I love this new trend of apology ads from Famously Repentant Politicians — Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford.
I love them because if you didn’t know what the candidates were talking about– you would have no idea what they were talking about. They’re ads with no antecedents. They’re as unrepentant as you can be while standing — in theory — humbly before your public. Call it the antecedentless apology.
And it’s just what Weiner needs right now.
The formula for these ads is simple.
So, you’re a politician who has goofed up in some way. (“Imperfection is beauty and madness is genius, Carlos Danger.”)*
So, you’d like to return to public life.
You’ve decided that this isn’t about you and your obsession with being in the spotlight, but about the Great Things You Can Do For The City-State And Its People. You are pretty sure about that. You weighed the magnitude of your offenses. You spent your time in the wilderness in sackcloth (who even MAKES sackcloth these days? You had to scour the Internet for that! Clearly, you are serious about this atonement thing), heaping ashes on your head, standing on a pillar, mortifying your flesh with thorns and generally feeling like the scum beneath the feet of the average hardworking New Yorker or South Carolinian, depending. (That is to say, you spent maybe a week not talking to the press. And it was TORTURE!)
But now you are back, because if you had to read another headline that didn’t mention your name in it, you were going to rupture something. You are willing to let them call you whatever they want to, as long as they call you.
You just need an ad that makes this clear.
Try an antecedentless apology!
“Look, I’ve made some big mistakes,” Anthony Weiner says, looking chastened. “And I know I let a lot of people down. But I’ve also learned some tough lessons.”
Much better than the rough draft: “You may have seen some images of my crotch that I thought would be a good idea to foist on strangers on the Internet, some of whom were not even expecting the conversation to take this turn. Now their names will be dragged through the mud in perpetuity, and I might become your mayor! Keep in mind: These will be on the Internet forever!”
Or take Eliot Spitzer’s version. “I failed, big time. I hurt a lot of people. When you dig yourself a hole, you can either lie in it the rest of your life or do something positive.”
So how did he hurt these people, exactly? By . . . digging a hole?
To quote “West Wing” on the subject of slip-ups with members of the oldest profession:
Toby: You accidentally slept with a prostitute?
Sam: A call girl.
Toby: I don’t understand. Did you trip over something?
Whatever it was, it sounds like a terrible misunderstanding, and anyone who brings it up is probably in the pocket of Devious Wall Street Spitzer Enemies.
As apologies without antecedents go, this is right up there. He didn’t fall. He tripped.
“So if you hear any negative noise out there, and you will, keep in mind where it’s coming from.” Because the only group with possible objections to a Spitzer candidacy are the Big Bad Banks.
Former Sourth Carolina governor Mark Sanford, the pioneer of this format, offers an interesting twist. “I’ve experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a god of second chances, and be the better for it.” Seriously? I guess “I’ve experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes” has a better ring to it than “I, personally, made a mistake,” or “Hey, remember when I said I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it turned out I was with my lover in Argentina?”
And the more bonus scandals that loom — Weiner picked up a new one on Tuesday, with an alleged trove of previously unseen lewd messages from a period when he was, in theory, back on the no-weird-Internet-correspondence wagon — the wiser the choice of ad seems.
There are apologies and there are apologies. They run the gamut. “I’m sorry. I am an abject worm. I am standing in the rain right now as I say this, and I will stand here for hours longer, and if you shot my dog right now to punish me I would feel awful but I would not question for a second the justice of your decision. I have tattooed my sin on my left forearm so I can constantly gaze upon it and keep my iniquities before me. I will never be whole again. I am unworthy of your trust.”
There’s: “I’m sorry. I was a heel. I hope we can get past this.”
There’s: “I’m sorry that you were offended by what you heard me say.”
Then there’s: “I’m sorry for, you know, the thing. Can you elect me comptroller now?”
As antecedentless apologies go, this went.
The thing that is most handy about an ad that is a vague apology for nothing is how absolutely all-purpose it is. Take Weiner, who, on National Hot Dog Day, seems to have another round of alleged lewd messages emerging from the swamp of the Internet behind him. Carlos Danger? Carlos Danger, really? A whole new round of pictures?
What’s the big concern?
He doesn’t even need to update the ad.
*Even while unconfirmed, this is the greatest string of sentiments ever to be expressed in connection with a political scandal.