Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Sorry for this Lousy Post


We’ve been entertained this week by Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a married man and a Republican, who got caught visiting his Argentine mistress while he was supposed to be hiking the Appalachian trail, while he was supposed to be governing the state. Then it came out that this wasn’t the first visit, that Mr. Sanford had managed a rendezvous last summer, while he was on a taxpayer-financed trade mission (that he set up). So he apologized. “I made a mistake while I was there,” he said, “in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with.” Well there’s another mistake—ending a sentence with a preposition—that one forgiveable, given the stress that comes with public knowledge of one’s private passions and indiscretions.

Since the revelations, Mr. Sanford has apologized to just about everyone: his wife, his staff (“I wanted generally to apologize to every one of you all, for letting you down”), two cabinet secretaries, the head of the State Law Enforcement Division, the people of South Carolina, his housekeeper. If, as the New York Times suggested, “Mr. Sanford’s many apologies did not seem to put the scandal behind him,” it may be partly because of the way he apologized, as in “I apologize,” rather than “I’m sorry,” the latter a form of the apology that he never, apparently, used, and one, we think, that suggests deeper regret, that carries with it the flavor of authenticity.

Still, Mr. Sanford’s apologies, however inadequately put, stand in stark contrast to the bombastic bluster of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi who--despite evidence that he hosted wild parties with naked women, brought in so many hot babes from Puglia he can’t remember them all (and slept with at least one), and has been cavorting around with a minor (or minors)--has failed to issue any sort of apology, to his wife or anyone else, preferring the “boys will be boys” defense.

We thought Stefano Bartezzaghi was on the mark when he opened a recent story in La Repubblica with the line “Italy means never having to say you’re sorry.” For evidence, Bartezzaghi offers the Fonz of Happy Days fame, whose last name is, of course, Fonzarelli; maybe the young man Silvio was watching. After playing soccer for 25 years with Italians, I have a similar impression: they just don't have it in them to acknowledge a mistake.

But there is better evidence, and it comes by way of the Catholic Church. Those lovely, wood-carved confession booths are nearly empty. Nobody confesses anymore. Of practicing Italian Catholics, 58% go to confession once a year, and 30% don’t engage in the ritual, ever. To say nothing of the 80% of those Italians who are not practicing Catholics. Almost nobody says they’re sorry.

What’s best: to apologize too much, and in the wrong circumstances, or not at all? In the aftermath of the recent elections to the European parliament, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown used the Mark Sanford approach, apologizing profusely for letting his party down. But as sorry as he said he felt, he didn’t resign (or even suggest any reasonable future path for his Labor Party) and neither did Mr. Sanford, who seems to believe that his apologies set the stage for absolution.

Mr. Sanford's wife is not so sure. And in our view, apology does nothing to resolve the contradiction that Mr. Sanford and so many other Republicans present: public piety, private immorality—to wit, hypocrisy. The Italian way—less hypocritical, to be sure, but rather mean-spirited and unattractive—doesn’t seem any better. Perhaps there’s another approach, one we haven’t thought of (oops! sorry for that preposition). Bill

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