This period in history will be known as the "Age of Non-Apology." Politics means never having to say you are sorry.

Schools are making non-apology part of their curriculum. Professor Henry Sorrowful at Misspoken University has just written a book titled "Unfair and Unsubstantiated Charges of the First Degree."

"Professor Sorrowful," I said. "I read your book. Why is never apologizing more important now than ever before?"

He said, "Because politics is getting nastier and nastier. Americans don't care what they say because they know they don't have to apologize for it later."

"But Senator Durbin said he was sorry he compared Guantanamo to the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulags."

Sorrowful explained, "The senator said it, but at the same time, when he said he was sorry, he was able to repeat the charges. The Republicans were happy because the demand for the apology took people's minds off what kind of prison the Pentagon is running."

I said, "Karl Rove never apologized for saying liberals look at September 11 much differently from conservatives."

Sorrowful said, "That was an old Senator Joe McCarthy trick. You tell a blooper enough times and people will believe it."

"If I were a liberal, I would be very hurt," I said.

"Possibly, but liberals used it to show what a rotten administration is running the country. If Rove apologized, it would be a sign of President Bush's weakness."

I said, "There's more to saying you're sorry than people might think."

The professor agreed. "Both sides have raised the bar of hostility. Mud-slinging is more in demand than ever before. Truth is out the window. Today's speechwriters are given their orders: Attack, attack, attack."

"Is this because name-calling helps raise money?" I asked.

"It's essential. Even if you say something untruthful about a person, it can sell books. If the lie is in print, the public will buy it."

Sorrowful continued, "For example, the conservatives are backing Ed Klein's book about Hillary Clinton. They hope to hurt her chances of running for president in 2008. So far it has backfired because there are few facts to back Klein up. People who didn't care one way or another have become sympathetic to Hillary."

I said, "At the same time, if Klein apologized, he wouldn't sell any books. If Hitler had apologized for what he wrote in 'Mein Kampf,' we might have avoided World War II. But you don't have to be a politician to never say you're sorry. I notice on talk shows people say things that they will never apologize for."

The professor said, "I did a paper on Tom Cruise for the Psycho Journal. It wasn't about his love for Katie Holmes or his latest film, 'War of the Worlds.' It concerned why he attacked Brooke Shields for using antidepressants to help get her out of the postpartum blues."

"He's not a doctor, is he?" I asked.

"No, he's a Scientologist. When a person believes something as deeply as Tom does, you can't expect him to tell Brooke Shields that medicine will help her feel better. It's against his religion."

"He's not depressed, is he?"

"No. When I saw him on the Oprah show jumping all over the furniture, I knew he was manic."

(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services