prisoners — and that’s for churro.

The line in question, at the end of a column about how Republicans are alienating Hispanic voters, was inspired by a debate on the Senate floor over a Cuban American nominated to an appellate judgeship. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was stalling the vote, and his fellow Republicans refused to fight him. Instead, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) gave a speech about his home state, where, he claimed, “it’s believed that the chimichanga has its origin.” From a party that had offered Latinos so little, the mention of the chimichanga during a confirmation debate was an apt juxtaposition.

The spat over the fried burrito gets at one of the most annoying components of our decaying political culture: false umbrage. Liberals created this form of identity politics, in which an underrepresented group claims persecution, but conservatives have embraced it. One of its most common expressions is the demand for an apology. It’s phony by definition — an apology can’t be sincere if it’s answering a demand — and the reflexive demand (like a demand for a resignation) serves only as an excuse to keep a news story alive. Sorry, but it’s time to put this tired gimmick to rest.

Forced contrition has reached a fever pitch. Mitt Romney demanded an apology for Newt Gingrich’s “inexcusable” remarks on immigration. Gingrich demanded an apology from NBC News over its report that his wife was to blame for staff resignations. Herman Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, demanded an apology from Rick Perry’s campaign for allegedly spreading sexual-misconduct rumors about Cain. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) introduced a resolution demanding that Perry apologize for a racial epithet at his family ranch.

Michele Bachmann, for her part, demanded an apology from Jimmy Fallon over the tune played when she walked onto his show. Before that, she demanded an apology from President Obama for insulting the Israeli prime minister.

CNN commentator Roland Martin was coerced to apologize for anti-gay tweets he made during the Super Bowl. Andrew Breitbart demanded, and received, an apology from Anthony Weiner. Vice President Biden didn’t honor demands that he apologize for saying Tea Party lawmakers were “acting like terrorists.” When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) protested a critical tweet about him written by a teenager, the girl refused to apologize — so Brownback apologized for his staff’s overreaction. And when the Interior Department called for an apology from freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) for linking regulators to the Gestapo, Landry retaliated by demanding that the regulators apologize.

There have been demands for an apology from Pete Hoekstra, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Michigan, over a China-themed ad played during the Super Bowl, and (successful) demands of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) for remarking on the size of the first lady’s posterior.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) threatened legislation demanding an apology from Obama for criticizing police. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) resisted demands that he apologize for calling Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) “vile” and for likening Democrats to Nazi propagandists.

Then there’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who demanded an apology from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for criticizing McConnell — over Big 12 college football.

As for the chimichanga apology, I’m pleased to report that Messina had a good answer to those demanding his contrition: Not so fajitas. A follow-up tweet said: “Tweeting someone else’s words caused a stir, but the GOP is on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter priority.”

In fact, I hereby demand that the RNC and conservative critics end this sorry episode by apologizing for demanding apologies. If they do, I would consider making an apology of my own: to the chimichanga, for bringing the innocent entree into this cauldron.

danamilbank@washpost.com